Friday, October 15, 2010

Bullet Proof Protection for your Photography

I have been concerned about protecting against the loss of my photography since I began pursuing photography seriously nearly seven years ago.  Over the years I have progressively added new measures to ensure the security of my work (see previous posts about Drobo).  The focus of this post is to describe my system at it’s current state of evolution, and acknowledge a couple of opportunities for improving this system.

The following diagram depicts the process for securing my photos.


If the diagram is not intuitively obvious, here is a breakdown:

  1. Take photo
  2. Remove memory card from camera and import to laptop
  3. Synchronization software (Allway Sync) makes a duplicate copy to a portable external hard drive
  4. Simultaneous to step 3, a copy is sent to an online storage site (iDriveSync)
  5. Once the file is synched to the iDriveSync site, it is replicated on my desktop computer (this is all done without intervention on my part)
  6. Synchronization software on my desktop then replicates the new photograph to the Drobo (multi drive external hard drive rack with internal redundancy)
  7. Finally, annual catalogs are burned to DVD and stored at my secret volcano lair

The key to any system of protecting your data is multiple copies in multiple locations.  Based on my system, upon importing a photo to the laptop (all preliminary sorting and first cut processing is made on the laptop), within minutes it will exist in 6 locations (CF card, laptop, external hard drive, iDriveSync, desktop computer, and Drobo), 7 if you account for the Drobo’s internal redundancy.  Best of all, this system requires very little effort.

The key components to this system are the external hard drives (small portable drive and the multi-drive Drobo), synchronization software, and online synchronization/storage.  There are a number of options with respect to external hard drives and synchronization software.  I have talked extensively about the Drobo in other posts and will therefore spare you.  Synchronization software (for synching between drives) is plentiful and inexpensive.  I use Allway Sync which is not pretty, but effective and cheap ($20).  So on to the heart of this system – online synchronization and storage.  Over the last few years, the business of online storage has flourished.  At every turn, you now run into advertisements for companies offering to backup your data to an online repository. 

Not all of these online systems are equal.  One key distinguishing factor for me was the ability to not only store the data online, but to offer live synchronization between computers.  Backup is great.  But taking files from one computer, storing them on-line, then copying them to a second computer without a conscious bit of effort on my part seemed like a no brainer; 3 copies versus 2, and less work for me with respect to file management.  SugarSync and Dropbox are also very nice solutions (definitely prettier, slicker and quicker than iDriveSync), but I chose iDriveSync based principally on price; $50/year for UNLIMITED storage.  My crystal ball says the competition is heating up and will result in prices being driven down and more companies offering the synchronization feature in addition to backup.  Although iDriveSync is the best deal I could find at the moment based on my objectives, others are sure to follow.

So how can I improve on this system? 

1.  Many people advocate having a bundle/basket/gaggle/flock/pod of CF cards and cycle through them in a set rotation so you have a “raw” copy of the photos for some period of time before deleting or reformatting the cards.  This practice ensures you have yet another copy of your photographs for some time until you are forced to “recycle” the card.  I have not yet included this in my workflow, but am planning on doing so (once I burn through a dozen other things on my photography wish list).

2.  Another layer of protection could be achieved by subscribing to a second online storage service that is used only as a backup service (such as Carbonite, Mozy, Norton, Microsoft Live, Barracuda, iBackup, etc.).  I consider this a low priority, yet valuable addition to a bullet proof system.

I would like to acknowledge that even with addition of the two areas of improvement I noted, this is a somewhat economical method to offer peace of mind.  This is not the gold standard…you could invest limitless cash in achieving the gold standard.  However, I am comfortable in this cash constrained approach.  Here is a summary:

  • CF cards – 10 x 4GB = $220 (note: I am not a fan of the huge capacity CF cards – up to 64GB – if I were to drop 64GB of data in a puddle, I would have to spend much more money in grief therapy.  4GB cards give me about 240 shots, and thanks to the new HUGE cards, are now very cheap).
  • Synchronization software – 2 licenses = $40
  • 500GB portable external drive = $75
  • Drobo with 4TB = $800
  • iDrive Sync annual fee (unlimited storage) - $50
  • Blank DVDs = $25 annual (depends on the number of photos you take)
  • Secret Volcano Lair = priceless

Total = $1210

Important note from the lawyers; this is not intended to be a prescription for 100% effective data protection.  Rather, it is intended to give you something to consider as you ponder the alternatives to protecting your important work.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


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