Remembrance of Things Past

Video Productions

Protecting Your Memories

If you are a past or possible future customer of RTP Video Productions, you obviously value your family memories as represented in your photographs and home videos. Perhaps you are like many home computer users — you’ve never given much thought to backing up your memories. As a professional in the field of digital photograph editing and video production, I use computers every day, so I have developed an appreciation for what they can do, but also a respect for how they can fail. Not to frighten you, but here are some facts… not opinions, facts.

1. All hard drives eventually fail, and they frequently fail in such a way as to make data recovery very difficult / expensive or impossible. This means that all of those digital photographs and videos you transferred from your cameras to your hard drive will go “poof” — either within the next 5 minutes or within the next 5 years, but they will go “poof.”

2. All flash memory cards / flash drives eventually fail or the data on them eventually fades. This is the nature of flash memory technology. It is not permanent, so if you are keeping your photos by buying more and more flash cards, this is not a long-term solution to protecting your memories, either.

I’ve tried several different methods to backing up my data, so I thought I would give you the benefit of my experiences.

What makes an effective backup system? Well, it may be stating the obvious, but it must be capable of restoring your data (your memories) in the event of a disaster, whether the disaster is small (computer or hard drive failure), or large (home is destroyed by a natural disaster, fire, etc.).

There are 4 principles of a sound backup discipline and the lack of any one (or more) of these can significantly degrade the reliability and effectiveness of your backups.

a. It must be fully automatic, and for all practical purposes, set it and forget it.
b. It must not be dependent on any single backup media.
c. It must not be dependent on any single location for storing the backup.
d. Restore if needed must be quick and easy.

You could manually copy all of your photos and videos to CDs or DVDs, but by its nature, this will be hit or miss. Because of the time it takes to do this, you will tend to burn your backups at irregular intervals, with possibly months or longer between performing the backup function. And, then, what do you do with these backups? To not violate principle c, you would need to make at least 2 copies of each disc, and store one outside of your home; perhaps at your work place, or in a bank safe deposit box. Would you do this? Only you can answer that, but I wouldn’t, even with the best of intentions.

You could also use backup utilities, including the one built into your PC’s operating system, to backup all of your data to an external hard drive. External hard drives are incredibly cheap these days. Target recently had a 2 TB external drive on sale for $90 (that’s 2 terabytes — 2,000,000,000,000 bytes — 2 trillion bytes — 2000 GB — enough to hold about 800,000 ten megapixel photographs). But, as impressive as this is from a cost standpoint, it is still just a hard drive. This would meet principles a and d, but fail at principles b and c.

No, the best option, in my opinion, is one of the online backup services, but to meet the requirements, it must satisfy all four principles, a, b, c, and d, including backup to places other than their online “cloud” servers.

I have tried both of the big 2 online services: Carbonite and Mozy. Unfortunately, I do not recommend either of them based on my experiences with them.

Carbonite fails with principle c in that it does not provide an alternate backup location besides their servers. And they fail at principle d, at least they did for me. As reliable as their servers may be, they suffer from 2 things that means that I could not depend on them as the only location: the are S_L_O_W and they do not provide 24/7 technical support. Carbonite was the first serivice of this kind that I used. As such things go, I needed to restore due to a hard drive failure on a weekend. They do not even answer their email on weekends, and they provide no call-in support whatsoever. Since the hard drive that failed was the computer’s boot drive, I had no access to the Carbonite application, and the remote restore function that I hastily installed on a second computer would not allow access to the backup archive without validating against the serial number of the original Carbonite install. Who writes that kind of stuff down? I didn’t, and Carbonite was not answering my support requests. I was not able to even start the restore until I was able to contact customer suppport and convince them that I was who I was claiming to be. So, I lost 3 days getting the restore started. Once restored, I moved on to a different service. Caveat: this experience is 4 years old, and I have not kept up with whether or not Carbonite has addressed any of these issues, but one thing I do know… they claim unlimited backup, but they significantly slow down your backup if you get “too big”. They are already S_L_O_W, so they turn this into G_L_A_C_I_A_L if you have a lot of data to backup.

Mozy was worse than Carbonite in their failure of principle d. Their restore is unacceptably bad. Here is what it does: it will fail to restore at least some of the files you have backed up, and repeated attempts to restore result in the same errors. Making matters worse, when it fails to restore (which is every single time) it halts the restore with a vague error and provides you with no log information of what file or files were the problem, what files were successfully restored, and what files were not. Further, since it halts, there can be a huge number of unrestored files that it had just not gotten around to yet. Further, it does not restore in any logical order, so you have no clue how far along it got before it halted. Further, there is no way to resume the restore, you must restart from the beginning. It then fails again. Since I really, really, needed the files restored, I went through the painful process of going folder by folder, restoring one folder at a time, so that when the failures to restore happened, I could manually figure out which file did not restore, try to restore it again (it would always fail again, indicating the backup archive at Mozy is corrupted), and then continue with the next folder. A restore that should have taked a few hours took weeks. Mozy, unlike Carbonite, does offer backup to your local hard drives in addition to their online servers, so they would seem to satisfy all four principles, but if their restore integrity is 99% instead of 100%, what good are they? Never again. Now I read that they have done away with their unlimited backup service. Just another nail in the coffin as far as I am concerned.

I have now moved on to CrashPlan. They are a local Minneapolis company, for what that may be worth, but what has attracted me to their service is they hit all four of my backup principles head on. Their service will allow you to back up an unlimited amount of data to their online servers (like Carbonite, unlike Mozy), plus they also offer a “family plan” that includes up to 5 computers, all unlimited (unlike either Carbonite or Mozy). They do not thottle your bandwidth (unlike Carbonite). The really nice part of CrashPlan, however, is they provide backup to multiple destinations. You can backup up to external hard drives, to other computers on your home network, or even to other computers elsewhere on the internet (such as a friend’s computer or your work computer). This means you can take an external drive to your friend’s house and back your data up there. The backup is encrypted, so your friend cannot actually access your data, but it does get you an off-site backup location that does not depend on some large company’s servers out “in the cloud.” Of course, as I said, CrashPlan does offer unlimited backup to their servers, so you can have your backups in three places, all automatically maintained: locally on your external hard drive, remotely at your friend’s house, and in the cloud at CrashPlan’s servers, all maintained in set-it-and-forget-it fashion. Caveat: I have just started using CrashPlan, so I have no experience, yet, with needing their restore services. However, no one could be as bad as Mozy (I hope).

So, CrashPlan is where I have ended up in my backup saga. I hope this is of some value to you.

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