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.
In the next article, we’ll go over some software solutions for organizing and executing your backup strategy.
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 S3
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.