Back in the “Old Days” of computers, the mantra “Save Frequently and Often” was a hedge against the common system hangs and crashes of the day. While operating systems and software are much more stable these days, the mantra is still worth hanging onto and practicing for two main reasons:
1. Technology is not infallible
2. Human beings are not infallible
Computer operating systems and programs will crash and hang. Hard drives will crash and fail. Humans will format hard drives and memory cards thinking they’ve downloaded or saved the information stored on those devices. Humans will drop things they shouldn’t be dropping and misplace things they should be paying better attention to. It’s natural. It happens. However, if you can avoid that knot in your stomach when you’ve lost 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, or even 2GB of image files due to a hardware crash or other mishap, that’s a lot of stress and woe energy you can redirect to restoring that data instead of looking for the nearest window to leap out of.
Your job, if you value your digital photographs, is to make a practice of Saving Frequently and Often. There’s much more to this than I can squeeze into this little space, but let me point out some options (there are many) that can relieve the pain if such a disaster strikes you.
A second mantra is the 3-2-1 Rule:
3. You should keep 3 copies (at least) of any important files – a primary and 2 backups
2. Your backup files should be on 2 different media types (i.e. hard drive and optical media – DVD/Blu-Ray) to protect against different types of hazard
1. 1 backup copy (at least) should be stored offsite
The 3-2-1 Rule is really a guideline (like most “rules” in photography) and should be understood to be a minimum recommendation. You can never have too many backups (versus having no backup).
There are many more backup options now than just a few years ago and they range in price from around $5 to several thousand, depending on your needs. Let’s run through a general list:
1. DVD and Blu-Ray. The least expensive but probably the most time-consuming backup tool. DVD capacity is 4.7GB and Blu-Ray is 25GB (50GB for dual layer). The cost per GB is nearly the same for each with DVD at an average of $0.299/GB ($0.60 – $0.90 each) and Blu-Ray at $0.213/GB (about $5.00 each). The $300 cost of a Blu-Ray drive might offset any small cost-savings for now, until prices come down.
2. External Hard Drive Dock. These devices are relatively new, dispensing with the difficult-to-access enclosure for a simple “drop slot” for the bare drive. The BlacX SATA dock by Thermaltake connects using Firewire or USB and can read 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives and costs between $35 – $55 depending on the vendor. You do have to be careful handling the hard drive since it is bare, but the dock is a convenient way to quickly backup or transfer information.
3. External Hard Drive units. Large drive enclosures like the Seagate FreeAgent Pro or Western Digital MyBook are more for ‘permanent’ use as backup space or storage. Connecting via USB or Firewire, they range in price from $90 for 500GB to $200 for 2TB.
4. External Hard Drive enclosures. Sometimes called JBODs (Just a Bunch Of Disks), these enclosures are simply extensions of the disk capacity of your main computer, with from 2 to 6 or 8 or more hard drive bays. Some enclosures have removable hard drive carriers for “easy” replacement while others require the hard drives to be attached in the bay (like in your computer). Connecting via Firewire or USB, they can also be set up in a RAID, individual volumes, or as a large volume. Other enclosures are used for single drives and can be purchased with a drive or empty.
5. RAID and BeyondRAID. RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Disks and allows for the division and replication of data among multiple drives. Some cons for RAID is it’s difficult for the unitiated to set up and maintain (I think) and the volume is set by the smallest capacity. So, if you have a 250GB drive and a 500GB drive, the capacity is driven by the 250GB and you “waste” the 250GB from the 500GB drive. Also, if you upgrade capacity, you have to backup and reload all your data. Systems such as the Buffalo Terastation (2TB $730 – $900 empty, 4TB $1150 – $1400 empty) use RAID. A system called BeyondRAID, used by Data Robotics in their Drobo line, allows the use of multiple capacity drives and easy upgrading of capacity without the need to reload data. Drobo products range from the 4-bay Drobo (up to 8TB capacity, starts at $310 empty) to the 8-bay DroboPro and DroboElite (up to 16TB capacity, starts at $1250 empty).
6. Solid State Drives. This technology is very promising but still expensive. These drives have no moving parts and are very durable, like your Compact Flash memory cards. They use less power than conventional hard drives, run cooler, are smaller, and are faster. The downside is the price. A 64GB solid state drive is $200 and a 256GB solid state drive is $700. As with all new technology, the price will come down as the devices enter the mainstream.
7. Personal (or Portable) Storage Devices. These palm-sized devices are primarily for backing up memory cards. Epson, Hyperdrive, JoBo, Wolverine, are some of the brands that manufacture PSDs. They come in various configurations and capacities. Epson PSDs tend to be the most expensive, but feature rich. However, upgrading capacity requires the purchase of a new device and battery life is low. Hyperdrive makes a PSD with smaller color screen, but faster upload and longer battery life for about 1/3 the cost of the Epson. These devices are great in the field for backing up memory cards. They connect to your desktop or laptop via USB just like an external hard drive.
In addition to the backup devices, a regular program and procedure to backup your data is needed. Whether you backup every day, once a week, or once a month, doing so on a regular basis will save you a ton of grief if you ever have a crash.