Backup, Backup, Backup

Where are your pictures?

If you’re like us, they’re probably on the hard disk of your computer. So what happens if the disk fails; the computer is stolen; your house floods; the Christmas lights next door burn down half the street; or a nearby oil depot explodes? Chances are all your digital pictures will disappear and, unlike old film-based photographs, it’s likely that you haven’t printed out anywhere near all the ones that are actually important to you.

A while back Tim Bray had a great post on backing up data which included his rules for data protection:

  • Don’t use proprietary file formats.

  • Don’t erase anything.

  • Store everything twice.

  • Do occasional ad-hoc and regular full backups.

Tim’s post is well worth a read (especially if you’re a hybrid Unix-Mac OS tech-head).

So what do we do?

1. A second hard drive in the PC so that pictures are automatically copied onto a second hard disk inside the same box. This makes protection in case of hard drive failure real easy.

2. A second external hard drive that sometimes sits on another computer on the home network, and sometimes gets plugged into the main PC. This means we have a separate copy of our image data that can go walkies with us.

3. We didn’t use the backup software that came bundled with the external drive. Why? Because of the way it stores the backed up data in a proprietary format making a future restore risky, what happens if you loose the original media and can’t find the backup software, how do you get your data back? Instead back up into something that you can easily read on any platform (Mac, WinTel PC, Un*x, whatever) with software that doesn’t need to understand awkward proprietary formats (i.e. for the same reason you wouldn’t store your digital negatives in a proprietary format).

We’ve been using Microsofts SyncToy to synchronise data between local and remote drives, and, so far, it’s been fine. SyncToy doesn’t compress – but most image formats are compressed anyway, so further compression in the backup process isn’t worthwhile.

4. Valuable stuff (pictures that in a previous life would have made it into the list for ‘folio consideration) gets burnt to DVD

5. Interesting stuff gets posted to flickr. Some of it public, some of it not.

6. We print stuff. Probably not as much as Kodak, Epson, HP, Agfa and Fuji would like, but some of these digital image things actually make it onto paper where they can be viewed directly by Homo Sapian version 1.0.

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