How do you ensure you won’t lose files due to hard drive or computer failure? Can you restore your files from a copy if your computer is lost to fire, flood, or even theft? Those questions used to keep me awake at night and I don’t think I am alone. A recent posting in a Facebook group for photographers posed similar questions and generated quite a bit of back and forth between members. It seems others are grappling with how to backup and manage their files. For my solution, I finally used my 20-plus years of experience in IT and created a backup system using the 3-2-1 strategy.
The 3-2-1 strategy is an IT industry best practice. It requires three copies of your data, with backups on two types of media, and with one copy located in a different geographic location. Let’s break that down.
You should have three copies of your data, photos, documents, or whatever information you do not want to lose. For most people that means you have your original and two backup copies. Obviously the original is the easy part. How to manage the other two copies is addressed later in this post.
Your backup files should be on two separate storage media. Some recommendations go so far as to state the backup files should be on two different types of storage media. At a minimum, ensure you have copies that are not on the same storage device as the originals.
Lastly, you should make sure one backup is stored offsite, in another physical (geographic) location. Keeping one backup copy nearby allows you to quickly recover from a hard drive crash or equipment failure. Keeping another offsite, protects you from fire, natural disasters, and even theft.
Here is my backup system:
My working copies are stored on a Drobo system, which is connected directly to my computer. There are also devices designed to work as network systems. Drobo is a branded product line of drive arrays. My box has four hard drives installed and a part of each file is written on each drive. If one drive fails, I can replace it with a new one, and the system rebuilds all my files. So, losing one hard drive is not catastrophic. As I take more photos and store more files, I can swap a drive for a larger one at any time. Obviously I love Drobo, but you can use any RAID device to accomplish the same thing.
My local backup is an external hard drive. Right now I use a 5T drive and I make a complete backup at least every 30 days. This hard drive is stored in a fireproof safe in my home. What happens if I lose something within those 30 days you ask? That’s addressed in my offsite backup, as I’ll explain next.
I have a backup in the cloud. This serves as my second backup copy and as the offsite copy. I currently use Backblaze and I have it set to backup continuously. Everytime I make a change to a file, Backblaze makes a copy of the changed file to the cloud. If you choose a cloud site, note that the first backup takes the longest time and uses the most bandwidth. I quickly bumped up against my Internet plan’s data limit. You can throttle Backblaze to limit the amount of data transferred so you won’t incur data overages.
Of course the real test of any backup system is when you need to restore files. I recently had a power supply issue with my four year old Drobo mini. I had been contemplating purchasing a larger unit designed for more intense usage, so while I was waiting for my replacement unit, I pulled the trigger and bought a new 5C. Because my Drobo mini was without power, I could not simply copy files to the new unit. It proved to be a great time to test Backblaze and I’ll say, I am pleased with the results. I was able to restore my files from Backblaze to my new Drobo. Now my Drobo mini will travel with me on photo shoots and tours to serve as my backup drive.
I’ve helped others setup their own backup system and am happy to answer any questions.