Are You Backed-up?
This is only a partial solution.
The complete solution does not exist but you can get as close as possible.
Photographers have very unique needs based on their workflow and volume of files produced. It is important to understand how you can preserve your work. There are some basic rules about backing up your work:
1. Back up your image files to a external hard drive and use it as a working drive.
2. Back up your image files to a “storage” device.
3. Back up your image files to a location off-site.
Never trust any drive alone. Every drive is destined for failure at some point in time. This especially holds true for your computer’s internal drives that are constantly being used. They have a higher risk of failure due to the constant use.
Wait! Let’s understand the difference between “backup” and “storage” because they are two different things with different ways to implement them.
A file backup is a process of copying a file from one place to another. For instance, you download your photos from your camera to your computer’s hard drive where you manipulate them. Then, you copy those files to another location to preserve them for later use. That is a file backup. A backup by itself is pretty useless if you leave it on your computer until you are ready to file them away. If your computer’s hard drive fails, your backup is gone. It’s always a good rule to back your data up to three distinct locations. More about that later.
Storage, is where your images go to be preserved and archived. You are done using them and want to keep them for reorders or later use for shows or sales. Storage has two levels: On-site and Off-site. It’s all about ways to preserve your images while remembering not to keep all your eggs in one basket. The thing to understand is that storage is not frequently accessed.
Storage and Backup Devices
Let’s talk hardware. I know, that is about as exciting as reading drug labels but having an understanding of these devices can save you a lot of grief. When you go to your local Worst Buy or Walley World*, you want to avoid some pimply faced kid sharing his year of experience with you and influencing your choices. If you are armed with at least basic information, you can make the experience less painful. [*Both stores are really not the best place for quality devices at a reasonable price.]
USB, RJ45, Firewire, what??? In the world of backup devices, these devices come in different colors and sizes but more importantly, they all have to talk to your computer. In order for these devices to store your files, they need a way to move those images from your computer to your backup device. This involves a connection. In the world of technology, information is moved using standard rules or protocols. USB, RJ45, and Firewire are communication protocols and are associated with specialized hardware made to the same standards.
Rather than drag you through the weeks, here’s a great article that explains each protocol and their speeds: USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0 vs. eSATA vs. Thunderbolt vs. Firewire vs. Ethernet Speed
Here's some info regarding USB external drives and enclosures
There’s roughly three levels of USB drives. There are the compact external drives that you carry along with your notebook. There are USB “backup” drives which are usually a single drive in an enclosure. That leads up to enclosures. Enclosures are boxes that hold a number of internal hard drives and are connected to your computer via USB. These units will present X-number drives to your computer for storage. Some enclosures promise RAID capabilities. Don’t rely on it because the RAID is constructed via software on a box that is otherwise dumb as a brick. Choosing a USB drive for use in storage photos is important. It will become an important link in your storage strategy. I personally use a 4TB Western Digital MyBook. Seagate has their own flavor that is just as good.
NAS or Network Attached Storage
NAS systems are networked appliances which contain one or more storage drives, often arranged into logical, redundant storage containers or RAID. Network-attached storage removes the responsibility of file serving from other servers on the network.
Network Attached Storage or NAS gives you single storage point for all of your devices that connect to your network, including smartphones and tablets. NAS units are like anything else, you get what you pay for. Entry level devices contain only a single drive with no ability to implement redundant strategies or RAID. They are agonizingly slow during both uploads and downloads and offer weak file and connection security. I started out with a 4TB “cloud” drive and can speak from experience. I can also speak from experience that you better have backup storage because that single hard drive will fail. No real advantage there. A USB drive is just as unreliable and are faster and cheaper to boot. There are devices in this class that uses two drives that are mirrored. That provides more security but you still suffer through painfully slow data speeds. If one of the drives should fail, these units are typically factory sealed, meaning there is no graceful way to replace the dead drive and then there’s no guarantee it will rebuild the mirror without nuking your data.
There’s another level of NAS unit which is a transition from low cost consumer units to a professional platform. These midrange units offer more options and increased file and connection security. However, in the world of NAS units, they tend to be spotty in terms of quality and are generally underpowered. It is hard for me to suggest these kinds of units because they really are hit and miss in terms of quality and performance. Fortunately, I worked for years supporting small businesses and learned over time who had the best reputation and who didn’t.
I tend to stick with the lower end of the professional units based on their performance and features along with their reputation for dependability. In my opinion, unless you are ready to pony up for a real professional NAS or even a SAN, these lower end units will serve you well. Just remember though that they really shouldn’t be used as a DNLA and/or Plex server. If you want that, there are better alternatives. A good NAS should offer you features like a way to access the unit on the home network or from on the road via internet. It should feature robust file and access security. The better units offer the full spectrum of RAID choices. If a drive fails, they allow you to pull that drive and replace it while the unit stays running.
Cloud storage involves stashing data on hardware in a remote physical location, which can be accessed from any device via the internet. Clients send files to a data server maintained by a cloud provider instead of (or as well as) storing it on their own hard drives.
Cloud storage is rapidly becoming a commodity with an increasing number of choices available to consumers and small businesses. Normally, that’s a good thing but if you are new to cloud storage, you could wind up in grief either financially or through the loss of your data.
Consumer level cloud services are pretty basic but often are limited in the amount of data you can store and the ease of restoring that data should the need arise. Some solutions only let you download a limited amount of data at a time. One that I know of offers you different ways to download your stuff including having your data overnighted on an external drive. Of course they charge you for the hard drive and then refund it when the drive is returned. That is unusual for a consumer level service.
Pricing for cloud storage with consumer services is pretty straight forward. Some large service providers charge you using a complicated formula that requires a Ph.D to understand.
How it all fits together...
Backup and storage is your only protection for your work. It's important to put all of these pieces together in a way that works.
Use a tiered plan in your backup and storage workflow. As an example, I do my photo editing on a hard drive in my computer. The files are all copied to an external drive used to temporarily store photos that might be awaiting work or photos that are being kept active for some reason.
That external drive is backed up to your NAS and archived. Now you have your files on your computer hard drive, your computer hard drive is backed up to an external hard drive and the external hard drive backs up to the NAS which…whew!…is backed up to the cloud. There you have it! Now go forth and build yourself a backup and storage solution. Wait, what? Say you don’t know how to do that? No problem. I am available as both a consultant and a technician at reasonable rates for my photographer friends. More here: Storage Solutions