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Building a Bulletproof Backup

First, let’s be clear. Bulletproof is not Fail Safe. In the real world of shooting with guns, bulletproof doesn’t exist. The term is “bullet resistant.” The idea behind the “bulletproof” vest is to give the person wearing it a chance to survive what would be an otherwise fatal encounter. Photographs and the rest of our digital media want as bullet resistant backup system as feasible. There are two primary factors that weigh in on just how bulletproof our backup workflow is–time and money.

 Time & Money

Creating a backup workflow must take into account the amount of data being “bulletproofed.” The more data you have, the higher the cost is in both time and money to back it up. There must be a reasonable assurance that damaged, lost or stolen data can be restored in an amount of time that won’t cause damage to delivering photographs–still or moving on schedule. This is critical to any photographer who makes a living with her / his camera.

“Bulletproof” backup strategy

Simply put there must be at least three copies of your photography and supporting documents like model releases, display licenses, business stuff (invoices, statements, payments, etc) in order to have a relatively robust backup system.

Working copy

This is the place where all of the photographic work and records are stored, accessed, modified and saved. RAW files transferred from memory cards begin their archived life here. Work done in Photoshop or Premiere (or other image or motion editing software) is on this device. I say device because as the size of the data grows there will be multiple hard drives storing the work. It is very important to keep everything in one place. It’s much easier to copy if it lives in a single location. Think of using a calendar. It becomes unmanageable if there is more than one.

Onsite backup

A complete backup in the same location as the working drive is a must. Let’s face it. We’re human. We make mistakes. I admit to accidentally deleting a huge set of client files from my working drive. I don’t know how I managed to do this. I went to access them in Lightroom and they were missing in action. I looked on the working drive and, sure enough, the files were missing. I checked the trash. Of course it was empty, because I was a good little computer user and had emptied it. Usually this is panic time. Fortunately, my backup workflow updates the onsite backup every evening. I found the missing files on this backup and copied them to the working drive. They reappeared as if by magic in Lightroom.

Another reason to have an onsite backup is a hedge against the failure of the working drive. Failures can be catastrophic or simply an irritation. Catastrophic in my world is lost data. Irritation is when a device fails but the data is fine. Recently, the power supply on my working Drobo 5D failed. The drive was dead. My onsite backup Drobo 5D sitting next to it was operating so I wasn’t in panic mode. I shut down the onsite backup Drobo, disconnected its power supply then plugged it into my working copy. Boom! It started right up and I was back to work. I ordered a new power supply for the onsite backup Drobo 5D. My data was still being backed up to the third copy–the offsite backup.

Offsite backup

This is the real “bulletproofing” component of any backup strategy. There are three options: cloud storage, remote device or both.

cloud storage

If there is a relatively small amount of data–say 1 or 2 terabytes, the cloud is a viable option. For more than that, the issue isn’t expense so much as it is time. Creating a cloud backup of ten or more terabytes can take months at the upload speeds offered by most Internet Service Providers. Some cloud storage providers will allow you to ship the data on a device that can be uploaded to the cloud over their much faster pipes. Even if the storage is affordable, the big, ugly, downside is having to wait several days to recover a full backup via an Internet download.

remote device

A backup of ten plus terabytes takes a lot of time even for devices directly connected to a computer. My offsite backup started in the studio where I used Carbon Copy Cloner to make a duplicate of my working drive. It took 98 hours to complete. That’s slightly more than four days. I moved the device, a Drobo B810n to my home located several miles away from my studio. Every night after my backup at the studio is finished, Carbon Copy Cloner connects to the B810n and backs up the day’s work.

combination of cloud & remote device

A cloud backup is very secure and reliable when housed by a reliable provider. Several years ago a cloud storage / photographer’s marketplace called Digital Railroad offered backups for photos. Their marketplace product was terrific. I had a lot of my work on their servers. Imagine what a shock it was to get an email telling its customer base they had 48 hours to download their files before the Digital Railroad servers were shutdown permanently. I didn’t bother to download my photographs because they were backed up both in my studio and at my home. At this time in the evolution of the Internet ISPs provide asynchronous connections. They are many times faster when downloading and much, much slower when uploading. A cloud backup is an insurance policy against a catastrophic event that devastates both a business and a home location. Like collecting money from an insurance policy takes a lot of time, data stored on the cloud will take a lot of time to recover. This combination strategy for offsite backups is ideal for areas where a widespread calamity might occur. A studio and home located near each other in an area prone to wildfires or one where both are located in contiguous flood zones are examples where the additional cloud backup makes a lot of sense.

Start your backup strategy now!

Procrastination is the single most devastating destroyer of data known. If you have thought about creating a backup of your data. That’s a start. If that’s all you’ve done, that’s a mistake. The harsh reality is that all hard drives die. It’s a matter of time. Just as we don’t know the length of our lifespan, neither do we know the how long a hard drive will last. We can’t make a backup of ourselves. We can make a backup of our data. If money is an issue, get a second hard drive and copy it. Take it home from your studio. If you live and work in the same place, ask a friend for a bit of shelf space. Back that drive up once a week if you are busy or once a month if you aren’t. This is not ideal. And it is way more protection than a single hard drive provides. The onsite backup component can be added as money becomes available. I’ve written a post about the cost effectiveness of using a 4-bay Drobo as a beginning backup enclosure.

Doing this one thing is hyper important. Call on your inner Nike–Just Do It!

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