Please believe me — this is one message you want to pay attention to. It may very well save your sanity. 🙂
First off, why worry about backups at all?
1) Your computer disk WILL fail at some point. If you have not had a computer disk failure before now, you are very lucky, but luck only takes you so far. Every disk will fail, and you don’t know if that is going to be 5 years from now, next year, or tomorrow.
2) Burglaries are always a possibility, no matter where you live. We have only been burglarized once, and my computer was not taken. I was lucky, since that was in 1984, and backups were pretty crude back then (800K floppy disks!). If someone robs you, what are the chances he will take your computer? Pretty good, since computers are easily resold. When he does, he will probably sweep up everything in the area, which means your backup disks too.
3) Fires are also always a possibility. We have been nearly burned out of our house twice (the Lexington Fire in Los Gatos 1985 and the Oakland Firestorm in Berkeley in 1989). Had our home gone up, my computers and all my backups would have gone with it, since they were in the same house at the time.
4) The Oops factor. Have you ever accidentally deleted data that you wanted? I have, and I know some of you have. A backup may be the only way to recover it.
OK, hopefully you are convinced that you need a backup strategy. If not, you can stop reading now, as the rest won’t matter.
How to make backups? I have some people say they plan on using DVDs. Bad Idea… Why?
1) DVD-R disks will fail. Period. Fact of life. I have several from 5+ years ago that can no longer be read. That was how I backed up before better ways became available, but those DVD-R disks simply are not reliable after a few years.
2) DVD-R disks are simply too small. I use a 32GB card in my camera, and there have been a couple days when I have actually filled it in a day’s shooting. At 4.4GB per disk, that would take 8 DVDs just to back up the one card. My photoshop edits often come in at 200-300MB each, so I could only get 10-15 of them on a DVD. Double density DVDs only cut those numbers in half, and are much more likely to fail — what good is a backup disk you can’t read? (see #1 again too)
3) DVD requires you to specifically sit down and decide to do the backup. You won’t. I’ll make bet on it. You will put it off “until next week.” However, the longer you put it off, the more needs to be backed up, and bigger the task, and the more you will put it off. Inevitably, you will have decided to do it “really and truly” the day after your disk dies. Been there. Done that…
4) The DVD will be in the same house as the computer. Fire or burglary will therefore wipe out the backup at the same time as the photos. All that time backing up was wasted because you won’t have them when you need them.
I have read some online experts say to buy an external disk and back up to that. Better than DVD, but still Not Enough. Why? Disks are cheap, and you can copy to it fast, so it should be a good solution, right? Think about the fire and burglary losses. The disk is there with the house, so it is lost with the computer. This type of backup takes care of the disk failure and maybe even the Oops, if discovered fast enough (before you copy your data over the backup and thus lose it again).
So, is it hopeless? Not at all. The solution is actually very easy and even FREE (other than the purchase of a couple external hard disks).
First, you do want to use an external hard disk locally on your computer and set up an automated backup to it. If you are a Mac user, set up Time Machine. It is brain-dead simple to set up, and not much harder to recover from. It will let you recover your data from an hour ago, a week ago, a year ago. It remembers the state of your data for as far back as the size of your disk allows (I use a 6TB disk for my Time Machine, so I can go back years).
If you have a PC, there is software that can do automated backups there too. Though I know they exist, I don’t know the names or details though. Perhaps someone else can chime in and provide details here.
Cost so far? Whatever you paid for your external disk that Time Machine is pointing to.
Now, and here is a major key. You REALLY NEED an offsite backup. Forget taking your DVDs or external disk to a bank vault. I did that for years, and my clockwork monthly became quarterly became annual became ‘OMG, I have’t done it in two years!” Just ain’t gonna happen regularly.
So, how to do off-site? Lots of companies out there want to charge you to put your data on them. Trouble is, they are $$$$$ if you are backing up any reasonable quantity of data (digital photographs add up fast), and you don’t know how reliable they are. They also throttle your upload speeds, and it may take literally months to get your initial backup sent there. It is then entirely possible to shoot new images faster than your throttled upload will support, meaning you will never be sure you have a full backup of your data.
I have personal experience with several of these companies, and consider them all junk… One of them even lost all my data 3 times in a year, forcing me to restart a backup process from scratch that took 11 weeks to complete each time…
The bright spot is a company you have probably never heard of — CrashPlan.
1) It is FREE (you can pay $59 if you want tech support, but it really isn’t needed)
2) You can make your initial backup with a hard disk sitting right on your local system. My backup started at 1.3TB (that is 1300 GB) and took about 2 days to create the initial backup. That is more data than was taking 11 weeks to backup using a cloud service.
3) You then take your disk to a friend’s house, tell the software to connect that disk to your system, and it will then make daily backups automagically from then forward.
4) If you ever need to recover from that disk, no need to spend weeks downloading. Just pick up the disk from the remote site, bring it to your site, and recover locally. I did one such test run and my 1300 GB recovered in a little less than a day (to a different machine that I used to test the process).
I have been using CrashPlan for about two years now and am absolutely thrilled. At one point I had some problems with the interface, when it was fairly new on a Mac. Their tech team dug right in and spent weeks with me working out the kinks. They then made a general release giving everyone the improvements we had worked out together. It is rare to get that kind of tech support (I did pay $59 to get the support, but it was worth it by a mile).
So, let me describe my setup to give a little more solid feeling on how to use this.
1) I have 3 Macs in my home office. Each Mac has its own Time Machine disk for local backups. My Mac and my wife’s Mac both have Drobos attached (another layer of security is to have important data on Drobos — http://drobo.com/ ) and all our digital images are stored on those, along with other important files. My Drobo has 6 TB space, and my wife’s has 4 TB. Our 3rd Mac is only used in the photo studio for reviewing images in tethered shooting.
2) I placed a 6 TB Drobo at my sister-in-law’s house that accepts CrashPlan feeds from all 3 of our computers. It was initially loaded in our house, then moved there afte
r the seed was complete. I currently have 1.9 TB of my computer backed up that way, my wife has 600 GB, and the studio laptop has about 70 GB.
3) I placed a 2 TB drive (non-Drobo) in my house. It accepts CrashPlan feeds from all 3 of my sister-in-law’s computers (hers plus one each for two kids) and from my mother.
So, currently I back up to my sister-in-law and both my mother and sister-in-law back up to me. A perfect arrangement all the way around, and all it cost me was the disk drives I put on my system and theirs.
Find yourself a friend (photo or family) and agree to cross-backup to each other. Your cost will then just be one drive each. No other costs involved, and perfect peace of mind once it is all set up and working. 🙂
And yeah, if anyone is wondering, I work with computers for a living, and had my first “home computer” in 1975. It was a Data General Eclipse that cost me $21,000 — that is $82,806 in 2011 dollars, according to
I have had dozens of disk failures over the decades, and it has taken me a long time to come up with a solution I can heartily recommend.
Nobody is ever too old to learn, but most people keep putting it off.