Backing Up Images for Future Enjoyment…Your Hard Drive Will Fail

By Adrian Klein

This was not the post I planned to write for the Photo Cascadia blog yet some issues on my side that occurred the last few weeks said to me it would be a good time to cover this topic. It may not be full of glorious flowers and mountains, lush streams and falls or endless desert cracks yet if you have some of those photos you sure as heck better be backing them up for future use and enjoyment. There are no guarantees your computer will turn on tomorrow.

Those that have attended a NW Photo Tours workshop know that I cover this in my presentation. Why? Because there is still occasionally people I see in a workshop or hear about that are relying on a single drive to store their precious irreplaceable data and images. I cringe when I hear this, and I cringe with what usually comes afterward. What comes afterward? The fact that the drive ultimately fails and then the data is gone, or best case scenario very costly to recover. It’s not if a drive will fail but when.

A few weeks ago I came home from a weekend workshop. I sat down in the office to download the photos I took (most of them being images of the clients that I try to snap during the workshop). Everything seemed to be fine. I left the office to have dinner with my family. Upon returning my PC was displaying the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). Okay, not good but I am sure I can reboot it. No luck. The system crashed for good. Do I start sweating buckets and breaking out in hives because I fear my data is now gone? No. My operating system is on a different drive than my data. And my main 1TB drive is actually a mirror to another drive so I have in essence two drives with the same data. It’s a failsafe solution. My biggest concern is that I know how much time is involved to get my system back up and running (the drives, software, calibration, etc). I don’t enjoy this task and certainly puts me behind.

Anyway, I reformat the drive, reinstall the OS (Operating System) and I should be good. Right? Well, not really. For some reason I cannot see my main mirrored drives. Not sure what the issue is but I believe all drivers were installed. Since I don’t have the luxury of extra time it’s time to seat belt in the PC tower in the passenger seat and head to my local repair shop. A couple days later the phone rings. There is bad news. The failsafe solution of mirrored drives looks like it’s not failsafe after all. Somewhere my drives were changed to be dynamic to the current OS session (how is still a mystery). When I reinstalled the OS the drives were already locked and could not be found by Windows. The shop could not access the data. Do I freak out now? No. Most of my data is backed up locally on yet another set of drives and all of it is mirrored with an offsite service. In the end the computer repair shop was able to access the drives to copy over the data. I paid what I consider a nominal fee for data recovery and went that route instead of downloading over a 1TB data online or needing to copy that much data locally. As they told me this was a 1st level data recovery issue, fortunately.  It did not need to go to the big guns that specialize with costs of $1500 to $3000 a drive being common.

Is the story over yet? Nope. Does anyone want to take a guess what I did wrong? My hard drive crashed good and it was several years old already. I should not have kept that drive but I did. After taking my PC back home it worked fine for about 24 hours and then crashed to the point the drive would not even boot. Thus I ended up needing to install a new drive and thus more downtime. Oh technology… we love you when its smooth sailing yet when the sails come crashing down into our day-to-day computer life it throws a wrench into the situation to say the least.

Moral of the story; there is no perfect data storage solution. The only solution is redundancy of multiple methods and multiple locations. As I am writing this I received an email from the hosting company from one of my websites. My site has been down for over 12 hours because you guessed it, the servers went down and now they need to rebuild them because the fail over to the backup server did not work. It can happen anywhere to anyone, large company or single home computer.

There are myriad of solutions available today that are easy for anyone to use, and will not break the bank. The following is my backup solution which fortunately helped me from having a heart attack when someone told me that my main drive was having issues.

  1. Primary Drive (Internal Drive)
  2. Offsite Backup (Automatically uploads data nightly through the Internet to backup service located off-site)
  3. Onsite Backup (External Drive system)

If you are in need of solutions for Offsite and Onsite backup contact me directly and I have discount codes you can use for the solutions I use. These are BackBlaze (http://backblaze.com) for off-site and Drobo (http://drobo.com) for on-site.

I hope you found this story a worth while read and that it will save you from loosing your precious digital irreplaceable photography. I have heard many stories of people loosing images even when they thought they were backing them up in one way or another. I was even one of them before. Don’t be one of those stories.

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~ by adriankleinphotography on June 24, 2011.

9 Responses to “Backing Up Images for Future Enjoyment…Your Hard Drive Will Fail”

  1. Thank you for posting this! I use Drobo for my back-up system and my primary images are also hosted with PhotoShelter. But I think I’ll look into the BackBlaze option.

  2. Adrian, I feel your pain.

    I’ve been working with computers for over 25 years, including jobs at IT help desks, and yes, your drive will fail. I’ve spent days getting my system up and running after a major crash.

    Here’s my backup routine:
    On the first of each month I back up my computer to two external drives. One is on-site and one is off-site.
    Every Friday I back up a folder that contains all the files I’ve worked on that week and my e-mail program, onto Flash Drives (aka thumb drives or stick drives).

    I’ve had to use these backups many times over the years, and it was great to have them.

    There are arguments as to what to use for backups. Any hard drive, and even Flash Drive, will eventually break. For that reason some people back up to DVDs. The problem I have with this is the number of DVDs required. A dual layer DVD can store about 8 GB and a dual layer Blue-ray can store about 50 GB. Since I back up about 400 GB a month, I prefer to use hard drives. It just depends on what works best for you. The key is to have a current backup of some kind.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  3. Thank you Jeff for feedback on your backup process as well. It never hurts to hear the different methods each of us tries to follow. And you noted something I cover in my workshop presentation about DVDs. Unless you are going to spend good money on large volume gold or blue ray discs it will take too much time to backup data at 8GB per disc. Plus, the discs off the shelf at most stores do not last more than 5 to 10 years which people don’t always realize.

    And thank you Rhonda for your comment as well. Yes Drobo works well for me too. Check out Backblaze they have also worked well for me.

  4. Thanks for this article. I do have one question about your use of BackBlaze. According to their website, they can back up between 2 and 4 GB per day. If you’re dealing with a 1TB drive worth of photos, that would tell me that it would take anywhere between a little less than nine months or a little more than one year and four months of regular daily access to securely back up that terrabyte. (And that’s not counting the other files on your computer that would also be getting backed up, and thus cutting into the bandwidth.) Has that speed been your experience? If so, I would hope there was some other off-site alternative that could be used during the year (more or less) when a drive failure could take out all the data that BackBlaze hadn’t gotten around to backing up yet.

  5. James thanks for your comment. You have a very good question about speed of backing up your initial set of data of which will be quite large for many of us. If we could only backup a few gigs a day that could be a year before it backs up completely for most photographers!

    Your note of 2-4 GB per is correct per the Backblaze website. They also allow you a speed test and show you how many photos you can upload at that speed for their recommended settings. For most of us with high speed it will vary depending on traffic in our own home. See this page for more info: http://www.backblaze.com/speedtest/

    When I stated my initial backup of over 500 GB the time remaining was something like 320 days. I said “wholly cow” to myself since that obviously won’t work. I changed the speed at which I allowed Backblaze to use available bandwidth. It did mean I had slower speed to do other things online but that initial backup took less than 30 days running continuously in the background. Still not fast but it’s an option non the less.

  6. I’ve gotten real paranoid about backups. Now have one Drobo for active work and a Drobo FS for local backup. For offsite backup I use two portable hard disks which I update and swap monthly stored in my safe deposit box. I just don’t trust the online storage sites to still be there when I need them.

  7. Patrick, thanks for your comment. I agree that you cannot rely on one solution. It certainly is possible that an online solution can go belly up and leave you without your data. That is why folks need to ensure their data is backing up regularly. And if the online solution goes away the data should be on two other drives locally to create new off-site backups from. Yet I understand where you are coming from. Something is nice about having it stored off-site where you know it’s safe and accessible.

  8. Good article. It took me a couple years before I started backing things up. I have a couple methods currently.

    At the end of every year, I go through and eliminate everything from that year that I think is crap. I know a lot of photographers would balk at that, but it’s a business and I only really want to keep the ones that are salable, and data space is a concern as well. Normally this leaves me with about 3 or 4 GB of raw files and their respective full-size processed TIFs. I copy all of these to a DVD which is then labeled and put in storage as backup. I keep the very best of the TIF images in a folder that I use for printing. Then I have created a folder on my website that is not viewable outside of the website file manager tools, and I upload all of the keeper raw and tif images there. Since I pay for the site, the storage space is virtually unlimited. This is my backup should I break or scratch one of those DVDs (and I suppose the DVDs are backups should the webhost fail, but I believe they also backup client data so that’s unlikely to be an issue).

  9. Justin, thank you for taking the time to leave your comments on this subject. I always enjoy seeing what the different processes are that we all have. I have yet to hear exact duplicates (no pun in tended) we all have our own methods which seem to slightly differ when compared.

    And I appreciate your comment about deleting images you know you will not use. That is one I am working on getting better with myself. It’s easy to come home from a trip, work on the keepers and forget to delete might be hundreds of others that may never be used. I think if the majority of photographers from hobbyist to full-time professional, looked at the past several years of images they would find more images not processed and likely won’t be processed, than what was processed. We should all work on this piece.

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