Backup – locally and online

With photos being a quite important part of my life – both personally as a hobby and financially as a profession – loosing my photos would be a disaster. I have always been very thorough with making backups of my files, but things have changed the last couple of years, making my life a little easier.

The local backup

I really like disk-based backups, either by disk cloning or decremental backups, where I can easily verify, that everything is there. I couldn’t do that with the tape-based backups in ancient times. A $4,000 disk-recovery more than a decade ago tought me an important lesson.

All my photos are placed on external harddrives attached with USB3 to my docking station. That works very well, but the next time I upgrade my storage, I will probably switch to a high-performance NAS. It’s a little faster (I’ve measured it to 20%) and it will give me the added safety of RAID*.

For each attached harddrive I have an extra similar drive to which I make a backup once a month. I do this with the native Windows commandline tool Robocopy:

ROBOCOPY e:\ f:\ /B /PURGE /E /DCOPY:T /XJD /XD "$RECYCLE.BIN" "System Volume Information" /V

This will copy my disk E: to my backup drive F: and skip the recycle bin and volume information, that will make it choke.

It will only copy new and changed files, and remove those deleted on E, so I don’t have to wait for a complete drive copy (which would take a day and a half).

My backup drives are all stored unattached and safely somewhere in the house.

In “the old days”, which is more than a couple of years back, I made this backup once a week or so. I also had another set of backup drives that were stored at my parents’ house close by. Just in case a fire or a thief would make me loose both the working drive and the backup.

Online backup

Neither of these measures would take care of photos taken between two backups. I could loose up to a week worth of work in the most extreme. Fortunately, I never have, but I did loose a couple of days a few years back, when a hard drive crashed.

Then online backup arrived. It’s not a new invention, of course, and I have used it for other things in the past, but bandwidth limitations made it uninteresting until recently for backing up large volumes of data. Many terabytes of data doesn’t work well on 1 Mbps upstream.

I tested many vendors of online backup services, and eventually I selected CrashPlan from Code42. The pricing was good, storage unlimited and they kept file revisions, so I would be able to restore both older revisions and deleted files. Upload speed wasn’t impressive – not taking full advantage of my own bandwidth – but it was no worse than the speed at any other vendor I tested. What I liked the most, was their relatively lightweight background-service that would slowly backup all the selected drives without me even noticing it. It didn’t actually matter how long it would take when it didn’t interfere with my daily work. And as I would never trust a third party alone, I would still make the primary backup at home, so there was no rush. It took a little more than a year to make the initial backup.

A combination for me, thank you!

As mentioned, I would never trust a third party alone to be responsible for my files. If something happened to my drives, they could go into bankrupcy or get technical issues affecting my data, before I had restored everything from them. Furthermore, restoring files takes a long time – very long time. It would take both weeks and probably months to download my entire archive from CrashPlan, so I only see them as a protection against the very unlikely scenarios. I quit making the second backup for my parents’ house, as this was also for the very unlikely scenarios.

The best part is, though, that after the initial backup was made, my daily increment in data is not higher than what can be backed up in a day – roughly 20 GB. So whenever a new photo or portrait session is transferred to my computer, the backup will start immediately and will be completed the very same day. This makes me sleep a little better knowing that I will never have to call someone to tell them, that I’ve lost their photos. And it doesn’t matter that much anymore, if I forget one of the monthly backups to my local backup drives. I can still get the files from CrashPlan, if an accident occurs.

On top of this, the online backup protects me from an old nightmare: What if I accidentally delete something without realizing it, until all backups are overwritten? With the storage of file revisions and deleted files at CrashPlan, I don’t have to worry about that anymore either.

Read more about CrashPlan here: http://www.code42.com/crashplan/

* Please be aware that RAID is NOT an alternative to making backups – I’ve had this discussion many times. RAID can protect you from failing drives and limit your downtime. It can’t protect your data from fire or theft.

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