Total Hard Drive Failure

Total FailureThis will be a much more informative post than I normally write, where the message is more important than the photo. In fact, I only took the photo as an excuse to play with my DIY Macro Studio and my lighting gear. This is important, so pay attention!

I recently suffered through that terrible sinking feeling that you only get when you slowly come to the realization that something has gone horribly wrong. Louise went into the office to use our old desktop computer and found only a black screen. Melanie had been playing a game on it earlier that day and it had been working fine, so this was very odd. I naturally assumed that it was a minor issue that could be quickly resolved. Reboot once or twice, maybe a couple of kicks, worst case open up the box and jiggle some cables to make sure they were seated properly. No dice. After doing all that, and more, I figured out that I had a dead hard drive. I even resorted to taking it into work to get the IT guy to check it out, and he confirmed that it was dead. Totally dead. Completely failed. Not recoverable. No data. Ouch.

Have you ever considered how much of your life you store on your computer? From Word documents and Excel files to email messages and financial documents. And photos. Lots and lots of photos. Thousands of photos. In an all digital environment, what are you doing to back up your data, especially your photos??

I know that many of you will think that I am a bit overboard with my backup system, but in this case I knew at all times that my data was completely safe. For me the sinking feeling was more about the PITA that I was going to have to go through to get my desktop computer back up and running, rather than actually being worried about losing my data.

I won’t bore you with the details of how I rebuilt my computer, but I will tell you about my backup system. And I hope you will listen and do at least some of this to ensure that your data is safe too. Especially your photos. Because you can’t get them back if you don’t.

This is a three-part system that ensures my data is always secure…

1. First of all I keep the original copies of all of my data and photos on my laptop. The laptop and the desktop are connected via a home network, and I do an automatic nightly backup of any data that might be important to be available on both machines. The hard drive on the desktop is not big enough to backup all my photos, so they don’t go there but everything else does.

The automatic backup is done using AJC Directory Synchronizer. This is a very powerful program that allows you to choose exactly what you want to backup and where you want it to go. I have used many similar pieces of software over the years and I’m very happy with this one…

2. I have a couple of Portable USB Hard Drives that I use to backup all my data, including the photos, every night. These drives have been going on sale pretty regularly every few weeks and you should be able to pick up a 1 TB drive for under $150.

3. I have an old computer running in the basement that I set up as FreeNAS server. It has two 1 TB drives inside it in a mirrored RAID configuration. All the files from the USB drives get copied to the FreeNAS once a week. I will eventually switch it around so that the FreeNAS is the nightly backup and the USB drives are the weeklies, but I only recently added the server and I haven’t got there yet…

3. This next part may sound crazy to some of you, but it is actually the most important part of my backup strategy… I have another portable USB drive that I only update every few weeks, and I store this drive offsite. This protects me in case of fire, flood, or any other major disaster that would impact the house. This one can be stored at work, at a friends house, in a safety deposit box, or even in your vehicle. The important part is that it must be an external backup, and therefore you have to get it out of your house. With this drive stored somewhere else, my absolute worst case is that I lose a few weeks worth of data.

The beauty of this system is that I can easily upgrade by replacing the portable hard drives as my storage needs get bigger. These drives get bigger, faster, and cheaper all the time, and I expect to have to replace one or both of these drives regularly. Depending on how much storage space you need, you may never have to do this, or you might need to start with something bigger that I use right off the bat.

So even if you only get one backup drive, and even if you only backup your data every once in awhile, I hope you are doing something. Do whatever works for you! Feel free to drop me a line if you need some help setting up a simple backup system like mine!