Imagine you started a project and worked hard on it. I mean, really hard. I mean like 40-60 hours a week for a month-level hard. Now, imagine if you lost all that work. Pooof! It’s just gone the next day…
That’s what happened to me over the last 6 months. Twice.
As the old adage of Murphy’s law states: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Damn it, Murphy.
I’m not really one for being paranoid about most things, but when it comes to my images, or just work in general, I hate losing things I put time and effort in to. Recently I lost my entire 2017 and 2016 drives. I recovered most of it, but ended up losing every single .PSD file I created since before my trip to Melbourne last year. All that work, gone, only to exist as a heavily compressed image on Instagram.
Frustrated, I created a plan.
This plan had a bunch of requirements, constraints and some considerations, and they might be useful to you, so I thought I’d share them.
- Simple – It has to be easy, simple to understand and simple to explain.
- Expandable – Something I can build upon because I know it’s going to grow.
- Offline – I’m moving apartments soon. See ‘considerations’ below.
- 3 levels of redundancy – To put my mind at ease.
- Portable – I need to move around. I don’t really want to be tied to a massive RAID solution tied to a desk.
- Speed – Lightroom is slow enough as it is. I need some kind of SSD to work from.
- Multiple points of failure – Sounds like a bad thing but it’s actually a good thing. It means that everything doesn’t live in the one spot where it can die all at once.
- My laptop is old and has a pretty small hard drive on it. I’ve gotten to the point where I can no longer work on a significant volume of images at the same time (my Tokyo/HK files are over 300gb and don’t fit on my laptop all at once).
- I’m probably going to be moving apartments soon to somewhere closer to the city. This means that I may or may not have super fast upload speeds like I currently do. Let’s plan for the latter.
- I’m trying to get out of debt and save for another holiday, so I need a solution that can get me 80% of the way there at 20% of the price.
- 85MB raw files are a total pain in the ass to deal with, but they’re worth it for the 5 stop advantage so I’m not going to give that up.
My first knee-jerk reaction was to go for a RAID solution. I won’t bore you too much with the technical details, but I explored using RAID 0 and 1 configurations, did some price and speed comparisons with other drive types, and weighed all of those up with portability.
Here are my conclusions about RAID:
- RAID 0 is okay as a working drive for speed and size, but I’m tied to a physically big drive and a desk
- RAID 1 is okay as a backup or archive, but doesn’t protect you from data loss
- RAID in general means that this drive will be on and connected almost 24/7 which uses energy and spins up the drives unnecessarily
- For a substantial size (>8TB), it’s a significant initial investment. Most of these configurations are over $600. Hell, for anything over 10TB, you’re going to pay over $1000 to set that up.
- Depending on how you set it up, it will usually mean a single point of failure. A big drive is great for convenience – everything is in one location. But that means there’s only one point of failure. If a surge suddenly goes through your house and fries all your electronics, all your images are gone in one fell swoop.
So I decided to go a different route. Multiple portable hard drives.
Here’s how it works
- A ‘working’ space that is fast and reliable feeds into…
- ‘Primary drives’ where main backups/usage occur, which eventually feeds into…
- ‘Archive drives’ that are duplicated into on-site and off-site drives that lie around if and whenever I need them.
I have a 2013 MacBook Pro. It’s kinda shit. Really old. Very slow. I need a new one. It has a 512GB SSD which really only has around 150-200GB’s of space for my images.
To get around that issue, I have a SanDisk Extreme 900 SSD 1.92TB which gives me almost 2TB’s of storage space, 850 MB/s read and write speed (which is insanely fast), and is USB 3.0 and USB-C compatible for when I eventually get locked down to only using USB-C on any future MacBook Pro’s.
It’s a fantastic drive (review coming soon), but it’s expensive. I figured if there was any point of this plan that would be pricey, it’s at this point that I would be willing to pay for it. This solution prolongs my laptop life, keeps everything fast, and encrypts it all too if I want.
On this ‘working’ solution, my laptop does nothing but process the files and acts as a backup storage for my 4 and 5 star images, as well as any composite material I need like stars and birds and clouds and other Photoshoppy stuff.
My SanDisk SSD contains my entire year’s worth of images in the one fast place, as well keeping a primary location of my 4 and 5 star images and comp material.
Primary drives and satellite backups
These are my main drives, sorted by year. For my 2016 files, I have a 1TB WD My Passport that neatly fits all of my 2016 files that I rarely use. I only ever plug this in when I need it.
For my 2017 files, I have a My Passport Ultra 2TB which contains all of this year’s files and is constantly backed up every day (or… whenever I remember, but frequently 😅). This is my main 2017 drive.
Both of these drives are just regular-speed portable hard drives with USB 3.
You’ll notice that there are two ‘portfolio backup’ nodes in this segment. These are my satellite backups for my 4 and 5 star images, and they’re stored on a 32GB flash drive I had laying around and a SanDisk Ultra 64GB MicroSD. Yes, this means that my 4 and 5 star images are backed up a total of 4 times. These are images and edits I use to post on Instagram, do prints with, and generally like enough to edit. They’re important. They’re my portfolio pieces. They’re the diamond of my work.
Then comes the archives. These are drives that I have incase everything falls to shit. They’re updated infrequently (like once a month), but they’re split up by year for easy categorisation and multiple levels of redundancy. At my place, I keep a My Passport 1TB for my 2016 files, and a My Passport 2TB for my 2017 files.
I then have a duplicate of these two drives and I give them to my mum where my dogs can guard them for safe keeping 🐶. This way, if the fire alarm for the apartment is actually going off for real this time because some dickhead lit the building on fire, I still have all my files safe from a month ago. Not bad.
So all of this might seem a little daunting, it’s not when you dig in to it, trust me. It’s also worth getting to know and design a backup plan for yourself, too. But if you had to outline the main design of the plan, it’s this:
- Where you work with your files isn’t a backup. You should probably back that up.
- You should also keep a copy of those files on another, seperate drive as a backup you use every now and then.
- Then, have another seperate drive to back that up which you would do periodically, preferably at a different location from where you usually work on your files.
And that’s it! Pretty easy, right? 😁
Here’s a list of the gear that I’m using incase you’re interested!