back up

The following is not a question and answer section as was the original intention of the photography talk series. I however recently went through a mini data crisis of sorts, and I wanted to use this feature to highlight my failures and hopefully help others avoid my mistakes. Data backup after all, is an important part of the modern photography experience. 

I recently learned a very expensive lesson that could have easily been avoided. Without going into explicit detail, my main working hard drive in my PC was about to fail (all the signs were there) and I had gone ahead and backed up all my data before replacing it. There wasn’t much to back up, as I had a regular backup routine already in place, and all of my photos were backed up to an external USB 3.0 RAID enclosure, where I had two 2 terabyte drives running in a RAID 1 mirror. Unfortunately when I bent down to move my computer’s tower and replace the internal working drive, I forgot that the USB 3.0 enclosure was set on top, and it fell to the floor. Long story short, both hard drives were active at the time, and the impact with the floor damaged both of them mechanically. Thanks to my good friend Gordon at Fixsys labs, I was able to recover 100% of my data. But it cost me $2200 in data recovery alone (believe it or not this is in the mid range of the potential expense of this type of recovery). The point of this article is to educate you, my friends and fellow photographers on how to properly protect your mission critical data. In my case, I nearly lost all of my photography and my extensive collection hidden camera footage from the change rooms of various Wal-Marts.

Make sure you have copies of your copies copies.

You better have more than one of these or your data is at risk!

It is of crucial importance to have at least three copies of all your critical data. In my previous setup, my RAID 1 mirrored drives should have provided me with two exact copies of whatever was stored on the RAID 1 mirror. Should one drive have failed, I could have A) popped another drive into the RAID array and continued where I left off, once again having two copies or B) pulled the remaining non-damaged hard drive and put it into my system or an external enclosure to allow me to access the data (this is one of the benefits of using RAID 1). There are many people that will argue about the various different RAID setups, but as a matter of opinion and preference, I prefer the ease and simplicity of a RAID 1 mirrored array.

However since I managed to mechanically damage both drives in the external RAID enclosure at the exact same time, I was shit out of luck, and my data was gone (at least temporarily).

My system is now composed of the following storage components:

  • My C: system drive runs my operating system (Windows 7 64bit pro/ultimate) and is composed of two 100GB Vertex 2 drives in a RAID 0 Array (Raid 0 allows to drives to act as one, resulting in maximum performance
  • I have a D: drive which I use for virtual memory, and to store things like internet cache, Adobe Bridge thumbnails, the Photoshop scratch disk etc. It is a single 74gig Western Digital Raptor 10K SATA drive
  • I have purchased a new working drive, a 600GB Raptor 10k drive. When I do photo shoots, I immediately copy them to this drive, and work on them from this speedy device until I archive them later (I also backup all the camera raw files immediately after copying them to this drive, and then later update the backup with new edits and settings from the shoot etc.)
  • My first external storage unit is once again two 2 terabyte drives in a RAID 1 mirror in an external enclosure. This gives me two copies of each file should I not throw it on the floor again
  • My second (and new to me) external storage unit is a single 2 terabyte HP USB 3.0 drive, which makes a back up of the photos stored on the first external enclosure

This now gives me a minimum of three copies of all of my photos (one on each drive in the RAID 1 mirror, one replica of those files on the single 2 Terabyte external enclosure). In the case of my most recently shot photos that I may still be working on, I have a fourth running copy on my 600GB Raptor 10k internal drive. This may seem excessive to some, but I have spent literally hundreds of hours of my time creating these photographs, and given that they sell quite well at art shows (and soon online) how could I possibly risk losing them? I was lucky to have not lost them the first time, and it cost me $2200 (plus the cost of the new hard drives). What’s more is that I’m not even done outlining proper backup procedure yet.

I am currently in the process of finding an online backup service to store the final high resolution edits of all of my photos. It is absolutely crucial to keep a backup of your critical data somewhere off site in the case of a fire or robbery. When I finally narrow it down and choose such a service, I will be certain to update this article.

It was important for me to write about this, as I wouldn’t wish what I’ve gone through lately on anyone. It is debilitating watching gigabytes upon gigabytes of vagina’s disappear before your very eyes. I got lucky and with the help of some charming experts, was able to recover (snatch?) every last one. You however may not be so lucky. I implore you, take data backup seriously, and come up with an effective plan today. Mechanical failure of sensitive computer components is an in-exact and unpredictable science. Whatever it costs you today to make copies of your files, it will cost you ten times as much to have them professional recovered tomorrow. The rule of thumb is three copies of each file you need as a minimum, with one of the copies stored off site.

Lesson Learned. I hope this helps someone out there prepare for the worst and avoid the mistakes I’ve recently made.