August 27, 2013

 

off-site data storage & back-up options – File Transporter

If you lose a hard drive or computer, would you be able to bounce back with your data and images intact? If not, then we need to have a quiet conversation here. An urgent conversation. Having a solid workflow and disaster plan in place, is an essential, non-negotiable part of being a photographer.

A single point of failure – if you’re a photographer, than that’s the one thing you really, really, really need to avoid in your digital workflow. Actually, this is true for anyone who works with computers and data. Regardless of whether you just have snapshots of your kids, or whether you’re shooting as a professional photographer. If you have your images on only one device or computer, then you arere bound to be in tears some day.

A single point of failure – it’s most often your hard drive. Hard drives will crash … eventually. They will become corrupted … eventually. So if you’re working on just the one hard drive, and don’t have a system in place where you have at least one back-up, you are tendering for trouble. Costly trouble. Judging by the number of photographers desperately asking for advice on the forums and on Faceboook, it is an easy guess that most photographers do not have a consistent robust digital workflow that will allow them to neatly side-step catastrophic failure.

But a single point of failure can exist anywhere in the chain of your digital workflow. If you have your data and photos on multiple hard drives, but they are all stored in your house, then you still have a single point of failure. Theft, floods, fire, tornadoes – any of these can destroy everything in your house with surprising suddenness. This is something you need to prepare for. No excuses.

A robust digital workflow need not be complicated or difficult to set up. There are easy options that you can set up yourself without having to be qualified as a network systems engineer. Anyone can do this. The tools are there and are easy to use.

And this is why I want to discuss options for off-site back-up and storage – and this handy idea behind the Connected Data – File Transporter. The File Transporter is effectively your own private 2Tb cloud where you keep your data off-site. More details about the File Transporter on their official site.

So now you may well be wondering why I am harping on about this topic again. Here’s the background story …


 

purchase the File Transporter

 

my (previous) setup for data storage and back-up

My digital workflow is continually adapting and changing, but I’ve discussed the setup previously in these articles:
– photography workflow – back-up plans for your main computer
– photography workflow – back-up plans (update)
– photography workflow and back-up plans for disaster

 

In summary: 
1. I keep my office documents and files, and anything that I need (other than images from shoots) in Dropbox, so that they all sync between my computers and other devices. This way, I can access any document anywhere.

2. Both my iMac and MacBook Pro are each backed up daily via Super-Duper to a bootable clone hard drive.

3. on-site storage:
3.a)  For my images, I have two Drobos that I work off. One of them has dual redundancy. In other words, two hard drives that can fail before I am on the edge of being in trouble. (The other Drobo has single redundancy.)
3.b)  I have another 2Tb hard drive where I store weddings and photo shoots that are most recent. (The past two years.)

4. off-site storage:
4.a) I have the JPGs from my weddings on a site (Zenfolio), so that clients can view and order images. It also offers me protection since they store the high-res JPGs.
4.b) I have everything on both Drobos backed-up on another cloud service, Backblaze.

Okay, so this is all pretty solid, I think. I have enough redundancy on site (my house and studio), and I have everything backed-up on a cloud service (Backblaze), with the super-crucial stuff (weddings and such), as JPGs on Zenfolio.

 

Then I had a minor hiccup that showed a weakness:
My office computer (iMac) had a glitch a few months ago, and I had to do a clean re-install of my OS. That in itself isn’t a huge issue, but just a mild inconvenience. Since I have everything solidly backed up and referenced via a combination of Drobox, and a bootable clone hard drive, it was easy enough to be up and running in a short time.

What I didn’t realize immediately, is that Backblaze somehow became disconnected from seeing that it has to back up the two Drobos. Backblaze then dropped everything but my main hard drive, without me realizing in time to correct it. Oh crap! Without realizing, I was working with a system that had a single point of failure – the hard drives / Drobos all being in one place – my house. It took about two months for all that data to back up to Backblaze initially! And now I’am right back there again … vulnerable while the data is slowly backing up to the cloud.

So I immediately started looking around at options, and noticed the  Connected Data – File Transporter. I did some homework, reading up on what the File Transporter does, and how it works. I cautiously bought one, set it up at my home to make sure it actually does what I hoped it would … and then bought a second one. And now I am incorporating these two devices as part of my data storage and back-up plan.

 

the File Transporter, by Connected Data

The File Transporter, is a NAS (network attached storage) device. But, you can access it from anywhere! It is essentially your own 2Tb  private cloud. If you’re familiar with Dropbox, then you know how this works … except that you have 2Tb of data, instead of being limited to (approx) 100 Gb.

I have one File Transporter set up in my home-office, and one in the studio. They share the same folders, and therefore share the same data and files. So if I lose all data on one site (theft, fire, etc), then I have all my data still at the other site! I can breathe again.

But the two Transporters need not share the same folders. It depends entirely on what you need to do with your workflow and data.

Here’s an example of a setup:
You could buy a File Transporter, and store it at a friend’s place. Your friend could store their File Transporter at your place. No files shared. Each File Transporter would be private. So where you are working at  your home-office or studio, you could copy files over from your hard drive, to your File Transporter .. which is neatly tucked away out of sight at your friend’s place. Your File Transporter would need to be plugged into your friend’s Internet connection, either via ethernet cable directly into the router at your friend’s place, or via WiFi. (The WiFI option would be slower.)

In this example, the two File Transporters wouldn’t have the same folders, and each of you would access your File Transporter independently of the other person. Neat! So you can share all folders, or only some of the folders, or none of the folders. You have options!

You can even have someone access folders, by letting them sign up for an account with Connected Data, and allowing them selective access. In turn, you can access any File Transporters that you have access to, from anywhere in the world (that is connected to the Internet, obviously.)

Disadvantages? None that I can see yet. It was easy to set up and use. I can access my files from my home-office or the studio.

So with these nifty units in place, I have a solid back-up and data storage plan again that will ease any potential catastrophic events.

A few screen-captures from my initial setting up of the devices, to figure out how I am going to use them. This will give you an idea of your view when you log into the Connected Data control panel. From there on, you use Finder / Windows Explorer, to move your files around. Or use any program to open the files.

 

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{ 17 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Luke Brookhart August 27, 2013 at 10:20 pm

The fact that BackBlaze deleted your disconnected drives would concern me greatly. It’s a big reason I use and highly recommend CrashPlan. You can have it setup to NEVER delete ANYTHING, even old version of the same file. This helps recover files that may have been corrupted, but then uploaded. I can go back in time to get older versions of the same file at the same location.

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2 Neil vN August 27, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Luke … my complacency that I had a solid system in place, was shaken a bit. It comes down to the great advice that one should test the back-up system to make sure it actually works … or in this case, still runs.

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3 Trev August 27, 2013 at 11:39 pm

That transporter looks extremely good, just spent a few minutes looking at the videos.

Now I just need to see if I can get it in Australia without large shipping costs.

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4 Pierre Pery August 28, 2013 at 2:03 am

Personally, I do not trust any cloud company to hold my data on the long run, therefore I have been trying to deal it all by myself. my solution :
one NAS (network storage) at my place, with 2 hard disk in RAID1, so that they are just copy of each other in case if one fails
another identical NAS 2000 Km away.
I copy the photos on my computer, sort them and right away copy them on the first server, from which then I will copy to the second. I do it manually, so that if I make a mistake on the first server (delete something that shouldn’t have) , it won’t replicate on the other.

the only issue in that is to find a friend/family where to host the second server, possibly as far as possible from your house. In my case it’s still my parents, that need so little their internet connection that they don’t mind the extra traffic.

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5 Frank Courtney August 28, 2013 at 5:28 am

I think the point Luke was getting at is often overlooked in backup strategies i.e. what happens if you delete a file accidentally (and don’t notice at the time). With your setup Neil – this will most likely be faithfully replicated across all your storage/backup/online backups – so your sole backup would be Zenfolio. This assumes you use some sort of syncing software (including Drobo/RAID).
With Crashplan – deleted files remain available. I also use Crashplan for this reason (and it also keeps file versions). There are other online services which work like this – but many of the best-known ones don’t.

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6 Neil vN August 28, 2013 at 5:35 am

Frank .. that problem would perpetuate through the Drobo + Backblaze combination. However, I’m going to manually update the files to the Transporters. I don’t intend doing incremental back-ups of *everything*. I want it to be a back-up of the important stuff. I’m going to keep working in my Drobos. The Transporters will be off-site back-ups … and also allow me access to whichever files I copy over, so I can get to the files when I’m at the studio.

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7 Robert August 28, 2013 at 5:42 am

Depending on whether you’d prefer a solution that ‘just works’ or a solution that can be more budget-friendly, a possibly interesting open source DIY alternative can be ownCloud: http://owncloud.org
I have no hands-on experience with it, but I’m investigating whether or not it is a valuable addition to my current backup scheme.

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8 Alwin August 28, 2013 at 6:50 am

Neil, I also use Crashplan with the same reason Luke Brookhart does. Crashplan backups one of my external hard drives but when the external drive is disconnected it’s not a problem. Nothing will be deleted by Crashplan. i just got home from a 7 weeks trip, connected the external hard drive again, and everything works fine (and all te backup data was still there).

My backup settings are like this:

For my photo archive (al ready edited jpegs and tiff):

1 – Onsite (at home) 2 external hard drives
2 – Offsite (at the office from my girlfriend) 1 mobile external hard drive
3 – Online with Crashplan (jpeg, tiff) and SmugMug (only jpegs)

So I have 5 places where I store my archive.

For the unedited RAW files I set up this backup:

1 – Onsite (at home) on my internal hard drive
2 – Onsite (at home) 2 external hard drives
3 – Offsite (office grilfriend) 1 mobile external hard drive

I don’t have online backup for my RAW files. Uploading 30 GB from one wedding is not working for me. After about 2 years I delete the RAW files of weddings and only keep the jpegs/tiff as described above.

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9 Den August 28, 2013 at 9:03 am

You’ll backup becuase you are worried about your local HDs failing – so you back up on an external HD in the Transporter = same problem.

This is an access solution not a backup solution.

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10 Neil vN August 28, 2013 at 9:14 am

Den … the main Drobo that I work off, has dual redundancy. It’s configured as 6+2, with those two hard drives being there for redundancy in case of a drive failing. So HD failure isn’t a huge worry per se.

I don’t want the Drobo to fail and leave me stranded … so there’s the additional safety of a Transporter. Abetter yet, it is REMOTE, in case of theft / fire.

So the point to all this wasn’t so much about a single Hard Drive failing, but that I have back-up to a non-local device.

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11 Alex August 28, 2013 at 9:14 am

Hi Neil,
off-site data backup is the way to go. I use a similar system that has been working like a charm. I have a 3TB WD Essential onsite (actually two) and a 3TB WD Live off-site. When traveling, I bring a portable HD with a hard case and I upload my photos to the WD Live as well.

Western Digital My Book Live Personal Cloud Storage Drive (3TB)
B&H # WEWDBACG0030

Western Digital 3TB My Book Essential USB3
B&H# WEWDBACW0030

1TB My Passport USB 3.0 Hard Drive Kit with Case
B&H# WEWDBBEP001K

Thanks for maintaining a great blog.
Alex

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12 Steven Seelig August 29, 2013 at 8:27 am

Neil,
This is a great post and hopefully more photographers will spend time on backup of their valuable assets. There have been lots of discussions of people losing their pictures due to a single drive situation.

I have not given much thought to the personal cloud storage solution, but this conversation has provoked me to look at it again! Thanks.

I have two Drobos, both RAID 5, but it is important for people to understand that RAID is not a backup system. If the non-drive components of the system fail, you are likely to lose whatever is on the drive.

I have evolved to the following work system (iMac,MacBook Pro alone or with Thunderbolt Apple Display):

2 TB Western Digital USB 3.0 Passport Drives: I use this drive as my primary working drive and plug it into which ever computer I am working on. This drive gets backed up using SuperDuper to Western Digital MyBooks. (weak point-there is no offsite storage of this drive content, and this is where a NAS could really be of great value)

Once I am done with a project, I transfer it to long term storage 4-8 TB Thunderbolt drives which then gets incrementally backed up daily and then archived to a third drive about once a month. The archive drive is stored offsite.

I also use Dropbox for non-image files and actually like it a lot. I don’t store much on my internal drives other than my operating system, applications and email. So I back those up about once a week.

Anyway, thanks for the great discussion.

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13 Charlotte Fiorito August 29, 2013 at 10:47 am

Neil do you think this would solve this quandry: I have photogs in other cities that shoot events for me and I need to get their RAW files from a shoot electronically. We’re talking 16-32 gigs per event. would you recommend this or another idea? thanks, love your work and all you share.

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14 Neil vN August 29, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Charlotte … that could definitely work, depending on the bandwidth that your ISP would allow you. And it would need a fast connection.

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15 Charles August 29, 2013 at 7:54 pm

When I get home from shooting I immediately put all the raw files into a dropbox folder and send them to a friend of mine in another state who burns them to an external drive and I keep them on my card until transmission is complete. Even my finished work is sent to him via dropbox for burning to another drive. When that drive is full I purchase another one to send him, I also keep copies of everything here PLUS on a dvd, one dvd per event.

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16 Peter H October 10, 2013 at 7:09 am

I bought a transporter, but I seem to have trouble automating, the copying of files. I was hoping that I would be able to select folders to backup like on my Carbonite which I am not renewing, but it appears on the transporter I have a dedicated folder that will synch with my transporter and the files must be stored in there. Neil or anyone else do you know of anyway to automate the update of files to the transporter, i spoke with tech support he didnt seem to have an answer. I tried creating an alias and putting it in the Transporter folder, but that wouldn’t work.

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17 Mark October 28, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I have a similar transporter setup but have had a catasttrophic event occur where files and folders in the library just delete themselves completely and not easily recovered. The issue with two transporters is that they are in symmetric sync and so when a folder deletes on one it alsoes deletes on the other. The other issue is that you cannot include library files in a backup scheme so thats a fail. I had moved everything from dropbox to transporters after months of testing including being a beta tester, and then a fail crept in. I am no longer trusting them and will probably move to a synology disk station as an alternative. Btw support at connected data were very concerned about my issue and escalated it but it has never been resolved. I think the tranporter is an imature product at this time and dangerous to rely on in absence of other strategies.

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