Several people have asked me how I protect my important files, so I decided to share my answers in this article, summarizing everything on one place.
In my opinion, storing your files in a back-up is a must not only for a professional photographer, but for a serious amateur. Who wants to lose photos or videos of children, parents and grandparents, or friends? Each passing year these images and videos become more and more valuable, and storing them securely is important. Most PC (or even Mac users, I guess had some experience with loss of data: HDD may just stop working, file system can be corrupted, PC can be infected by a virus and data erased.
The task is easy when you have 10-100 GB of data: burn a DVD (better to use double layer, up to 8.5 GB on one disk) and store them in your fireproof safe or friend’s home.
However, if you have Terabytes of images (like me), DVD is not going to work for you very well. Here is why:
1. DVD is easily damaged by heat or physically.
2. Plastic can degrade with years, making DVD non-readable.
3. It’s not easy to manage hundreds of discs. Instant access isn’t possible.
The better option is to use hard drives (HDD), similar to using a diskette 5 years ago. With current HDD prices of $90 for 1 Tb disc, and docking stations for another $40, this does not sound crazy, right? Plug in the docking station to you PC, insert a HDD, back-up everything you need, remove a drive and store it on a shell with the label, same as you did with a diskette. But this will be 1Tb diskette! You can swap these disks on a fly: pull out one and insert another.
Usually, for a serious amateur, 1 TB disc will be enough to store images from a whole year, most of professional photographers may not have more than 1-2 Tb per year of the images they keep.
Next, more advanced option is to build a RAID array(s) as storage. RAID is a redundant array of independent disks (by Wikipedia), which appears as a single physical drive to OS. You would need to use RAID1 or RAID 5, both will give you a 100% data protection even if one HDD will fail. For more on RAID types, please read Wikipedia. There are also available external RAID storage solutions with Ethernet or USB interface (examples). Usually they cost more than internal build-yourself RAID arrays, slower (by the interface limitation) , but more convenient in use.
Storing valuable photos and videos on a back-up HDD drive is a very good option. However, it still does not guarantee your files will be safe. Unexpected disaster can crash all your hardware, virus or RAID controller malfunction can wipe out everything.
Recently I have discovered another solution: online distributed storage. It was there for a while, but only recently prices dropped significantly.
Both services are quite affordable: Mozy costs $56 per year for unlimited storage plan, Amazon costs around $0.150 per GB.
° Much more reliable compared to in-office data storage. Just think what should happen to Amazon if data centers lost even one byte of data.
° Accessible from any Internet connection.
° Silent monitoring of your folder, backing up the data, while you are not working.
° Probably only one: Slow data transfer rate. It is really limited by speed of your internet connection, but imagine how long it would take to back up 2 Tb of photos I have. At least a few months!
This is what I have for today I would be glad to hear any other options and experience related to the subject.
Thanks to people who contributed comments for this article I have to highlight few things I have overlooked:
1. You can’t really store your data in on-the-shell HD, as it will loose everything, if you do not run it at least every few months.
2. Mozy.com has one big disadvantage: if you won’t go online for more than 30 days, all your stored files will be deleted. So, it is good for day-to day protection, but not for a “store and forget” type of use.
Ok, now about Drobo. The difference between Drobo and a regular RAID NAS storage is that Drobo is not using RAID. They use what they call “BeyondRAID”, this is (as I understand) some sort of software manageable solution which allows you to have different sizez HDD installed, wihout thinking how they will work together. Here is what they say:
“Drobo utilizes the revolutionary BeyondRAID storage technology that protects data against a hard disk crash, yet is simple enough for anyone to use. As long as you have more than a single disk in Drobo, all data on Drobo is safe no matter which hard disk fails. There’s no need to worry about anything else“.
So, you can have 4x500Gb disk arrays, then start replacing 500Gb disck with 1Tb, one after another, and everything will work fine. Sounds quite impressive!