Friday 11 January 2013

Backup Workflow

Doing a little review to kick off the new year, I realized that I now have 1.1TB (terabytes) of picture data. I shoot everything in RAW, and those files are large. Lots of large files equals lots of data.

I work on a MacBook Air. It has limited internal hard drive space, so I've been carrying around a 1TB laptop drive inside of a USB enclosure (I called it "Media Drive" - MD below). When I'm shooting tethered, importing a compact flash (CF) into Lightroom (LR), or editing pictures, I'll connect Media Drive launch LR and work.

I've used Time Machine to backup the internal hard drive as well as MD to a single drive I've sitting on my desk in the office. It is a full sized, 2Tb drive inside of a USB drive enclosure. As my data on MD has grown, the backups don't go back as far back in time as they use to. As of last week - first week in January 2013 - the backups now only go back to the end of November.

I feel a bit exposed on a weekend when I'm shooting lots of pictures and they're only residing on MD. I feel better when I get into the office on Monday morning, connect my laptop to the backup drive, and Time Machine does its thing. I then have two copies (one on MD, and the other on the desktop USB drive that Time Machine makes its backups to).

Two problems with this.

First, if I'm out on the weekend, and Media Drive fails, I'm hooped until I can get back into the office and restore from the backup. Hopefully in this scenario I haven't lost too much weekend work...

Second, before Christmas I was pushing up against the 1TB boundary on Media Drive. I'm using a laptop drive in this USB enclosure (laptop drives are rather forgiving at being knocked around as they are built for that kind of abuse!). Laptop drives are hard to find (or prohibitively expensive) over 1TB in size.

I decided to solve the two above issues by going to a Drobo Mini. They have been getting some good press since they were released a few months ago.

The Drobo Mini is an enclosure that houses up to 4 laptop drives. It redundantly backs up the data stored on the drives inside of it. If a drive fails, all the data is secure and you can continue working until you're able to remove the dead drive and replace it. Plus, if you need more space, you pop out the smallest drive of the installed drives, and replace it with something bigger. The unit rebuilds the redundancy across the newly inserted drive, and you've got more space and you're still protected.

Drobo Mini (DM) is bigger than a single laptop drive in a USB enclosure. Not as easy to pop into my laptop bag. Plus, you also need to plug in the DM to a wall socket. The Media Drive had one cable running to the USB port of the computer you're using - getting its power that way. DM is going to be harder to take to a Starbucks to do some photo editing - more on that in another blog post.

The added benefit of DM is that it connects to the Mac via the Thunderbolt port. WAY faster (the MacBook Air I'm using only has USB2 - not USB3).

Here are a couple of screen shots of the DM dashboard when it's connected to my Mac.  This first dashboard shows that DM gives me 2.01TB of storage space, and I'm currently using 1.15TB.

Drobo Mini Capacity report
This second dashboard view shows that I have 4 drives inserted into the DM. 3 x 750GB and 1 x 1TB drives. That is a total of 3.25TB of raw drive space giving me 2.01TB of redundantly protected drive space.
Drobo Mini showing the status report. Notice the 4 drives (on right side) connected in the device.

Ok - the next problem I'm worried about. Let's say I've driving back from a shoot, and I stop for a Starbucks and my car is stolen with everything in it. Or someone walks off with my laptop and DM in my briefcase. OR - what happens if the DM fails (which is one of the comments I'm seeing online right now; you can still move the drives over to another DM and you're back up and running, but it might take a few days to get another DM).

I still need the Drobo Mini backed up.

It took me a while to come up with MY best practice. YOUR best practice might be different than mine.

Being a computer guy, I could use the rsync command, write a script and sync my picture drive (DM) to a USB hard drive that I connect to every so often. I know myself, and I'll forget to do this and I'll be exposed. Or, I could still use Time Machine to backup to a single large drive (3 or 4TB).

I like the "out of mind" nature of Time Machine. You connect, and it backs up - no questions asked. But I don't like the single drive limiting my expansion space. Plus, I like having more than a month of backups I can go back to. This is perhaps less of a need than a "warm fuzzy" feeling that I get.

I decided to try the Drobo 5D. It is a larger enclosure that is not ment to be portable (if the Drobo Mini is actually meant to be portable is open for debate as well). It holds up to 5 full size computer disk drives. Add drives as you need more space. Replace a drive if one fails. Easy.

I really like the expansion side of that equation. I'm continually running out of space on single drives. This gives me expansion room and data protection. Don't get me wrong: some day I'll bump up the 15TB total expansion that the 5D will provide for me today (with 5 x 4TB drives). By then we'll probably be seeing drives sizes well beyond 4TB, and that upward maximum of 15TB total will be greater.

So here is a picture of my complete solution in practice:
Drobo 5D on the left. Drobo Mini in the middle. MacBook Air with the Drobo Dashboard open
As the astute reader might notice from the picture, the 5D only has 2 drives in it at the moment. I've installed 2 x 3TB drives. Redundant, and enough space for my immediate needs. This weekend, I'll backup the other Mac's in the house (via Time Machine) to the 5D and likely add another drive or two.

This will make me sleep better at night.

What are you using to backup your pictures? I'd love to hear your comments on your best practices. What keeps your mind from worrying late at night when the dark creeps into your thoughts?

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