What's the best way to set up this computer backup system?

I am not sure whether to put this in GQ or IMHO, but I will try here first. Mods, move it if you feel you must.

Backstory: My wife has decided to switch careers and become a professional photographer. She has always done it as a hobby and she is tired of working in cube-land and decided she will make a go of it. OK then, she has a good DSLR and she went and bought some lights, backdrops, various hardware and took a bunch of classes. She has already had a couple of gigs and it looks like she will most likely succeed in getting the career going. The one very important thing that has yet to be set up is a good, redundant, storage system. There are many ways to do this, but we have already decided on what we would like to do but I just am not sure of the best way to implement it.

Details: My wife has a MacBook Pro (OS X 10.6.6) she is using with ~200 GB of storage on it. She would like to take pictures and immediately have them backed up to an external drive (we do have Time Machine). After she has tweaked them in Photoshop and distributed them to the clients, she would like to put them in redundant long term storage and take them off her hard drive. To do this we have two external USB drives (1.5 TB each). We thought it would be nice to use one drive as a straight external storage drive (call it Archive) for the long term archiving, and the second as the backup Time Machine Drive. The time machine drive would be used to back up both the hard drive and the other external archive drive, thus guaranteeing that all storage would be redundant. When we fill the drives, we will put them in a desk drawer and by another pair of external drives.

What do you think? Is there a better way to do this? Am I missing anything here? Is this the cheapest way to do this with a good chance of being successful? We thought about buying a Drobo, but they are so expensive and this seemed like a cheaper solution, especially now when she is just getting started.

All comments are seriously appreciated!

Oops, this was supposed to be in General Questions. Mods, can you move it?

Not a complete answer, but both Aperture and Lightroom have a feature that will back up your photos to an external drive as they are imported from the camera/card.

The procedure for moving them to long term storage depends on which software you’re using.

I didn’t know that. I know she has some (light) type of photoshop currently but she is planning on also getting lightroom. I will look into that. Is it easy to do redundant long term storage with this software?

Easy enough, yes. The backup created at import time gives you one copy. Archiving your long term storage to a separate external drive gives you a second copy and thus redundancy. That’s not the only way to do it but it’s simple and requires no special software or hardware (other than the external drives you already have).

In addition to the above I also use Time Machine, but that’s more for undoing mistakes than disaster recovery.

You should also have at least one off-site backup, or a fire/robbery/earthquake/freak electromagnetic storm could destroy all your backup copies at once.

Cloud backup services like Mozy can automatically back up files to an external hard drive AND to their online service.

Some of these providers give you unlimited storage for a flat monthly fee; if she has a lot of photos, that’s probably the way to go. However, it’s also worth keeping in mind that such a pricing scheme is rarely sustainable and most companies that have offered it in the past have stopped now. As for the remaining companies, well, it’s probably just a matter of time before they switch pricing schemes on ya, but at least they should give you enough warning to move your files elsewhere.

Otherwise, you pay by the gigabyte, but it’s easy enough to start at the lowest plans and scale up with her business.

If you can’t afford something in the cloud, at least consider having another hard drive (say, at your office or some other family member’s home) that you regularly synchronize with.

Do you have an old computer laying around the house? If not, can you get an old computer from a friend?

If so, get it, take out its hard drive, put a few of the largest, most reliable hard drives you can find in it and put it in your mom/dad/brother/sister/etc’s house (if they’ll let you, inform them). Use Dyndns in conjunction with an FTP host and back up your stuff to their house overnight.

The computer can be crappy, because the only important thing is the hard drives.
This lets you back your stuff up remotely, for about the same cost as Mozy/Carbonite. The advantages here, though, are physical access to your stuff. The disadvantage is that if there’s a local disaster (flood), your cousins house across town might not be far enough away, but redundant data backups likely are.

There is a bit more to consider when setting up a backup strategy, especially when it involves both a personal business and also involves data of value to customers.

There are a number of questions that you ask yourself, and a number of questions about the nature of the data and what you expect in the face of a range of disasters.

Backs traditionally have been a way of getting back data you need to restore the system to its current state. What this misses is resilience in the face of stupidity or data corruption. Or just the need to get something back you deleted a long time ago. For that you need an archive solution. As noted above, Time Machine provides an archive capability, and if it is directed to an external disk, a backup capability too.

You then ask yourself, how much time you can afford to lose in terms of data. Can you afford a day’s loss, a week’s loss? The reality turns out that despite almost anything anyone ever says, when it comes to facing the truth of a real data loss, one day is the most anyone can manage, and often the answer is less than that.

Then you look at the disasters. This is where people are never quite as honest with themselves as they need to be. What disasters will you mitigate against? For instance:

[li]Loss or theft of laptop.[/li][li]Failure of laptop drive.[/li][li]Failure of laptop.[/li][li]Burglary of house that steals all your equipment, including backup disks.[/li][li]Fire/flood that destroys your house.[/li][li]Natural disaster that wipes out your neighbourhood.[/li][/ul]

Do you know what you would do in the face of each disaster, and what the likely loss of data and damage to your business might be? Do you ever test that the backups/archives are good?

Take it from someone who has the scars and the multi-thousand dollar data recovery bills to show for it, that it is easy to get wrong. Some of this sounds somewhat over the top. However if you were a photographer running a home business in Brisbane Australia, or Fukushima, you would think it barely enough.

A Mac with a Time Machine managed external drive is a nice first step. It provides archive and backup. It is possible to restore a working version on a new disk or new laptop very quickly (hours at most with a FireWire drive). Loss of a laptop or drive, and you could conceivably be back working the same day. Something I do, and quite a few people I know do is to also buy a copy of SuperDuper, and have it also create a clone of your laptop drive onto the backup drive. It can be set-up to work alongside TimeMachine onto the same drive. This has the interesting feature that the external drive is bootable. You can actually plug it into a another Mac, reboot off the drive, and be up and working again in minutes as if nothing had happened. This may be important. (Clearly only working for a short time, as you still need to properly recover your situation. You have no resiliency until you do.)

The state of your archive is an interesting issue. If it is part of your TimeMachine backup, the archive has no resiliency. Lose the backup drive, and your archive is gone. So you may like to consider if the archive state is itself worth backing up. One answer is to run time machine on your local disk to maintain the archive capability, and to backup the entire thing to an external disk. Thus you have both a local and external archive set.

Retiring disks is a good way of creating a permanent snapshot. Disks are so cheap now that doing this is no big deal. However be aware that it is far from unknown for a disk to fail to spin up after a long time unused. You need a regime that is not just triggered by the disks filling. A good strategy is to keep an offsite copy of data on a weekly cycle. Thus a disaster that strikes your home will only lose at worst one week of data. The cycle needs to identify where there are weak spots too. Keeping three backup disks, and rotating them though an off site location is good.

Sorry but that’s bad advice on a general forum. More expensive, less reliable, more failure points, and far harder to set up than Mozy or Carbonite. You and I might be able to make it work, but most people would get stuck somewhere between PASV port forwarding and cron jobs.

I did look into cloud backup, but most of those place do not archive. As soon as you delete it from you hard drive, they delete it from their servers. They do have archiving services, but the star at 10-20/month and go up rapidly with number of gigabytes archived. With these costs (especially as the amount of data she is creating is huge), it would be easier to go with the cheap, redundant drives.

Thanks for the responses so far. It is too late for me to respond in detail, but I will be back tomorrow.

Normally I’d agree, but I don’t think it’d actually be more expensive in a case like this.

Especially in light of the OP’s latest update. This is a lot less difficult than it seems to set up, I happened to describe an especially cheap way to do it.

If you can set up DYNDNS, and can afford to purchase a Mac Mini, doesn’t need to be current gen as long as it’ll run 10.6.5 or 10.6.6, you can Remote Sharing (right now with MobileMe, I think or DYNDNS without it) and it “just works.”

Generally, I’d advocate online backup solutions, but not for pictures, movies, etc. Yes, individually the drive in his mothers attic is more likely to fail than Mozy, the Company.

But that drive isn’t likely to fail at the same time his HomeArchive does. And OP can always make a copy from his HomeArchive, of BackupArchive when the other fails. That’s the as much point of redundancy as failure aversion quickly negating fail when they happen by replacing the failed part or parts.

My thoughts as a Pc guy.
Machine backups and archives are separate issues. Since you are going to be doing this kind of stuff alot you may want to look into hot swappable hard drive bays or something like this


That way you can easily swap in and out standard sata internal hard drives easily rather than buying externals all the time. Also alot of external drive failures I have seen involved failures of the USB part but had a perfectly usable hard drive inside. Buying hard drives this way should be cheaper long haul as well as allow things like having 1 pair in that 4 slot rack be a raid1 mirror, or using a folder sync utility to grab updated files as needed to backup drives.

They could mirror your archive drive. The point isn’t to replace your at-home backup solution (not in this case), but to give you an off-site backup in case something happens to your home.