Tag Archives: disk

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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


Photo Backup: When Disaster Strikes

Creative Commons License photo credit: rust.bucket

Nobody plans on having a catastrophic disaster. These things happen sometimes, and they can cause a huge loss of personal items including your photo archives. Sometimes you can avert disaster, while other times you just have to be prepared for the worst. As we slip into this series of articles, here are some things to think about when planning for the unexpected.



Hard Drive
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gil De Los Santos

This one should be the most obvious. We keep our photos on a hard drive so we can access them and work on them. Hard drives spin around in circles and have a little arm that moves to read the data. Mechanical device equals potential for failure. Not only that, but most of us have encountered a hard drive failure or some other issue at some point in time. Older hard drives are at higher risk, but that’s not to say that your brand new disk can’t crap out in an instant.


Keep your work backed up! That’s what this series of articles is all about. You need to have duplicates of your photos in the event that your main working hard drive fails. It’s also recommended that you update your hardware every couple of years. Don’t get a new computer and just keep using the same old hard drive to save $100.


Creative Commons License photo credit: twenty_questions

Computer viruses are more common than real viruses. These things can do all sorts of bad stuff to your computer and your files if you’re not careful. Get the wrong bug and you could lose all of your files in one fell swoop. Are you connected to the Internet? Yeah, you are. Enough said.


Again, keep your work backed up! But in addition to that, you need to keep your computer healthy and bug-free. Use an anti-virus software to protect yourself from all the bad stuff out there. Don’t want to spend the money on the software? Check out the Google Pack and get a free virus scan software. Don’t be dumb, just do it.


Creative Commons License photo credit: mxlanderos

We’re all human — just admit it. And thus, we’re all prone to accidents. Transferring files to a new hard drive, setting user permissions, attempting backups, hardware upgrades, spilled drinks, etc, are all feasible way to lose vast amounts of digital information stored on your computer. Plus, if you’re like me and you have multiple users on the same computer (wife, kids, guests, etc.), you run the risk of other people screwing up your photos.


Not to sound redundant, but keep your work backed up! Aside from that, be aware of the risks you’re taking when transferring large amounts of digital information or upgrading hardware. Always COPY & PASTE rather than CUT & PASTE if you’re moving everything to a new hard drive. If you have multiple users, you might even consider blocking their access from your valuable photos — set their permissions to read-only. There’s nothing worse than a 5-yr-old deleting most of your photos — you can’t even get mad at them!


Finding Earth
Creative Commons License photo credit: Leorex

Computers are finicky little things when it comes to power requirements. One minute you’re working away on your computer during a thunderstorm, the next minute you’re computer gets totally zapped by lightning. But electrical storms aren’t the only things that can cause power surges — I guarantee that an issue at your local power plant won’t be a scheduled event.


Yeah, duh… keep your work backed up. But you should also be powering your computer via a surge protector. These handy little contraptions prevent power surges and power outages from killing your computer and every photo sacred to you. Don’t skimp on this one, go for the surge protector with battery backup so you have time to save your stuff and shut ‘er down in the event that you lose electricity. It’s also wise to just stay off the computer during big electrical storms… watch a movie instead.


Santiago Wildfire
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kevin Labianco

Nobody plans on their house being burned down or a tornado ripping it from the foundation, but these things happen… and often without much warning. Natural disasters can be devastating, and their effect on your photo archive is no exception. It’s a scary thing to hear that you must evacuate your home, but it’s even scarier to realize that you can’t take much of your life with you.


Backups can be destroyed too, so a good backup strategy is key. If you find yourself face-to-face with a natural disaster, you may or may not have the opportunity to grab your photos. In the event that you don’t, offsite backups may be your only saviour.


steal in a wheel
Creative Commons License photo credit: volvidejapon

Being robbed sucks. I’ve had things stolen from me, but I’m lucky that my photos haven’t been the target. If your home is robbed, computers are often whisked away because they contain so many pricey little parts boxed up into a handy little package. What really sucks is that this is the kind of thing that happens with absolutely no warning.


Um… backups. But being smart about your backups is also important. Offsite backups are a good way to thwart robbers from leaving you high-and-dry. A safe is also a good option — as long as it’s bolted to the floor. Other than that, keep your doors locked!

The Exponential Photo Collection

As I was doing some overdue DVD backups, I realized that my collection of photos has been growing at an exponential rate. Earlier backups (from 2002-2006) only required a couple of DVDs to hold all the photos. Then, each month in 2007 and 2008 has been progressively larger and larger, thus requiring more discs. So I began to take a look at the amount of data I’m producing over time.

The charts below show the amount of disk space I’m using for each month, quarter, and year in my archive. This isn’t total disk space — it’s just the amount of space for each time block.

The chart below shows the cumulative disk space I’m using over time. So each new value along time is the sum of existing disk space used plus new disk space used for that time block. In other words, this is my hard drive filling up.

Scary, isn’t it? I’m willing to bet that this trend is not completely uncommon among many photography enthusiasts. You start off with your little point & shoot, creating jpegs as you go. Then you get into it and you decide to upgrade your camera. Now you’re shooting more because the camera has more capabilities and your skills are improving. Then you upgrade the camera again, resulting in larger and larger file sizes. Then you decide to shoot raw format, and the file size skyrockets. Throw in some monster Photoshop files, film scans, and all of the sudden you’re producing many gigabytes per outing.

As far as I can tell, there are 2 reasons for exponential disk usage: improvements in technology and an increased passion for photography. Newer cameras are producing some massive files, and there’s still no end in sight for the megapixel war. Not only that, but as you shoot more you learn more… and in turn you shoot more… then you learn more… etc.

So basically, what I’m saying is that if this trend hasn’t happened to you yet — it will. Most photographers in their first or second year of shooting don’t realize what’s coming. Then all of the sudden, they’re neck deep in tens (or hundreds) of thousands of photos and several hundred gigabytes of data to keep track of.

If you’re really into photography and you find yourself shooting more, start planning ahead. Get yourself a good organization scheme and stick to it. And save a little money every so often to put down on some new storage space when you fill your hard drive.