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We all know how important back up is, don’t we? You certainly don’t need me to tell you how critical it is to make regular backups of your data, to multiple locations, on and off site, and to test your backups on a regular basis. If you are not doing this, then you are taking a huge risk that can easily be mitigated with today’s advanced backup technologies.

I’ve used many different backup strategies over the years, and tried different scenarios in order to keep my personal and professional data safe. As they say, it is only a matter of time, not if, but when. And I have lost data in the past, either because my backup strategy wasn’t robust enough, or because it was too complicated and difficult to do regularly. I’ve simplified things drastically recently, so I wanted to share my current system and why it works for me.

Backup Types

There are two basic backup types that can and should be used for the best security from data loss. Clone backups and incremental backups .

Clone backups are best for when you need to have an exact duplicate of an existing drive – usually the drive where you keep your operating system. This ensures that if it crashes, you can get your computer back up and running very quickly by starting up from the clone drive. There is minimal downtime (aside from physically replacing the drives) and no need to restore from a backup.

Incremental backups keep your files safe over time. This means that if you accidentally delete or change a file, you can recover a previous version days, weeks, or months into the future. This is very different from cloning above which only backs up existing files, and does not protect against changes and modifications of your files.

Backup Requirements

I think any backup strategy for digital media needs to be able to provide at least the following features and benefits.

  1. Data is stored both on site and off-site or on cloud storage. This redundancy protects against anything happening to the location where your main archive is stored.
  2. Provide both clone and archival backup types.
  3. It needs to be easy to do, preferably totally automated, so that you can rest easy knowing your data is safe and not worry that you forgot to make a backup after that long editing session or photo shoot.

Backup Components: Software

For software, I use a combination of Carbon Copy Cloner and CrashPlan Plus. Carbon Copy Cloner has been around forever and works great. I use it on all of my system drives so that if it ever crashes, I can get my computer back up and running with minimal downtime. No need to reinstall software, settings, preferences, etc. I also make a clone of my main image archive for the same reasons.

CrashPlan provides free software that allows you to make backups to the cloud and also to local hard drives and network drives. (You can backup to local drives even if you decide not to use the cloud storage.) The software is available for Mac/Windows, and runs in the background detecting changes to your files and data. You can customize all of the backup options extensively, or just set it to default and let it do the hard work. Every week it emails you a backup report detailing what has been backed up that week – very reassuring.

Because you can choose multiple destinations for your backups, this simplifies the whole process, and lets you focus on creative work instead of worrying about whether your data is safe.

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Backup Components: Hardware

On the hardware side, I backup each of my data drives (RAW files, video files) to separate external drives incrementally. I use a Drobo FS dedicated to backing up all of my data on a regular basis. This is all handled by Crashplan and because it’s always running, I know it is constantly backing up changes throughout the day and night. As mentioned earlier, I have Carbon Copy Cloner make a clone of my system drive and image archive to external drives weekly.

I buy all of my external drives from OWC and particularly love the [mini dual] drive RAID for travel and mobile storage backups. Their Voyager Drive Dock is great if you already have external drives and want to access them easily.

For online backup (which should be the off-site storage component of your strategy), Crashplan offers unlimited storage for up to 10 computers for $6 per month (if you pay 4 years in advance). I think this is an incredible deal that is well worth the piece of mind and insurance against data loss. It may take some time to backup your images, but once it’s done you have great security system in place. My RAW files took over 6 months to backup, but again I don’t worry about it as much as I used to.

Conclusion

I hope this gives you a basic foundation for establishing your own backup strategy. Of course I’m not saying this is the absolute best or only way of creating a backup strategy, but it works for me and has saved my #$@ several times. Do you have any recommendations or suggestions to share? Questions? Please let me know in the comments below!

RR Jr

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This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. I currently backup my data to a 4TB NAS on a daily basis using BestSync 2012. Once every 2 weeks, I perform a manual backup of the NAS to an external 3TB drive that I take to work and keep in a tape drive safe. I’ve been thinking of going the Cloud backup route and going with CrashPlan or BackBlaze, both of which I’ve heard good things about. The 2 weeks between the offsite backup could come to bite me in the rear should God forbid something happen like theft or fire.

    Thanks for the informative article!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Porfirio – yes that is a good solution except for the 2 week gap as you mentioned. I would strongly consider the cloud backup since it provides another layer of protection, and does not rely on you doing the manual backup every two weeks. Any backup strategy that has a manual step is prime for “murphy’s” law…you forget, on vacation, user error – I’ve done them all. Considering how inexpensive it is these days, a most people have hi-speed connections, it’s well worth the time to setup.

      RR

      1. Robert,

        Any particular reason you chose CrashPlan over other similar Cloud Storage backups, such as BackBlaze, Carbonite, etc?

        BTW, the 6 month process to backup your RAW files to the cloud is insane! LOL! I recently upgraded my home internet service to faster download speeds, but more importantly, faster upload speeds as well, which will help with the backup to the cloud process. What kind of upload speeds do you have at home that it took so long? I also assume that the sheer amount of RAW files that you have contributed to the 6 month upload process.

      2. I chose Crashplan for a few reasons – 1. great pricing, 2. great software, especially since it allows you to backup to local AND cloud storage – this keeps things simple, and their reports include both destinations, so I can keep track of all backups from one interface. They also email you the reports weekly. 3. lots of resources like the ebook I linked to above. Whenever I see people writing books for software, I know there’s widespread support and that makes me more confident that it’s at least a solution worth investing time and money into. I’m not saying BackBlaze is not a reputable solution as I have heard good things about their service. Download the software for both and see which you prefer. Ultimately the important thing is that you have A system in place.

        It took 6 months because I backed up over 2TB – also the software is great since it slows down the uploads when you’re actually working so that it does not interfere with your online usage. After it notices you’re away (at night) it speeds up. This helps balance network speeds. Bottom line is I now have all of my images protected in case of worse disaster…

        RR

  2. Nice article RR! Great food for thought. Speaking of thoughts, the great weakness I see with CrashPlan (or any continuous, automatic backup solution) is that if your computer becomes infected with a virus or other nasty thing, particularly ransomware, the backup is immediately infected also. Not good!!

  3. Thank you for your insightful posts and videos!

    I’ve been using Crashplan for several years now and am really happy with it. You can pay a little extra fee up front to have them ship you a hard drive that you fill up and send back. That jump-starts the typically long initial backup process!

  4. Another solution if you do not mind to play around with heavy tech stuff is a NAS solution with the operating system FreeNAS. This solution is the best on the market I know since it is trying to prevent data decay as bit rot. Which on magnetic mechanical drives means the bits loose their magnetic orientation and therefore make it impossible to read the information. You can experience this if you try to read and old harddrive you haven’t use for several years and try to open the files they sometimes if you are unlucky unreadable due to the data decay. Data decay also happens on non-mechanical drives like SSD but naturally not related to magnetic orientation loss but more to the fact that the chips looses electricity charge.

    Which just emphasise that you need to backup your data on different solutions with different architecture. FreeNAS uses the filesystem ZFS which the only one right now (that I know about) that try to tackle the data decay problem. The ZFS filesystem is used in big enterprise SAN systems for big companies, but is available now for consumers in several different solutions where FreeNAS is the best I know at the moment correct me if I am wrong.

    In every backup plan the restore part is often forgotten but is as important as the backup one. That is why for me I had used CrashPlan differently. Since as you say 6 month is a long time to wait for backup. But even more scary for me is that you have to wait the same time when restoring 2TB. I only upload the final product from my RAW files editing. Which is often a jpeg file exported from Lightroom/Photoshop after editing of the RAW file. Which in size is much smaller so the 2TB RAW is now more fit for a cloud solution like CrashPlan with only 10-20 GB data in total. Which only take around a week to upload/restore.

    CrashPlan can also be used to remote backup to another server maybe at a friends place so the backup of you data is physically placed another place but still very accesable if disaster should happens and for sure not include a waiting window for 6 month before data is restored.

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