Spring Resolution: Back Up


I hate backing up. I do it, but I hate it. If you’re not running back ups, you’re courting heartache. My cautionary tale: A few years back, my brother and I were editing our first indie feature. Our data got corrupted. Nothing was backed up. We lost 3 months of post-production -- the entire film. Starting from scratch nearly killed us. Don’t let it happen to you.

Data loss is more than an inconvenience -- it can be emotionally debilitating. Losing a paper for class or a report for work is never great, but losing personal digital media is much, much worse. Imagine turning on your computer and no longer having your library of digital photos, music, and video. No more holiday pictures of friends and family; no mp3s of the time your band opened for Russian Vogue; no video of your backpacking expedition across Europe. Your new resolution: Back up. It’s not as hard as you might think.
The Apple Flux Capacitor
Companies like Apple make back up quite easy. If you’re running Leopard or Snow Leopard, your computer is already set up with Time Machine. Plug in an external hard drive, and your Mac will ask if you’d like to use it to back up your system. You can set the parameters for when and how often you’d like to back up.

Apple's Time Machine interface let's you go back to the future (without the 1.21 gigawatt toll).

Time Machine saves multiple versions of your system, so it’s just as easy to locate a file that you created yesterday as one from last spring. The interface actually makes restoring files fun -- the view is like riding shotgun in the Millennium Falcon. If your entire system goes down, the information on the external drive can easily be ported to a new Mac at start up. Everything from your computer (applications, desktop, iTunes library, etc) will appear just as you left it.
Inexpensive bus-powered drives, like the Western Digital 1TB My Passport, work great with Time Machine and help conserve precious desk space. If you need something a bit tougher, Lacie’s 500GB Rugged Triple Interface Drive allows road warriors to connect via USB 2.0, FireWire 400, or FireWire 800.
Bad about plugging stuff in? Apple’s Time Capsule uses server-grade hard disks to back up your Mac wirelessly. iMac in the den?  MacBook in the kitchen? No problem. The unit operates as an 802.11n base station and can be configured to back up all the Macs on your network. The best part is, once you’ve set it up, you don’t have to do anything.  Time Machine and Time Capsule do all the work. Time Capsule is available in a 1TB or 2TB configuration. Capacity can even be increased by adding an external hard drive through the unit’s USB 2.0 port.
I’m a PC and Back Up was my Idea
Microsoft has gotten much better about offering back up options through their Windows OS. First with Vista and now with Windows 7, PC users can configure the back up of specific files or their entire system through the Backup and Restore Center. Much like Time Machine on the Mac (sans the slick Star Wars interface), you can select when and how often you’d like to save your data. All you need is a proper external drive.

Lacie Starck and Buffalo MiniStation Metro drives boast high capacity and high style.

Lacie’s 1TB Starck hard disk is fully compatible with both Vista and Windows 7. The unit is high on style, and you don’t have to fool around with any goofy drivers or software installs -- everything is plug-and-play. If you’re looking for something a bit more portable, try the Buffalo 500GB MiniStation Metro. Available in black, white, and red, this little guy features rubberized bumper protection and an integrated USB 2.0 cable. 

A few notes: the Microsoft Backup and Restore Center is available on all versions of Windows 7, but only on the Business and Ultimate editions of Vista. It’s one of those “buried” features, but can be accessed through the Control Panel or by doing a quick search under the Start menu. If you haven’t upgraded to Windows 7, this is the feature that should get you off the fence.
Big Files and Projects
Most pros and advanced creative types edit rich media content off of an external drive or series of drives. This is a smart way to work. The hard disk in the computer manages the OS and editing software, and the externals handle media content, project files, and render files. We’ve already talked about ways to back up your system. What about all that the rich media stuff?
Large corporations and production studios employ sophisticated and expensive networks of RAID systems. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. When a computer connects to a RAID, it sees the array of hard drives as a single disk. There’s a lot of technical behind-the-scenes stuff going on here, but RAID is essentially a bunch of hard drives working together to increase efficiency and reliability. If one of the drives in a RAID goes down, the system’s data remains intact. The failed drive is simply replaced and everything continues to operate business as usual.
Western Digital's 4TB My Book Studio features user-replaceable 2TB hard disks.
Corporate-class RAID is a rather complicated and pricey proposition, but there are a number of simplified, low-cost systems on the market. I’m a big fan of Western Digital’s 4TB My Book Studio Edition II. The unit comes formatted for Mac, but can just as easily be set up for Windows XP, Vista, and the new Windows 7. Connect to your computer via USB 2.0, eSATA, or Firewire 400/800. Set to RAID 1, the drive mirrors data between two 2TB disks. If one of the drives fails, a new 2TB disk can be added to save the day.

                                 Drobo utilizes multiple hard drvie bays for back up.

If you’re a small business or production house, Data Robotics has some powerful storage options to protect your files and bank account. The Drobo S is a 5-bay enclosure that easily connects to any Mac, Windows, or Linux-based system through USB 2.0, eSATA, or Firewire 800. You’ll need to bring your own 3.5” SATA hard drives to the party, but this is actually a good thing. Unlike traditional RAID housings, Drobo doesn’t require all of the hard drives to be the same brand, capacity, or speed. You’ll need at least 2 hard disks to get started. From there, you can expand as needed by replacing the smallest capacity drive with a larger one.

Need more space? The Drobo Pro offers the same great features of the Drobo S with space for up to 8 hard drives. The unit offers USB 2.0, Firewire 800, and iSCSI interfacing. Both Drobos can be configured to protect against 2 simultaneous hard drive failures.          
Summing Up the Back Up
Hard drive failure is never a question of if. It’s a matter of when. Your digital life is your life. Protect it. With integrated back up features available in most modern operating systems and the relatively low cost of external hard drives and RAID units, there’s really no excuse not to care for your precious data. If you make one technology resolution this spring, make it to back up.
David Flores is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. 

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For the klutzy types, the LaCie Rugged drives are awesome.  They have USB-only versions, as well as triple-interface with USB and FireWire.  I have a couple of 'em, and they're great.  Super durable.

Glyph makes very nice enclosures. I generally go for Western Digital, as I've had good luck with their drives & their support.

My photo backup strategy is a little more intense than most. I keep everything on an external RAID 1 enclosure, which is backed up via Time Machine. I also keep an additional backup set off-site on portable hard drives. Three copies of everything in two locations.

The best backup in the world is useless if it's on your desk at home and your house burns down, or someone comes in and steals your computer & drives. Cloud backup is certainly an intriguing option, but with hard drive prices they way they are, I think it's more practical & economical to take handle off-site using portable drives.

[Assuming, of course, that I don't drop them. :) ]

Glyph tabletop hard drives come with a hard travel case. If you look at my profile, you'll see the Glyph RAID that's on my gear wishlist. The included hard case os one of the reasons I want to go with Glyph. They also have really good customer support and a good warranty, so if you have trouble an actual helpful human being is just a phone call away.    

Especially with easy backup solutions like Apple's Time Machine, there's really no excuse not to.  Just grab an external drive, and let it do it's thing every now and then.  Automated backups have saved me a time or two, for sure.