Tag Archives: data

Photo Backup: External Hard Drive

LaCie Hard Disks
Creative Commons License photo credit: pietel

In the last part of this series, we talked about internal hard drives as backup hardware. As promised, this time around, we’ll be exploring external hard drives for backing up your photos. Throughout these in-depth discussions of hardware solutions, I’ll try to keep the same format and flow so they’re easier to follow.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
TOC — PHOTO BACKUP GUIDE
BACK — INTERNAL HARD DRIVE
NEXT — HAVE YOU EVER NEEDED TO USE YOUR PHOTO BACKUP?

I would expect that many of you are familiar with external drives, but we’ll go through their various aspects, strengths, and weaknesses as it relates to backing up photo archives.

THE BASICS

LaCie Hard Disks
Creative Commons License photo credit: pietel

An external hard drive is simply an internal drive that is housed in some type of case and connected to your computer via external data cables. Some external drives require auxiliary power, while others are powered by the data connection (such as some compact USB 2.0 drives). External drives serve as good backup hardware because of their storage capabilities and portability.

Like internal drives, external drives come in various shapes and sizes. Some are considered “compact” drives (typically housing a 2.5″ drive) while others are slightly larger (typically housing a standard 3.5″ drive). While the casing may look different between brands and models, most external drives have the same basic anatomy.

Also like internal drives, external drives may have several variations on the data connection interface — but these connections are different than those discussed on the internal drives. One typical connection type is USB, and most often USB 2.0. But external drives can also come with Firewire connections and even eSATA connections.

Again, my point is that you need to be aware of the capabilities of your computer(s) before purchasing an external hard drive. Maybe the one you’ve got your eye on is a Firewire drive, but your computer doesn’t have Firewire connections. This will result in you having to either return the hardware or purchase additional hardware in order to make it work.

BACKING UP

Gears gears cogs bits n pieces
Creative Commons License photo credit: Elsie esq.

Just like with the internal drives, external drives will give you a few options for methods of backing up your data. There are two basic camps of people who use external drives: connected all the time, and connected only when backing up files.

If you decide to leave your external drive permanently connected to your computer, it may be possible to use the drive as a mirror, or RAID 1 configuration. Sometimes the software included with the drive will allow you to do this, while other times you’ll have to use third party software. If you’re interested in doing this, check the manufacturer’s website for RAID documentation prior to purchasing the hardware. The advantage to this method is that it’s easy and you get real-time backups. The disadvantage is that the drive is constantly running and constantly attached to your computer.

The other mentality of external drive users (including myself) is to only attach the drive when backing up photos or other data. This method would require that some type of backup schedule be adhered to, otherwise your backups can quickly become out of date and nearly useless. The advantage of this method is that you can store your external drive separately from your computer in a safe or off-site location. The disadvantage is that your backups may not be completely up to date on any given day.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Creative Commons License photo credit: d_vdm

STRENGTHS

External drives are fairly cheap, reliable, and portable. They don’t cost much more than internal hard drives, and they can have about the same life expectancy (possibly better if not constantly plugged in). But the real benefit of an external drive is the fact that it can be removed from the computer and stored elsewhere. Storing the drive in a fireproof safe or in an off-site location can add an extra layer of security to your backup solution.

WEAKNESSES

New boots and a fake lacoste polo
Creative Commons License photo credit: assbach

External hard drives are still hard drives and they’re prone to the same failures as internal hard drives. The disk may just give up one day without warning or reason. And if you decide to leave the drive connected to the computer at all times, it essentially has the same weaknesses as your computer (lightning strikes, fire, theft, etc.). External drives also tend to be a target for other failure modes, such as being dropped or knocked off the desk. Hard drives don’t like that.

CONCLUSIONS

External hard drives can be great backup solutions, and many people utilize them for doing just this. I, myself, use an external drive to store one copy of my photos and other vital documents. The great thing about them is that they can be truly separate from your computer between backups.

And as with any backup solution, I’d suggest keeping more than one. So an external backup drive is good, but it’s not complete by itself. The next section of this series will discuss the infamous RAID tower, including the Drobo.

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Photo Backup: Internal Hard Drive

Hard Drive - 2 Flash/Brolly
Creative Commons License photo credit: geerlingguy

In the last big part of this series, we talked about working drives — the various options and their strengths and weaknesses. In the next few sections, I’ll be diving a little deeper while discussing various options for your backup hardware. Once we make it through the hardware, we’ll talk software. And finally, we’ll finish off with a discussion about strategy.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
TOC — PHOTO BACKUP GUIDE
BACK — WORKING DRIVES
NEXT — EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE

Our options for backup hardware is much the same as the working drives, but we have a few other options too. To kick off this section, we’ll go over the use of internal hard drives as backup hardware.

The PC under the MiniMac
Creative Commons License photo credit: veeliam

THE BASICS

An internal hard drive is simply a hard drive housed within your computer case and attached to its power and data connections. All computers have at least one internal drive to run the operating system, but an internal backup drive is one separate from your main drive. Simply creating a copy of your data on the same hard drive won’t give you much data protection. On that same note, most computers have more than one power supply cable and hard drive data connection, so installing a second, third, or even fourth drive should be no problem.

Hard drives come in all different flavors. Common form factors include 3.5″ (commonly found in desktops) and 2.5″ (commonly found in laptops). Let me just interrupt the flow to state that this article is based on the assumption that you’re using a desktop computer with 3.5″ drives — laptops don’t usually have too much extra space for additional drives. Hard drives also come in a multitude of disk interfaces (or the shape of the data plug). The SATA interface is most common today, but some computer are still supporting the old ATA drives. SCSI (pronounced “scuzzy” if you’re a geek) is not terribly common, but some people still use them. And I’m sure that by the time I publish this article, the next best thing will have obsoleted the SATA drive.

So my point is this: make sure you know what type of drive you can plug into your computer. Don’t jump on that ATA drive because it’s cheap, only to find out that you can’t even plug it in. Also beware of differences within a particular interface — for example, we’ve got SATA 1.5 Gb/s, SATA 3.0 Gb/s, and now SATA 6.0 Gb/s is in the works. So again, figure out what you need before you buy.

BACKING UP

Internal hard drives can be used as backup drives a few different ways. The simplest method is to install the drive as a secondary drive, or extra storage space, and use some type of software backup utility to make a copy of your chosen data from your main drive. We’ll talk about software options later, but most operating systems (excluding Vista) give you the ability to make backups of specific files and directories.

Another method is to use the drive as a mirror, or RAID 1 configuration. A mirror is simply a disk that is a duplicate of another disk or portion of a disk (like your photos), usually updated in real-time. For this, you’ll either need a piece of software or hardware (like a RAID controller) to manage the mirror operations.

The last major method of internal drive backup I’ll talk about is a full-blown RAID 5 configuration. This method will require at least 3 separate internal drives and a RAID controller to work (though I believe that some distributions of Linux can do this via software). A RAID 5 setup utilizes these 3 or more drives as a single drive with the data split between them in a manner that allows one drive to fail and your data to remain in-tact (of course the failed drive has to be replaced though).

Lucha Libre
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

STRENGTHS

Internal hard drives are fast, cheap, and they stay out of your way. They won’t clutter up your desktop or get knocked off the printer stand because they’re bolted to the inside of your computer case. They also have fairly high capacities given the cost — 1TB drives are not so uncommon. Drop down to 500GB or so and you can pick one up for much less than $100.

WEAKNESSES

still fighting the burger wars
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sumit

Well… for starters, it’s sitting right next to your main drive. This means that you’re not protected against theft, fire, lightning strikes, computer viruses, and spontaneous combustion. If something happens to destroy your main drive, it’s probably going to destroy your back up drive. It does protect against a random hard drive failure though, which is more common than most other catastrophes. The other downside to the internal drive is that you can’t pack it up and move it around or store it off-site without lugging your whole computer along or ripping it apart.

CONCLUSIONS

Extra internal drives can be a very feasible backup solution. They’re certainly better than nothing, and you have a couple of options for how you set up the drive to interact with your other internal drives. If you do choose to go this route, I’d strongly suggest a secondary backup plan (which is something I’d suggest anyway). Just don’t get stuck in the notion that you need an external hard drive to backup your photos — which is what we’ll be talking about in the next article for this series.

PRODUCTS

The Scariest Part of Digital Photography

Digital photography has been a revolution. The clumsy stage of major innovations, breakthroughs, and failures seems to be a thing of the past. Cameras are reliable, fast, friendly, and affordable. Digital storage is cheap and expandable. Software is usable and powerful. Everything is just perfect, right?

Wrong. Nothing is free in this world. With each step forward, we pay a price. Sure, digital cameras are great… but what about the headaches they cause? The more photos we capture and store, the harder it is to keep track of them and keep them safe. Many new photographers don’t realize this, but a year or two down the road they’re going to find themselves in a sticky situation due to poor data management techniques.

I can hardly imagine that many people have a foolproof plan laid out for photo management the instant they buy their first camera. The need doesn’t become apparent (or necessary) until you reach a certain critical mass of files. And the brutal realization for this need usually crops up shortly after you decide that you want to make money from your photos. But that’s the catch, you never can tell if that’s where you’re heading until it’s too late.

Experienced photographers will tell you that photo management is very important… yes, we’ve all heard it. Again, this advice doesn’t become obvious until it’s too late. It’s easy to find reasons for skimping on the data management, but it’s hard to find time to fix our mistakes. I often wish I could send my past self a piece of advice:

When it comes to data management, do it right the first time… and do it religiously. Do your research and take the advice from the experts — they know what they’re talking about. Spend a few extra minutes managing your photos NOW, and save yourself hours LATER.

While I’m in no place to call myself an expert at this point in my photography career, I feel that I can offer some bits of expert advice on certain topics within data management. Neil’s series on Image Organization really helped to drive home a lot of things that I knew I should be doing. From that point forward, I’ve been developing and refining my good habits and practices.

I’d like to expand on Neil’s articles, but with a heavy emphasis on my most important tool for file management. I now use Adobe Bridge to manage my photos and I can’t believe I haven’t been doing this for the last several years. In the course of the next few weeks, I’ll cover topics directly related to using and utilizing Adobe Bridge — sort of a user guide, tips, tricks, and reference.

By the looks of our current poll on Photo Editing Software, nearly 40% of us use Photoshop/ACR. For those folks, Bridge is at your fingertips. We also have over 25% Lightroom users — and (from what I’ve seen) it looks like Lightroom shares many common features with Bridge and Camera Raw.

So I’ll lead some discussions on targeted topics and functionalities within the software, and I’ll rely on you more experienced folks to fill in the cracks and expand upon what I present. For those of you with access to this software, listen closely as the discussions go on and don’t take the advice lightly. And for the folks who don’t use or plan on using these pieces of software, listen up anyways — you may need it someday.

I’m looking forward to it, but is anybody else interested?