When it comes to protecting our photography data we all know we should do it, but for a lot of us, we don’t know how to protect our data from loss. Should we use a RAID 1 or a RAID 6, striping or mirroring, NAS or DAS? I use KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid.
Of course, each system or approach has its advantages and disadvantages and not all approaches are appropriate for everyone. The amount of risk you can withstand of losing data, along with the cost in time and money, along with the ease or difficulty of protecting your data should all be considered when implementing a data protection plan. It can become complicated and overwhelming, but for the majority of us, it doesn't have to be.
For the majority of photographers, a simple approach that is easy to understand and to follow is the best approach. After all the best data protection plans in the world are worthless if we don’t use them. That’s why I’ve developed my own approach, for not only my photo data but also my business data that minimizes the risk of loss while keeping it simple to follow. While no system or approach is 100 percent perfect, I believe my approach reduces the risk from viruses, complete data loss from theft or fire, and file corruption while also minimizing complexity and cost.
The approach I’m advocating requires a couple of hard drives, an off-site location, and a little discipline. I admit it does not eliminate all risk of the data loss but I believe it minimizes it to a reasonable level for most photographers.
This is how I protect my data. First I download all my photos from the camera to two separate hard drives. I like to use Photo Mechanic for this as I can rename my files and apply any ITCP data I need to the files. So now I have two copies of my data which provides redundancy, so if a hard drive fails I have another drive with the same data. One of the two drives is automatically backed up at regular intervals by a third hard drive which is running Apple’s Time Machine. The purpose of this third hard drive is to provide a version-controlled backup, which helps to protect against deleting a file or a file becoming corrupt. Remember I’m also backing up business documents. You may not have the latest version but at least you have a version to work from.
The next step addresses data protection by isolation. By isolation I mean from being connected to my computer and network and also from my physical location. This step addresses two concerns. First is the risk of the data becoming corrupt due to a computer issue or from being held hostage by a ransomware. The second is protection from physical theft, fire, water damage, or a spilled beverage. I handle this by rotating two additional hard drives between my office and my credit union’s safe deposit box. The frequency of this step can be adjusted to suit one’s needs but I do this step once a month on the 15th and I put a reminder in my calendar so I don’t forget. One of these drives is always in the safe deposit box at the credit union and the other is at my office. On the 15th of the month I take the hard drive that is at the office and using Carbon Copy Cloner I do a complete copy of one of the two hard drives I use on a daily basis. Once this is completed, I take the hard drive that was just copied to to the credit union. I place this hard drive in the safe deposit box and take the hard drive that was in the safe deposit box back to the office for the next month’s backup. I also grab a Tootsie-Pop that my credit union leaves out for their customers. Now I have a copy of my data that is never more than a month old so that if I lost all the other hard drives I still have one drive with the vast majority of my data that is safe at the credit union. Of course, if you want you could add another drive to the rotation or rotate on a weekly basis.
A final step I occasionally use for short-term data that I’m working on is cloud-based storage. I only use this for specific items, as I still don’t believe cloud-based storage is ideal for long-term storage due to the time to upload and download. This method is getting better but for me, I’d rather stick with my multiple hard drive and location method.
Remember data protection is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so what solutions have you devised for data protection and just importantly what level of risk are you willing to take with your data?