In between my music and photography work, I have a lot of hard drives. But even so, I've never had one fail, until just two days ago. It went without warning: no crunching sounds, no notifications, just a red light.
It's been a rough few weeks for me computer-wise. I was editing client photos earlier this weekend, and all was fine. Then, when I turned on my computer Sunday, I received the following message: "Your device has a RAID configuration issue." I figured it was something a restart might fix, but I peered at my enclosure (it's hidden behind my monitor) and saw solid red lights (never a good sign). I shut down my computer, then restarted it and watched the enclosure as the soft white light blinked on, thinking all was fine, only to watch it suddenly switch to solid red again. I opened the drive utilities app and saw the dreaded status telling me one of the drives had failed and needed to be replaced.
Thankfully, I use two 8 TB hard drives in a single enclosure in RAID 1 for my photos. RAID isn't a backup solution, but it did allow me to immediately switch over to the redundant drive and continue working. Everything is backed up with Backblaze (at $5 a month, I really can't recommend them enough) and on another drive in my apartment, but even so, the thought of losing literal terabytes of not just data but hard work, creativity, and memories was sobering.
The 3-2-1 Strategy
If you're never heard of the 3-2-1 strategy, it's the best way to back up your data. It goes like this: at the minimum, you have three copies of your data, two of which are local and one of which is offsite. So, for example, my current setup is:
- Main external hard drive: My photos live on an 8 TB external hard drive in RAID 1 configuration with an identical drive. I do not count the RAID configuration as a backup; it simply makes it very easy to get back up and running if a drive fails.
- NAS: I have a second external hard drive attached to my router. My computer automatically backs up the photos drive to that drive. I prefer it this way because my router is in another room on another circuit, so I do get at least some isolation between the two local drives (imagine a burst pipe in the ceiling pouring on both if they were on the same desk).
- Backblaze: Every night, my computer syncs to Backblaze, so my offsite backup is always up to date. The initial backup took about 40 days, but if that's too long for you, you can send them a hard drive of your data.
With this method, you can easily get up and running again if your local drive fails, and if something catastrophic happens, you have the offsite backup. And I can't stress the importance of an offsite backup enough. It doesn't matter if you have 500 copies; if they're all in the same place and a fire/flood/theft occurs, you're done for. If your Internet connection is slow, another option is buying a backup drive that you bring home every few weeks or so, then store elsewhere, such as an office or relative's house. At $5 a month and with the benefit of real-time backups, Backblaze is a no-brainer for me, but if your connection speed precludes its use, bringing home an extra external drive every few weeks isn't a bad alternative.
Yes, the extra hard drives and subscription services add cost to the equation. Nonetheless, the thought of losing my work is terrifying enough that I'll gladly pay that extra cost, and I definitely recommend you do too.
Lead image by Pixabay user 422737, used under Creative Commons.