I don’t know how many hard drives you have but as a photographer and filmmaker I have over a dozen hard drives, scattered across three computers.
It used to be enough just to pair up some hard drives and move a few files around.
No more. Each computer needs its own backup drive/system.
I’ve just been through cleaning up duplicate backups and freeing up about five drives.
While doing so, I had to come up with some principles of backup, which I will call the backup manifesto. Here they are:
- more backup is better
- all drives to be named and labeled at all times (how many Seagate 200 GB drives – first near silent hard drives available – can one photographer have? about half a dozen)
- dispose of dead drives immediately (you have to identify them)
working drives go into USB cases of their own
- when in doubt, don’t erase but retire.
- you need backup of your backup. Always pair drives.
- less working drives is easier to manage i.e. 2×1000 GB is better than 10×200 GB
- back up 5×200 GB to 1×1000 GB. This liberates 5×200 GB (second half of the pairs) and leaves you with a single working drive with access to all your archived material.
- bare SATA drives with a SATA external plug is space/power supply efficient.
- drives are cheap – even good ones. Buy top of the line well-tested drives in the largest size readily available (usually one increment down from the current maximum). Find the extra $50. Your time and nerves are worth the expense.
- get a good disk cataloging program. I use CDfinder. You don’t want to have to handplug six ATA drives every time you need to find a single old file.
- if you are serious about using your disks efficiently, get a good disk space calculator (I use Baseline) which will also tell you about duplicate files. Using Baseline, I was able to clean out 30 GB of duplicate files on my Macbook boot drive in half an hour. It would have taken days to do this work by hand with just the finder.
- keep your boot drives only 70% full (maximum!). The last 30% of your hard drive is the slowest part. You don’t want to be booting from the slowest part – your new $2000 laptop will be running at about 60% efficiency. (Different rules apply to RAID arrays but even there you’d want to keep 10 or 15% clean to make sure you don’t crash it by filling all the free space.)
- upgrade your backups to new media when you can put 4 or 5 of them on the new large standard.
- firewire 400 is more expensive and somewhat unreliable. firewire 800 is still more expensive and very unreliable. Use firewire sparingly, only for fast media drives.
- if you insist on snapshots of old boot drives, just make them disk images on the big drives. You don’t really need those snapshots. Trust me – you won’t be going back to Windows 98 or OS X 10.1.5 or 10.2.3 (you might just go back to OS 8/9 for a legacy program or two so there are exceptions). Personally I haven’t. Mac OS X is getting a lot better and so are some of the new programmers. User interface is enough better that using vintage software is really a chore. Running any kind of virtualisation puts a big burden on your computer’s resources. The less of it you can do the better (I don’t even run Rosetta 99% of the time, let alone Classic).
When you are done, you should end up with two workhorse 750/1000 GB hard drives with a bunch of retired backups and a handful of free 160 GB to 300 GB hard drives available for various purposes (scratch drives/backup drives for friends).
You should almost never have to go to the retired backups to pull a file. Put them somewhere safe with a stable temperature. If they have sensitive information on them (no reason they need to – your sensitive information can be kept on one live drive and its two current backups), buy yourself an inexpensive safe and keep the retired drives there.
The retired drives won’t be used except in emergency so they should have a lifespan of another ten years. If you do have to pull a retired drive out due to a workhorse drive going down, you should duplicate it out to new media immediately.
Update - 18 January 2009: I've added an article with specific OS X back up software recommendations including a Bouncer Backup stress test on MimMac.
Alec has been helping businesses succeed online since 2000. Alec is an SEM expert with a background in advertising, as a former Head of Television for Grey Moscow and Senior Television Producer for Bates, Saatchi and Saatchi Russia. Alec maintains a photography and culture weblog at uncoy.com. His dance film Lapinthrope won prizes around the […]