I get a lot of questions online, and out and about in regards to my backing up data at home. It’s a relatively simple process which I have taken years to refine into the mess that it currently exists as, but I am going to explain that to you all here so that way you can make your own determination as to what is and is not necessary for you. Let me start off also by saying that backing up your work is important. You
should NEED to do it. I have done it lots of ways over the years, and have relied on many technologies to make it easier and faster. I was, and always have been a very large believer and user of DROBO and the way they funciton. To this day I am very happy with what Drobo has done for my backups, but I no longer rely on the Drobo units for my backup RAID storage. I will explain why shortly here in this article, but the important thing to know it that nothing was wrong with the Drobo units. I moved on for other reasons. Backing up your data is incredibly important though as it keeps your images/videos safe for the future, whether you access your archives on a day to day, or year to year basis. I have lots of clients with files that I have put into storage for if that day comes where A, they need the images again for any reason, or B, if someone wants to purchase or license a image that I took years ago. I need to be able to find it right?
This is going to be a post on the Hardware and software that I use to back up my images. If you’re here looking for pretty pictures, you won’t find them in this post. This is one of the “non glamorous” parts of being a photographer. This said, lets get this party started.
First off you can check on my Gear page to see what kind of camera, memory, hardware, or computer technology that I am using at any given point. There is a month and year listed at the top so you know how current the list is. The list doesn’t change every month (how expensive would that be!?) but it does have things added/removed every so often. One of the biggest changes to this list as of recently was the removal of my two Drobo units. A Drobo is a “idiot Proof” RAID setup, that allows you to copy your data to the drive and it automatically duplicates it. This means that if a drive fails, all your data is safe. Flippin Sweet! In my time using the Drobos I have only had one drive fail, and it was simple. I popped the failed one out, put a new one in and it was done. Sent the other drive out for a RMA, got a new one back and even used it to replace a smaller drive I had in one of the Drobos. Can’t beat it.
So my 4 Bay Drobo units have been wonderful, and stupid simple. The lights, the interface; It’s all been a dream. Problem is that all dreams end sooner or later. I used the drobos in a very similar fashion to my friend and colleague Stefan Simonsen used a few regular hard drives in Germany. Stefan recently updated his archive system as well, which you can read about here. Stefan lists some very excellent reasons for doing what he did in terms of storage. Stefan chose not to go the route of a NAS (Network Access Storage) due to speed, wear and tear, and power concerns; which are very valid concerns. One of my primary requirements for updating my storage however was that I wanted it to be a stand alone system so that my Mac Pro didn’t need to manage it; like the Drobos were setup before. With that said, thinking back on Drobo; in order to migrate the data to a newer model Drobo I would need a 4 Bay USB3, or a 5 Bay USB/Thunderbolt model. That’s good and fine, except I am automatically having to buy two of them OR spend an exorbitant amount of money to fill one with enough drives to take the data from both Drobos at once dual drive redundant. This caused me to look into Drobo’s Larger options, which I will fully admit I found disappointing.
(Drobo Interface. Much Cleaner, but I would have had to buy at least 4 drives for this solution to get started, so I decided to shop around)
To get started, you can NOT migrate disk packs (Drobo Term) from a 4 or 5 bay unit, to a 8 Bay unit because they use a different filing system. This was my first problem. My Second problem is that reports on the internet are that the Drobo 8 bay NAS units are very hit or miss with connectivity via the network and are very slow. This prompted me to see what else was out there. Quite a few big name photographers out there have gone with G-Technology so I started there. By big name I mean; Joe McaNally, and my pal Andy Hancock both use G-Technology religiously. While they have the names behind them, I wasn’t totally sold on G-Technology’s offerings in the category I was looking for. The hardware looked great in regards to external computer storage (really awesome in fact), the devices are very cleanly designed and are probably very awesome since all the big names use them but I didn’t really see what I was looking for in their offering which was stand alone storage that I didn’t need to have attached to a computer to access. (Plus the GTech offerings were kinda crazy expensive in the size that I needed for this purpose).
Enter Synology. Years ago my good friend Michelle at the Indianapolis Star asked me about my experience with Drobo, and ended up going with a Synology diskstation after a long discussion with her now ex husband. After quite a bit of research I have in fact now gone with Synology when it came to the future of my data’s archive. A Synology 1813+ to be exact is what I bought and now use. It took a while to actually hit buy on Amazon’s website as it was not a small amount of money I was spending coming up onto Christmas to create a replacement for a system that still technically worked. To keep my life’s work good and safe I feel like it was great decision however. At the time Synology had just released their upgraded 1815+ model, but it was another $400 more than what I paid for my 1813+ and I couldn’t find one. Since I am not going to be doing a lot of enterprise computing or 1080P streaming video transcoding in favor of “I can sleep at night knowing my data is safe” computing, I thought the money saved was a reasonable choice.
Going with a NAS. As I mentioned before my friend and Colleague Stefan decided against a NAS for his data storage. I however found that I was regularly transferring my data over the network through my Mac Pro onto my drobo units as a large majority of my work is done on location requiring me to use my laptop to download and edit data on the fly. To me this said that I needed a network based solution. The advantage to the Synology is that I can also FTP into the unit from anywhere to get my data. Since Power consumption was a big thing for Stefan (and the world really) lets talk numbers. My Mac Pro uses 172 watts in idle mode. That’s with the computer not doing anything, but just sitting with the monitor off. 172 Watts! Asleep the Mac Pro uses 30 watts of power and with the thing just plugged into the wall but completely shut down it uses 4 watts of power. That computer is a beast! I can’t access the Drobos when the Mac Pro is off (short of plugging them directly into the other computer). The drobo’s themselves use 40 watts of power when busily archiving or accessing data while just idle only use 12 watts. That’s just on their own. Quick recap, the Drobo/Mac Pro combo uses at maximum 212 watts, and at minimum 42 watts! Yikes! The Synology unit in full operation requires 75 watts of power, but only 34 while in hibernation. When the data migration is fully finished, I’ll be using a lot less power since I can then shut my Mac Pro down when it’s not in use as opposed to just letting it sleep for days at a time. When the Synology is asleep the drives power down and the system…well…the system sleeps. It only wakes again when a ping is sent through the network. Some folks prefer WD green drives, which sleep and take up less power but these drives aren’t good for a NAS. That said, the WD RED drives are built with better components for better runtime but you pay a premium for them. A $3 premium at the time of this writing in fact for 6TB drives on amazon.com
The Process. I went with Synology’s SHR-2 Raid setup which sounds proprietary, but isn’t. It’s actually Linux based meaning that if anything happens to my enclosure and I don’t want to go this route again, I can easily recover my data with a little know how and a empty computer tower. The SHR-2 raid setup is essentially Raid 6 in that it protects against two drive failures, but provides more useable space than RAID 6 does. My kinda setup. The Synology required no special software to be installed on my Macbook Pro, or Mac Pro either. It’s all done via Browser which is made possible by the fact that the Synology has a Dual Core ATOM processor and 4 gigs of ram to manage itself. (it comes with 2gb. I upgraded mine). Once the drive was set up it was simply a matter of copying the data to the Synology until one of the Drobo units was empty. Then adding the drives out of that empty Drobo to the Synology, followed by copying the other.
(This whole project took a minute. This was just the first part…)
In the end my Synology has 19T of useable space, of which 12 is filled. Should be enough to get me through at least the next year, very likely two without any trouble. I can access my data from anyplace if I want, and I managed to reduce the amount of power I am consuming to keep my data safe in the house by 25% when the whole system is idle and by 66% when fully active. The Mac Pro isn’t out of service, it’s just now off until needed. The main reason computers were merely put to sleep was so that they were quick to start when you needed them. In modern times though, SSD’s make it so that the computer will power up in 10 seconds or less when needed, so no reason to keep it on like in the past. Depending on how much it gets used in the next year (it’s from 2008 so my notebook is now finally just about as fast), It’ll likely either get replaced with a iMac or maybe just be retired. Guess that remains to be seen.
SO there you have it. That is how I backup my data at home. Another nice advantage to the Synology is that I can install a application that will upload files of my choosing to Crashplan, making a ongoing off site backup. 13T of data is kind of a lot to send over the network, but having your data even if your house or studio gets hit by a meteorite can be important. All of my data to this point has been stored off site via USB drives, but in 2015 I think I’m going to start giving Crashplan a try. I’ll update everyone later this year as to how it goes.
I know someone at this point is wondering how I get my data onto my Synology. That’s pretty simple actually. I just drag it over there. The off site backups for 2015 are automatic with Crashplan. I don’t use Carbon Copy Cloner like Stefan to have two copies of the Synology at same time. (that would be crazy expensive!) No, I copy everything over to the Archive. Separated by year, in folders named with the shoot, and the date so they are easy to find. Anything I caption for the paper is indexed, and searchable by the archive, and by finder on any of my mac computers. Wham, Bam, Shazam!
Hopefully this helps anybody that is trying to make an informed decision about how to back up their work. There is no 100% correct solution, only what I prefer vs what someone else prefers. While no correct answer, I am very pleased with this one. I was not paid by Synology to say this, nor will Drobo likely shed a tear having lost me. I still swear by Drobo as a great solution in a lot of cases. Just not for me in this capacity. Thanks for reading and as usual. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please feel free to hit me up via my contact page, or my facebook page. More soon.