It’s World Backup Day, the day to make sure there is a copy of all of the digital goodies somewhere besides the drive in your computer. Eventually, your hard drive will get filled up and it’s time to get a bigger drive. Things can get complicated …

The bigger hard drive dilemma

I have faced this issue many times. I keep shooting and editing photos and the hard drive I am working on fills up, so I buy a bigger drive and transfer the stuff from the smaller one to the larger one so everything stays in the same place.

I have done this when I had a 2TB drive that filled up. I bought a 4TB drive and was good to go for a while longer. Eventually, being the prolific photographer (with a severe case of shutter finger), I had filled up a really larger 8TB drive, leaving behind the 2, 4 and 6TB drives and their backups of the same sizes.

It's National Backup Day & I gotta get a bigger hard drive
A 4-bay fixed size RAID

RAID — more hard drive capacity

This was becoming a problem. Bigger drives were not becoming available as fast as I was filling up the largest offering. I had played with some RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives) boxes but those were expensive and impractical to expand their capacity.

Typically they held five hard drives that had to be exactly the same size, run at the same speed (5400 RPM or 7200 RPM) and come from the same manufacturer. RAIDs are big and if a drive in it fails, it can be replaced with another one of the same size, speed and maker.

When the time came to get a bigger RAID, you had to purchase a whole new one with larger drives in it to increase its capacity. Then the data from the smaller RAID had to be transferred from the smaller one to the bigger one. YUCK! Too expensive and too much work. If only there was a RAID that used different sized drives …

JBOD working and backup drives

I had turned to the JBOD solution. JBOD means, seriously, Just a Bunch of Drives. I had enough to qualify as a bunch! The problem was for every drive I was working on, I had to have another one to back it up. This made the messy desktop full of drives messier times two! It also meant having to search these drives one at a time to find the photos I wanted to work with.

JBOD — Just a Bunch of Drives. Photo by Jamie Tucker.

I can spend hours boring you to tears with all of the problems this ad hoc JBOB workflow caused. And I won’t because I’m skipping to the solution.

Beyond RAID® to the rescue

A dozen years ago, a company named Data Robotics introduced a drive enclosure that didn’t care what capacity, speed or who made the drive. This magical box was named Drobo. It held four hard drives and had a lot of space.

Best of all, it was easy and relatively cheap to expand. Since it didn’t require the same size drives, small ones could be replaced on-the-fly with bigger ones. This meant that as my storage needs got bigger, I could make the Drobo store more data. And it was protected against drive failure. I bought my first Drobo in 2008 and have used it and newer models since.

All my data in one place

One of the first things I did after transferring all of my JBOD data on the Drobo was to buy a second Drobo to use as a backup. What I loved is I could rip the hard drives out of their individual enclosures and put them into the second Drobo. This was a double win. I had all of my photos, music, correspondence, business documents and other digital stuff I can’t live without in one easy-to-access volume. The other side of this shiny coin is the I could repurpose the older drives by putting them into the second Drobo that would back up the first one.

Best of all, all of my photos and other data were and are on the same Drobo volume. Finding pictures is a lot easier.

Protection is not a backup

Since this is World Backup Day, it seems important to distinguish between protected storage and a backup. Protected storage means that when a drive fails it can be replaced without losing any data. A back up is a copy of the data being worked on. In my studio, the backup happens first thing in the morning (12:01 a.m.) automatically, every day.

My backup protects me from my own stupidity. If I delete a photo from my working volume accidentally on purpose or vice versa, even though it is protected storage, it’s gone — forever. Because I have a backup, I can go to that Drobo and copy the missing picture onto the working volume. This has saved me several times over the years.

Expanding the size of a Drobo

This could not be easier. Drobo comes with free software called Drobo Dashboard. It shows the capacity of each drive in the five bays along with the total capacity of the device.

Find the smallest drive, pull it out while the Drobo is running (the drives are hot-swappable) and replace it with a larger one. The lights on the right side of the Drobo will flash yellow. This means that the Drobo is remapping the data of the original drives to include the new one. Drobo Dashboard shows the flashing yellow too along with an estimated time for the remapping to complete.

How big a volume?

Figuring out what size drives to buy to expand a Drobo is easy. Use the Capacity Calculator on Drobo’s website. Simply pick the Drobo you have, 4-bay, 5-bay or 8-bay. Then drag the drives representing the ones you have onto the Drobo. The capacity shows up right away.

I store a lot of data. My working volume is 24TB. Below are screenshots of my working Drobo.

When I want to expand, I use the capacity calculator to find what size drive or drive I need.

The decision on which size to use has two components — how much space do I need and how much do the bigger drives cost? A 10TB Seagate IronWolf 7200 drive costs $280 while a 12TB version of the same drive costs $320 on B&H. So I get almost 4.5TB more for $40. Since the data is protected from a drive failure, I can buy the non-NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives which are a lot more money.

Backup regardless of what system you use

It’s a good idea to do this daily. Another good idea is to have a third backup that’s kept somewhere other than in your workplace. I know it’s a lot to think about. It is a commitment, just like your commitment to your photography. We work hard to create our images. It would be a shame to lose years of work because the importance that World Backup Day tells all of us to do was ignored.

The bottom line is to make a backup of your data. The system you use to make the backup doesn’t matter unless it is so complicated you find yourself saying “I’m tired. I’ll back up my stuff tomorrow.” Today is yesterday’s tomorrow.

Full disclosure: While I have been a Drobo customer and user for 11 of the 12 years they have been in business. I am also one of their pro ambassadors.