Portable Backups

My Data Backup Strategy – An Exercise in Paranoia (Podcast 386)

Today I'm going to walk you through my data backup strategies at home and in the field. This is in response to a listener question from someone that heard me talking about this briefly on This Week in Photo. I should precede this with the disclaimer that I'm perhaps a...

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
  • Mylan
    Posted at 19:57h, 13 September Reply

    Martin, when I play the audio from this page it appears to be the audio from a previous blog post (your review of various inkjet papers). Nonetheless, great post and certainly gives me some ideas to improve my own backup system.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 20:24h, 13 September Reply

      Doh! Forgot to update the link. Thanks for letting me know Mylan!

  • Dan Dilloway
    Posted at 21:33h, 13 September Reply

    I’ve just seen this post via twitter, and think it’s really solid advice. I work in a data recovery lab, so see lots of failed drives and this is how I would approach a backup system. It sounds like you backup Mac->Drobo1->Drobo2 but maybe Mac->Drobo1 & Mac->Drobo2 would be safer. If issues happen during the first backup, they wouldn’t be transferred to the second Drobo. Of course this is just nitpicking and I think you’re safer than anyone I’ve ever heard of!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:43h, 14 September Reply

      Thanks Dan!

      For some of my syncs that’s actually what I do, but then once my local copy of my images is deleted at the start of the next month, Drobo1 becomes the master copy, so most of my sync jobs are set up to sync from Drobo1 to Drobo2. I can certainly see the value in your suggestion though. If I kept stuff on my local machine longer, I’d probably do that more.

      Thanks for stopping by and for the advice!

  • Nick Nieto (@NickNieto)
    Posted at 01:42h, 14 September Reply

    This is really useful – thanks for this post – it’s somewhat very well timed for me. I actually just lost about a terabyte of data on one of my Media Drives. Luckily I have a copy on the cloud at backblaze that I am able to recover. I’m going to use your workflow to help refine my current system.

    Thanks for all the information!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:44h, 14 September Reply

      Thank heavens for that Backblaze account Nick! Congratulations on getting that set up BEFORE your disaster.

      I’m pleased this episode will help you think through your extended strategy.

  • Aaron Thomas
    Posted at 01:56h, 20 September Reply

    Martin, thanks for the great podcast! This episode couldn’t have come at a better time as I am trying to get my backup system figured out. I am mostly a wedding photographer in which case a lot of the time I do the couple’s engagement shoot one year and then their wedding is the following year. You mentioned how you keep your photos organized by year, month, and then day. If I wanted to keep the couple’s engagement photos together with the wedding photos and one is one year and the other is the next year, do you have any suggestions for an organizational system in this case? Or what would you do if you were in my shoes?

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:17h, 20 September Reply

      Hi Aaron,

      I’m pleased this helped.

      That’s a good question. I would probably approach it in one of two ways, or maybe even both. Assuming the wedding is the more important of the two shoots, I would probably move the engagement shoot to a sub-folder under the wedding folder once the wedding is complete. Then they could be stored together.

      Or, you could manage the linkage with Lightroom Collections, if you use Lightroom. This way the files could stay where they are, and you could build a list of all your weddings and engagement shoots in Lightroom, but this would mean that you’d have to also be specially careful about backing up your Lightroom catalog, because Collections only live in the catalog.

      You might also want to check what other wedding photographers do though. It almost feels like one of those exceptions that might take you out of my year/month/day structure. Maybe you could use year/month/day for your general shooting, but have all of your wedding shoot files in a different location, and maybe even just index them couple name or something.

      If I were to do that though, I’d probably still leave the original raw files in my year/month/day structure, and copy all the final select images to a second, special folder, just for that couple. This is like what I do with my Originals folder and my Finals folder. I end up with two copies of the most important images, even inside of a single backup.

      Not really a definitive answer, but this is probably what I’d consider.

      Hope it helps!


  • Mark Vandenwauver
    Posted at 08:42h, 24 September Reply

    Martin, a couple of questions from a fellow paranoid photographer who also loves screaming disk access speed.

    1. Do you have any actual data for read and write to your Drobo 5d? I’m getting 330 MB/s on my raid solution and wanted to know if the 5d can approach this.

    2. Do you have one Lightroom catalog for all your shoots, every shoot? Do you keep your edits in the same directory as your raws? Sorry if you’ve discussed this before.



    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 10:52h, 24 September Reply

      Hi Mark,

      I’m not quite getting those speeds from the Drobo 5D. When it was new and empty, I was getting 275 MB/s write and 313 MB/s read speeds. This is with 64GB Crucial mSATA SSD Acceleration.

      Now, with over 5TB of data loaded, it has dropped slightly to 193 MB/s write and 294 MB/s read speeds, when connected directly to my MacBook Pro Retina. Connected through the Belkin Thunderbolt hub, I get 187 MB/s write and 270 MB/s read speeds.

      These speeds don’t really change when I daisy chain a 24″ external display from the back of the Drobo 5D or whatever else I connect to the Belkin hub. The difference is small enough that I prefer to just put everything through the Belkin hub.

      Yes, I have just one Lightroom catalog for everything. All shoots, and multiple copies of the same photos on different drives. And yes, I keep all of my initial edited images in the same directory as my RAW files. Once I have finished my editing, I copy all the final selection images and their original RAW file (if I made a copy for a black and white conversion etc.) to a new directory that I call my Finals. This directory contains folders for each year, so I’m currently at 2013. I might continue to add keywords or change titles etc. on my Finals copy, and I don’t go back to the original folder to update that, once I have my final selection images in my Finals folder.

      I hope that helps.


      • Mark Vandenwauver
        Posted at 10:57h, 24 September Reply

        Hi Martin. Thanks for your quick and extensive answer. I’m happy to see the 5d perform at this speed. That’s a tremendous improvement over the previous generation. I can only imagine what speed the mini with nothing but SSD drives can obtain then.

        Wrt Lightroom and edits, I’m doing exactly the same and I guess I was kinda looking for confirmation by one of the industry leaders. ๐Ÿ™‚



        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 11:05h, 24 September Reply

          I don’t know about the industry leader part, but you’re welcome Mark. ๐Ÿ™‚ I too was pleasantly surprised by the speed of the Drobo 5D.

          One other thing to note. The Drobo Tech Support team told me that there is no reason to buy larger than a 64GB SSD for acceleration, but as I use the 64GB SSD, I see the life dropping already to 82%. With the price difference between 64GB and 128GB being so small, I kind of wish I’d gone for larger now, if only to give me more sectors and extend the expected lifespan of the SSD.

          Having said that, the 64GB are literally so cheap, that it might be better to just replace this when the life drops close to 0%. I guess we have to think of this SSD as a consumable, like printer ink or something.


  • Mark Vandenwauver
    Posted at 11:45h, 24 September Reply

    Great point about the caching SSD. No idea it would go down so quickly. Your 2 and 3 the drives are they 7200 rpm? For mobile backup, I use the lacie rugged 7200 rpm with USB 3.0 connection. They get me around 110-120 which I find pleasantly fast for a portable lightweight solution.



    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 12:07h, 24 September Reply

      The two 3TB drives and two of the 2TB drives are 7200 rpm, but the third 2TB drive is a Western Digital Green drive, which I believe is 5400 rpm. I would get faster speeds with this one faster too, but I’ll switch that out soon enough, when I start to replace these 2TB drives with 4TB ones for more space.

      I’m still using the 2TB FW800 drives for my mobile backups, as mentioned above. I like the fact that they are 2TB, and the speed is OK-ish, so I’ll keep them for a while, but I’m seriously considering the Drobo Mini as my main mobile backup. The only downside is that it needs power, whereas all of my current portable drives don’t. Plus, the Drobo Mini is just a bit too big to realistically drop into my photographer’s vest and carry with me all the time. I could just carry my 2nd backup around instead though.


  • Ricky
    Posted at 18:49h, 29 September Reply

    Thanks. I went with a Synology DS 1515 backup NAS, first set up price can be huge. I spent over $1400 to get the right backup system. BackBlaze my online backup solution.
    Just depends on how valuable your photos or data is. Least cost now is maybe only replacing drives if they fail and the odd subscription plan for online storage.
    My backup solution was similar to this one here I can now sleep at night.
    Cant wait for SSD to get cheap and high capacity. One day bring it on.
    Dont forget 3 copies, 1 at home, one at a friends and 1 online copy.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 11:15h, 12 October Reply

      For sure Ricky, the initial setup can be expensive, and replacing drives is an additional expense. I started my first Drobo 5D with five 4TB drives, and it now has three 8TB drives in it, and two of the original 4TB drives. The good thing is that as long as the device supports it, you can prepare larger drives and gradually increase the storage as drives get larger and cheaper.

      I’m with you on SSD prices and capacity. I would love to be able to travel with my main image library for the current year on a large SSD drive, but at the moment, I’m using WD My Passport Pro 4TB drives. It works well but hard drives fail and aren’t as fast as SSD either way. Unfortunately, SSD technology seems to be ignoring Moore’s Law. Traditional hard drives continue to double in size every few years, whereas SSD are hardly changing. ๐Ÿ™

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