Backing up photos is one of the most critical (ongoing) tasks for photographers, both amateur and professional. The “computer age” has been a blessing, allowing us to store and share huge amounts of digital photos. But that blessing has created the need to protect those delicate digital files, and many people have learned the consequences of not doing so.
Below, you will find a link to a PDF eBook that covers the topic of photo backups. The eBook was created from 12 articles written here on Epic Edits as part of our “Photo Backup” series (and the links to all 12 articles are also below). We covered many sides of the topic, including hardware, software, strategy, and more.
I should also mention that my friend, Andrew Morris (also on Flickr), helped me out with proofreading and editing the eBook. Thanks Andrew!!!
I’ve really been dragging this series out — so far we’ve talked about all the major types of hardware, and the last article talked about software. Now it’s time to put it all together and set a strategy. It’s important to make a plan of attack when it comes to backing up photos, and this includes things like hardware choices, software choices, amount of redundancy, storage locations, schedule, and more.
The first step in creating your backup strategy is deciding on the amount of redundancy you’re comfortable with. More redundancy means more protection, but it also means more effort and expense. Less redundancy is easier to deal with, but you may be putting yourself at risk.
I would suggest a minimum of two complete and independent backups.
No matter what type of hardware you decide to use, you will greatly reduce the risk of data loss when you have 2 independent backups. The chances of losing the originals and two additional backups is very slim. Going beyond the minimum of 2 will give you less risk, but with a diminishing return.
I have two backups myself: an external hard drive and DVDs.
The next thing you need to think about is where your backups will be stored. Obviously, the easiest place to store them is in your home. This is fine, but it doesn’t entirely protect against things like natural disasters or robbery. Storing your backups in multiple locations will also greatly reduce your risk of losing your photos.
I would suggest storing at least one of your two backups off-site.
Storing off-site can be done in a variety of methods. You could keep a backup at the home of a friend or relative. You could store a backup at your office. Or you could get a safe deposit box at your bank. For the backup you store at home, you can also guard yourself by keeping it in a fireproof safe — this will further reduce the risk of loss via fire or theft.
I keep my primary backup in a fireproof safe at my home and my secondary backup at my office.
Once you have your hardware picked out, you’ll need some software to accommodate it. Most backup software will get you by, but some features and options will be exclusive to certain software packages. In the end, you have to be comfortable with the software because you’ll be the one using it on a regular basis.
I use Norton Ghost as my backup software.
Now that you’ve got all the hardware and software picked out, it’s time to decide on a backup schedule. Some people prefer to have real-time backups, while others are fine with daily, weekly, or monthly backups. It all depends on your volume of work and your comfort level with your backup status. If you decide to only backup once per month, you’re at risk most of the time. Then again, if you backup on a daily basis, you may be spending more time dealing with backups than the actual photos.
I would suggest at least a weekly backup for your primary hardware.
You can also set different schedules for each of your backups. Your primary should be more accessible than your secondary, so you may consider updating that one more often. In the end, you have to balance time and effort with data security.
My primary is backed-up once per week and my secondary is backed-up once per month.
In addition to the points above, you’ll have to sort out a few other things on your own. You need to decide on a budget, for both money and time. Some options cost more than others, and some require more time and effort. You’ll also need to think about the long-term stability of your backups. Hardware doesn’t last forever, and no matter which options you choose you’ll have to replace them at some point in time.
But regardless of how you decide to backup your photos, you should definitely back them up. Don’t leave your photos open for disaster.
We’ve talked extensively about backup hardware, but that’s just one part of a total backup solution. Software is important too — it allows you to manage multiple backup devices, schedules, and file revisions. Each software package offers different features, and each photographer had different requirements, so it’s best to do your homework before picking a backup software.
In the next article, we’ll pull everything together and talk about strategy.
Backup software simply provides a means to duplicate data across multiple pieces of hardware. When dealing with thousands of files, this software is critical to keeping track of everything. Although the concept of duplicating data is simple, there are a number of more complex features included with most backup software.
The most important feature of backup software is the ability to do incremental backups. This means that after the initial backup, subsequent backups only include new or modified files. Without this feature, each backup would take an excessive amount of time and disk space.
Another important feature of backup software is scheduled backups. Most of us have too many things to remember on a daily basis, so allowing the software to automatically backup your photos (or remind you to do so) is a major convenience.
Other features in backup software might include compression, encryption, remote access, synchronization, and more. Some backup software also allows you to keep multiple revisions of your data, allowing you to dig back to several file versions earlier.
There’s really not much to it once you get the hang of your software. Usually, you’ll go through some kind of “wizard” with a series of dialog boxes. You tell the software which files/folders to backup, where to put the backup, how often, and any other options for compression, revision control, encryption, etc.
Some people like to backup once per week, once per day, etc. Others like to constantly keep their hardware synchronized. Either way is fine as long as you know the risks of each. Backing up at some time interval leaves gaps that are open to data loss — say you backup every Friday, you could have a failure on Thursday and lose nearly a weeks worth of work. On the other hand, constantly synchronizing your hardware takes care of these gaps, but it makes your backup hardware more vulnerable to failures such as lightning strikes, fire, and theft.
Depending on the volume of new photos you produce, you should find it easy to set your frequency preferences. And if you do a big photo shoot, you can always run a one-time backup to ease your mind.
Like I mentioned already, when it comes to backing up your photos the software is important too. Without a good backup software, you don’t have a feasible means of utilizing your backup hardware. Find something that suits your needs, and keep the points I mentioned above in mind.
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In addition to the items shown below, most operating systems have backup software included. This would be a good place to start, but you may find that the software lacks certain features when compared to 3rd party software. Most external hard drives also come with some type of backup software included, but again, the feature set may be limited.
To wrap up this sub-section of the photo backup series, we’ll be talking about online backup solutions. I don’t personally use any of these services, so I’ll be relying on my knowledgeable audience to supplement this article with their comments.
Online file hosting services offer you the ability to upload your files (photos) to their system, while giving you the opportunity to download your stored files when needed. Some services are directly aimed at photographers, while others are more general and appeal to a wider audience.
What you’re basically doing is placing your files on a hard drive connected to the web. You access that drive via a web interface (HTTP) or an FTP interface. These web-connected hard drives are typically redundant, backed up, and distributed across multiple physical locations — so you shouldn’t have to worry about the host losing your files if their affairs are in order.
Some services will also allow you to use their own software for interacting with your storage space — giving you more options and features than a standard FTP interface. And most of them have some sort of web interface that you can access from any computer connected to the Internet.
Backing up to most online services is quite different than backing up to a local drive. Internet connection speeds are far slower than local connections, and this may play into your backup strategy. Money may also be a factor depending on the particular service you’re using — some charge for both bandwidth and storage.
The specific procedure for backing up online will be determined by the hosting service. Some are completely manual, requiring you to choose files for upload and organize uploaded files as you see fit. Others might provide you with a piece of software that automatically monitors your archives for changes and uploads the files for you.
When choosing an online backup solution, you’ll want to evaluate the service for several things: supported file formats, upload methods, download methods, security measures, data redundancy, sharing capabilities, bandwidth limits, storage limits, price, revision tracking, etc.
The integrity of an online backup is probably better than any local methods — if your chosen service is good about their own backups. If a natural disaster wipes out your house, your photos will be safely stored in some other location.
Another strength of the online backup is the accessibility. You can get to your photos from just about anywhere at anytime.
Some online backup or archive services offer additional features aimed specifically at photographers. You might be able to share your photos in a gallery or even sell your photos as prints or stock.
I think the major weakness of the online backup solution has to do with Internet access. Even the fastest Internet connections are way slower than anything right on your own computer. Plus, some Internet Service Providers will restrict your bandwidth usage, charge you extra for going over the limit, or throttle you down.
Other things you might have to worry about include the security of your photos (it is the Internet after all) and the long-term availability of your photos. I actually go hit by that last one — I signed up for a photo backup site and it ended up shutting down a few months after I got all my photos uploaded. I haven’t gone back to an online backup since.
Oh yeah, and these things cost money. Most services will offer up a few GB for free, but larger accounts will cost money on a recurring basis. You’ll have to evaluate if the ongoing cost is worth the extra protection.
Online backup solutions are still a bit sketchy in my mind. You can’t know how long they’ll be around for, and you’re basically entrusting your important collection of photos to somebody else.
If you feel the need for an online backup, do some serious research first — don’t rush into the first good looking offer. And if you’re not sold on backing up all your files through an online service, a good alternative is to only backup your “good” photos online.
In the end, you have to balance the pros and cons of such services and decide if it’s worth it. And, as with any backup method, don’t rely on just one method — at least two different backups are recommended.
As I said, I don’t use online backups. The sites and services listed below are some good places to start your research — I’m not recommending them in any way. Click at your own risk.
Amazon offers a reasonable rate on storage space and upload bandwidth — plus you can bet they’ll be around for a few more years.
PhotoShelter Personal Archive
Geared more toward photographers, they offer good options for print and license sales… though the price is a bit higher than most.
These guys seem to have lasted through their infancy, and they have a decent looking backup solution — fancy desktop software for keeping track of things too.
Another service along the same lines as Mozy.
Again, another similar service to the last two.
A little more photo-centric, these guys have a community built around their service.
Also aimed at photographers, Zenfolio gives you good options for displaying photos and selling prints.
Similar to Zenfolio, offering solutions strictly for photographers.
Flickr may not be the first thing that comes to mind for photo backup, but a pro account gives you the ability to upload unlimited full-res images — plus the Flickr community is just awesome.
After posting the Photo Backup: DVD and Photo Backup on DVD: Love or Hate articles, we had a lot of reader comments and discussion about this medium. I realize many of the readers don’t check on the comments section days or weeks after the article is published, so I wanted to follow up the two articles with some new thoughts and insights on DVD backups.
I would also encourage you to read through the comments in each of these articles. They are filled with stories on both sides of the line — users who have had nothing but problems with DVDs, and those who use them currently.
INTEGRITY OF DATA
The problem with any digital storage media is that it has a relatively short lifespan. Hard drives and DVDs alike, won’t last forever. DVDs seem to have a wide range of results when it comes to data integrity. You could potentially burn a disc and have the data be bad right from the start. Or you could burn a good copy and have the data go bad after a very short time (on the order of a year or two). You could also have discs that are 10 years old and still working fine.
The point is that you shouldn’t expect DVDs (or any other storage media) to last forever. Construction, quality, materials, formats, process, handling, storage, and temperature all have an effect on the integrity of your data. I’ll cover a few tips on ensuring good data at the end of this article.
DVD FORMAT WARS
Several people brought up some good points about the various DVD formats. I had stated that the “R” (record once) discs are best to use because they’re inexpensive and you won’t run the risk of overwriting data.
It turns out that “R” discs are less archival than other formats due to their construction. These “R” discs use an organic dye that reacts with the laser. The dye can break down over time and cause data to be lost.
The “RW” discs, on the other hand, use a metal alloy as the recording medium rather than an organic dye. The material is more robust and it gives the disc a better chance of retaining data over longer periods of time.
The “RAM” discs are also good candidates for archiving photos. Their construction is similar to the “RW” discs (metal alloy rather than a dye) and they have built-in error control and a defect management system (don’t ask me how though).
TIPS FOR DVD BACKUPS
Regardless of which format you decide to use, there are a few things you can do to increase the life expectancy of your DVD backups.
BUY HIGH QUALITY DISCS
Like many things out there, you get what you pay for. Higher priced discs generally have better construction than the bargain discs. I personally use Sony discs, and I’ve never had a problem with them in over 5 years of use.
BURN AT LESS THAN FULL SPEED
I don’t know if this one is myth or fact, but I’ve always burned at half of the fastest setting on the drive and/or media. I’ve heard that writing at super-speed can give you a poor burn, but I don’t know how much truth there is to this. I typically use 8X for my DVDs even though my drive and discs are capable of 16X.
STORE DISCS PROPERLY
Once you burn the disc, put it away and leave it alone. Get a sleeve book or use jewel cases — you don’t want your discs sliding around and getting scratched up. Also be sure to store them in a relatively cool dry place. Heat and humidity accelerate the aging process on most materials.
REPLACE OLDER DISCS
If you aren’t using archive quality discs, you might consider replacing old ones after five years (which is why it’s good to indicate the burn date on the disc). If you’re really confident or if you want to risk it, you might be able to push it out to ten years. RW and RAM discs might last a bit longer, but I’d still replace these after around ten years. Regardless, it’s a good idea to check on your older discs every few months to see if everything is still there.
DON’T USE AS YOUR ONLY BACKUP
No matter what you’re using for a backup solution, only having one backup is risky. I would suggest to keep at least two backups, one of which should be off-site. I use DVDs as my secondary backup and I keep them off-site. My primary is an external hard drive that I keep in a fireproof safe on-site.
What other tips or suggestions do you have for backing up on DVD? And I promise, this is the last one on DVD backups.
My last post about backing up photos on DVD immediately brought out the comments… mostly negative regarding the use of the medium as a feasible backup solution. Hey, everyone is more than entitled to their own opinion, and I even said right up front that when it comes to DVD backups photographers either love it or hate it.
So I’m actually very curious about this topic now. Am I the only one left who uses (and likes) DVD backups? I was pretty certain that I knew of more than a few photographer who backup on DVD. Or are the other DVD-lovers just not speaking up? Let’s find out!
And when you’re done voting here, check out the results from the last photo backup poll: “Have You Ever Needed to Use Your Photo Backup?” Over 50% of those who voted have lost photos at some point. Luckily most of those photographers had a photo backup, but there is a portion that either lost the backup too or didn’t have one.
The DVD, or more specifically the Recordable DVD, is basically a plastic disc with some other stuff in/on it. DVD’s are optical discs, so there are actual pits and bumps in the media (or variations in dye color) that make up the data (kinda like a record, but different). But regardless of their anatomy and inner workings, I think most of us are familiar with the DVD. To backup on DVD, you’ll need a DVD recorder and the blank writable discs.
As technology advances, so do the formats and capacities of the DVD. The most common disc is the single layer DVD with a capacity of 4.7GB. These discs come in various flavors, such as DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM. There’s really no difference between the – (dash) and the + (plus) variations, other than the fact that some recorders are built for one or the other (but there are also multi-format recorders out there). The RW indicator just means that the disc is rewritable, and I would caution against using such discs for backing up photos. DVD-RAM is another rewritable format, so I’d stay away from it for backups (though they do have a very long shelf life). You can expect to find DVD-R and DVD+R discs for about $0.30 per disc when purchased in bulk.
Then we have Dual Layer technology, with a capacity of 8.5GB. And again, we have the -R and +R variations. The downside to these discs is that they cost more money per GB. You can expect to pay about $0.90 per disc when purchased in bulk.
And now we have Blu-ray… the latest format for optical discs. These are way new in comparison to the older formats, so they’re not widely used yet. But the capacity is quite amazing at 25GB for single layer discs and 50GB for dual layer discs. The major downside to Blu-ray is the cost. You can expect to pay about $10 per disc, and good luck finding them in bulk.
OK, so you have a lot of options. My point here is that you need to be aware of which hardware you already have (because most new computers come standard with a DVD recorder). Don’t buy DVD+R if you have a DVD-R recorder — it won’t work. And don’t buy dual layer discs if you only have a single layer recorder — it won’t work either.
I think I’ve said this a couple of times, but I’ll say it again: Don’t use rewritable discs for backing up your photos! Two reasons — they’re more expensive, and they have the potential to be overwritten or erased. The whole idea behind using a DVD to backup is that it’s cheap and permanent (well… sort of). They’re cheap enough that you can recopy the data every 5 or 10 years to new discs, and they’re permanent enough that you don’t have to worry about erasing them by accident.
If you have a DVD recorder, you should also have some software that goes with it. The backup process for DVDs is a bit more manual and labor-intensive than other methods we’ve discussed, but it’s not terrible. Most software now is just drag, drop, and hit a button.
If you decide to use DVDs to backup your photos, you’ll have to decide when those backups will take place. Some photographers like to immediately backup to DVD after the photos hit the hard drive. Others, like myself, just do a DVD backup every week or every month. Either way is fine, just as long as you’re fine with it.
Some photographers also like to use archival quality DVDs for backing up their photos. These can run about $2.50 per disc and they claim to be good for 100 years. Personally, I just use regular discs (but not the uber-cheap ones) and I write the recording date on them (along with the photos contained) — I figure I’ll re-copy them to fresh discs every 5 or 10 years just to be safe. Plus, as capacities go up and prices come down, I can condense my DVD archive as the years go by.
As I mentioned above, DVDs are cheap and (mostly) permanent. At $0.30 per single layer disc, you’re paying about $.06 per GB. For a 500GB hard drive to be economically equivalent, you’d have to find one on sale for $32. So anybody who says they don’t use DVDs because of the cost is full of it. You don’t have to use the archival quality discs — regular ones are better than nothing at all. But if you want to invest in the expensive stuff, go for it.
And as I also mentioned above, the data recorded to a DVD (not a rewritable DVD though) is permanent. You can’t erase it by accident. You can’t overwrite it by accident. You simply burn it and stick it in a binder or a case and stow it away somewhere. I like to keep mine offsite — it’s easy just to bring new discs to the location and add them to the stash. No back and forth business.
The main downside to a DVD is how fragile they can be. The discs are prone to scratches and dings that could ruin all the data (especially the really cheap no-name brands). It’s best to not handle them any more than is necessary. Get a binder, throw them in the sleeves, and don’t take them out unless you need them. Or put them in jewel cases and leave them on the shelf (though this adds considerable cost per disc). Along the same topic of fragility, DVDs will age and go bad after some number of years.
Another issue with the DVD is the capacity. Unless you have a large budget, you’ll likely be using the old 4.7GB discs. You could potentially be splitting up a single photo shoot across multiple discs. If you’re prone to taking a lot of photos like that, you might consider dual layer discs just for the convenience. And once you have a large collection of DVDs, they take up quite a bit of space in comparison to a hard drive (another reason I like the binders or books).
And the last weakness isn’t so much with the DVD, but the person using the DVD backup method. You have to remember to actually do it. You can’t rely on your fancy automated software to pick up a disc, put it in your computer, and make an up-to-date backup. You’ve got to have a schedule, and you’ve got to stick to it.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a fan of the DVD backup. I would recommend this method to all photographers. It makes for a great primary or secondary backup solution and it’s dirt cheap.
Sure, it’s not as automated as some other methods and it can even be a little tedious, but burning a couple DVDs each week or month is certainly less stressful than losing all your photos in the event of a catastrophe.
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In the previous section of this “photo backup” series, we went over the external hard drive. This article deals with something that’s a bit fuzzy to define — the RAID tower. It’s similar to an external drive, but it can also be used as a working drive and/or a backup drive.
A RAID tower is a collection of two or more internal hard drives housed in a box that contains special RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive/Independent Disks) hardware/software, and connects to your computer as if it were a single external hard drive. These towers can be utilized as a working drive or a backup drive, depending on your needs. In either case, the tower is designed to protect your data from hard drive failures (typically one disk can fail and you’ll still be able to recover your data).
RAID towers come in various shapes and sizes, but the most common form is a cube-like enclosure that holds 4 hard drives. The towers that hold 4 drives are capable of a RAID 5 configuration. Other towers may only hold 2 drives, and these are capable of a RAID 1 configuration. In either case, your data is protected against the failure of a single drive. The difference is that RAID 5 allows you to use more of your disk space (RAID 1 is just a mirror, so one whole drive is used for backup).
RAID towers have similar data connections to external hard drives (so I won’t go over them again), but some towers will have multiple connections to boost the data transfer rates. Some will also have the ability to be networked via Ethernet.
One deviant of the typical RAID tower is the Drobo. Typical RAID setups require that all drives be the same capacity (or it considers all drives to be the same capacity as the smallest drive). The Drobo is a bit different in that it can utilize drives of various capacity, and you can upgrade your hardware as your photo collection grows.
The nice thing about these towers is that they are intended to take care of the real-time backup for you. If you’re using it as a working drive, the RAID configuration will automatically backup your work as you go. If one of your hard drives in the tower decides to fail, you can simply replace the drive and the tower will rebuild your missing data.
If you decide to use the tower in a similar fashion to an external hard drive backup, you’ll still need to find some software that duplicates your work from your working drive to the backup drive. But again, if one of the drives in the tower gives up, you can replace it easily without having to re-backup your entire working drive.
In either case, the stuff contained in the box has a layer of redundancy. But it’s certainly not a solve-all solution. No single backup method can protect against every possible failure.
RAID towers are easy and expandable. The embedded hardware and software takes care of backing up your data, so you don’t need to be as diligent about manually backing up photos. The other main perk of these towers is that you can upgrade the storage capacity as your collection grows. Standard RAID 5 towers will require that all drives be of the same capacity, but a unit like the Drobo overcomes this limitation.
RAID towers are also somewhat portable and they can be accessible via a network. If you had to take one with you somewhere for some reason, you could do it. And hooking it up to your local network is a great way to ensure access to your photos from several computers around your home or office.
RAID towers are still basically an external drive, with a limited connection speed. Most users will never notice this limitation, but it is a limitation nonetheless. The other downside to a tower is that you’re only protecting against hard drive failures if you use it as a working drive. Fire, theft, and other major disasters can wipe out all your drives at once. And like external drives, you’ve got a box of hardware sitting on some desk or shelf just waiting to be knocked over.
If you can justify the cost of a RAID tower, they’re certainly worth it. These devices add an extra layer of protection against common failure modes. I would, however, strongly suggest that if you decide to use a tower as your main working drive, to also use a secondary method of backup. Putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea.
I would suggest a RAID tower for folks with a considerable sized photo collection, maybe 500GB or more. Anything less than that, and you might as well just use a single drive for working and another single drive for backup. But as your collection grows into the terabytes, you’ll need more than a single drive to work with.
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Everybody says that backups are important, but not everybody has lived through the crisis of losing photos. If you haven’t experienced this yet, it may seem like something that only happens to other people. So this poll aims to show what percentage of photographers out there have actually lost their photos one way or another.
I’ve got four answers in this poll. Choose No if you’ve never lost your photos. Choose Yes if you have lost some or all of your photos, but you were able to restore a great majority of them with a backup. Choose Lost the Backups Too if you did keep backups, but they were also lost. And choose Didn’t Have One if you lost your photos and you didn’t have a backup. I’m sure there are various situations that blur the line on these answers, but choose the one that best fits.
Also, go ahead and tell us your horror stories in the comments (it is Halloween after all). Or share your story of how your backups saved your photo collection.
And don’t forget to check out the results from the last poll, “How Big is Your Photo Collection?” It appears that nearly half of you (44%) are still under 100GB, about 16% are in the 100GB to 200GB range, and another 12% in the 200GB to 300GB range.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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