Monday, March 13, 2006

Back up, dude

Pro photographer Craig Cowling, aka "Naughty James" (gee, kewl, eh?) suffered a computer failure last month, and lost seven years of work.
If he had only backed up even once a YEAR, he would have saved 80% of it!
Back up, dude.

My good friend, ace photog Laurie Jeffery AFIAP had a close call last year. He had finally bowed to my calls to back up to an external hard disk. Unfortunately in the middle of the procedure the external disk died. And I a highly unusual manner, it somehow managed to make the data disappear from his computer also! (I never heard of this happening before.) We live in the same town, and I had some hard disk salvage software, so he took the hard disk to my place. We worked and worked. In the end we had the hard disk practically in pieces on my floor, connected to my Mac by Firewire, and trying to make a connection. Laurie then unplugged and replugged the cable and said "try clicking now". I had already given up, but I humored him. Lo and behold, it connected!

I said to Laurie: "listen, before we unplug and you take it home, how about we back up all your work to my computer, just to make sure." So we did. It was several years of work, so it would take over an hour, and we went to lunch. When we came back, it was all copied to my hard drive, and we unplugged it. And that external hard disk was never heard from again alive. But we had the data, I burned it to DVDs for Laurie.

I guess the moral is: back up, at least once a month (once a week is better). And do it to more than one different disk. And have one of them in a different building.

And if you think about it, this is another great thing about digital. Photographer Petter Hegre lost 20 years of negatives in a fire two years ago. Try backing up negatives!


Malgolad said...

Yes, back up indeed !
And in case of an emergency, putting the hard drive into the freezer for a while (wrapped in a plastic bag to fend off humidity) can work wonders.
A disk that fails at room temperature may still have some minutes of life left in arctic conditions.

eolake said...

Really? Holy moly.
I wonder why?

Malgolad said...

I'm not sure exactly why, I heard several explanations... one is that the cold causes mechanic parts to shrink slightly, so that they are less likely to get stuck.

Wonko outside the asylum said...

This is one of the reasons I began to put my images on-line - don't get excited, it's only Truprint, hey they're cheap and so am I.

Originally it was because I didn't have the hard disk space to store my photos permanently. I could download a set of pictures, but had no room thereafter. An external hard drive and new PC have improved the situation, for the time being. So, whereas before I only had the on-line images, now I have both, and some DVDs as well. ;o)

Of course if things went really, horribly wrong, I'd have to pay to download the images back from Truprint. I'm hoping that's a bill I'll never have to pay.

Gary said...


I prefer backing up to tape. I do an incremental backup daily and a full backup weekly and rotate tapes in a monthly cycle so I can go back to a file a month old if necesary and I never lose more than 1 day's work and I sleep nights. This has saved me several times from accidental mistakes.

I know many people like disk, and that works for them.

Dave New said...

I used to use tape religously (hey, I was the first full-time software developer for Irwin Magnetics, back in the day), but after hard drive capacities started to outstrip current affordable (read as "less than several thousand dollars in drives and tapes) tape backup solutions, I started investigating alternatives, like CD (too small), DVD (not ready at the time), etc.

After going through a period of essentially no real backups, other than the fact that all household computers had their 'home' directories on a stable Linux server in the basement (and I had a close scare with that one, when the flaky motherboard hard drive DMA controller locked up one day, and almost lost the whole shootin' match), I picked up a couple of 8GB DAT drives used at a hamfest, but still never got around to actually installing them and using them. They required a high-end SCSI interface and special differential-drive cables, both of which are not easy to find at your local CompUSA these days (nor are the DDS4 DAT tapes, it seems, for that matter, and they aren't exactly cheap).

Now, with the advent of really cheap, massive hard drive storage, the active backup solution these days is using external hard drives of one sort or another, with CD/DVD for archival backup of specific projects.

My preferred external drive solution (for backup, not for editing, because of the speed penalty) is to use the Linksys NSLU2 network-attached-storage module, which lets me hook two USB2.0 external drives up, and then they appear on the ethernet LAN.

Tne NSLU2 has a web-based interface that lets you set up private directories for users, and you can also easily schedule backups of machines in the household to one of the drives. So, you can keep working files on your local drive (for speed and ease of access), have the NSLU2 back your 'My Documents' directory nightly to one of the USB2.0 drives, and then once a week, have the entire contents of the first external drive backed up to the 2nd drive.

You could optionally have a 3rd drive, and swap it routinely for the 2nd one, and take one off site, for extra security.

The nice thing about all this is that is fairly easy to set up, the cost is reasonable (the NSLU2 sells for less than $100, a couple of 250GB Lacie drives can be had for about $125 each from, and the system uses little electricity, compared to the old Linux file server machine I had set up in the basement.

One item to be aware of -- the NSLU2 is running Linux internally, and will re-format a new drive that is attached (after asking your permission) to EXT3, which is a robust journaling file system. After this happens, though, you will not be able to disconnect the drive and mount it directly on your desktop or laptop system, unless it is also running Linux. If this frightens you, you could consider downloading and burning a CD- or DVD-based Linux system link Knoppix, which you can boot on any machine without disturbing the installed operating system. Then, you could mount your external drive, and copy any need files to the C: drive in your system, to recover them in case of failure of the NSLU2 server.

The funny thing about backup -- if it isn't fall-over easy, it just never seems to get done.

Zeppellina said...

I`m just one of lifes little morons..........!!!

I have lost data twice through not backing things up, I`m afraid to confess!

I always mean to back everything up, and I back things up every now and then, but good intentions often get put on the shelf marked "later...".

Yes, I know....I`m a sad person.....!!

I need some discipline......!

Chris Hester said...

OK, here's what I do. I make a minimum of two backups. I have a removable hard drive, and also use a memory stick. (These are getting larger and larger - a 32Mb one has just been announced!) The best thing is my removable hard drive. All you need is a cheap drive bay that fits below the CD-ROM in your PC. You can then remove the drive after the machine shuts down. Hence I am able to back up every file. The drive is 80Gb, as is the one in the PC.

Now I once had a brilliant solution, or so I thought. I used the removable drive and put it on a RAID system, along with the fixed internal one. That way, I didn't have to remember to back up, it was happening in real-time! Alas I had to reformat the main drive, and when I tried to set RAID up again (which mirrors the first drive onto the second one) I couldn't get it to work at all. I also figured that if a virus or a mistake deleted files, it would also delete them from the mirrored drive!

So now I manually back up after doing any work. I put the USB memory stick in, and make sure all my folders are identical - just the drive letters differ. So now if I go to D:\PHOTOGRAPHY\Work\domai\A\Aimee\ and see aimee-4254.jpg, all I have to do is copy it, then change the address bar from D:\ to H:\ and click paste! (My 2 drives are set up with 4 partitions each - C,D,E,F and G,H,I,J.)

I can also do the same by changing the D:\ or the H:\ to M:\ to access my USB drive, and again click paste. (Well I would if there was room for all my free Domai samples on there!)

I'm thinking even 2 drives isn't enough. I once backed up to CDs as well, but it took too many discs! I can't wait for 250Gb drives to become small enough to carry in your coat pocket. That would be good.

Anyway, back up as many times as you can!