The HD/DV Rebel’s Guide* to Not Losing Your Sh… Stuff

// May 15th, 2009 // Rambling, tech

* – With apologies to Stu Maschwitz

Oh, we’re all clever Dicks and Janes when we talk about backing up data as it comes off the camera. We like that stuff. It’s immediate. It’s grubby. It’s ‘field work’. Makes us feel like video farmers. “Gimme that G-Drive, mistah. Gon’ hook me up some Fahwahr and offload this hya video.” I suck at New England accents in person too. Sorry. But when that data gets home… we turn into suburban farmers instead. You know… the ones who plant that garden in spring and then… say “screw it” by the fall and it becomes an ugly shameful scar in the back yard that mommy doesn’t like to talk about so stop asking me.

Assumption #1 – Backup means that the files you love and can’t live without are stored in more than one place and that a failure of one storage medium is not a catastrophic failure. Sorry, but I have to be frank here… if you think that “everything on a new external hard drive” is equivalent to “safe”, you’re living dangerously.

I’ve handled a lot of drives in my sordid career, and I’ve had brand new drives fail mere seconds after they were powered up. True story: Guy on the Internet, who we’ll cleverly refer to as GuyX, pitched a fit in a support forum for a well-known drive manufacturer when the nearly new external drive he had stored ’10 years of his life on’ went belly up and he was adamant that he was not the one at fault. Drives fail. Grow up. Every drive is a whirling dervish full of failure waiting to happen. Copying your life’s work to a single drive is not a ‘backup’, it’s a screwup. Two copies equals one backup. One copy equals ticking time bomb. And in the immortal words of networking guru and chicken owner Selena Deckelmann, “What part of ‘ticking time bomb’ do you not understand?!?” (Blatant old friend plug. What up, S!)

So, you’re not that guy. Or girl. Who’s not that guy. You care. But… in case he drops in, I feel we need to cover this base first so we’re all on the same page, as the boys in Polos and khaki with their holstered Blackberrys like to say. (Yes, the plural of Blackberry the mobile device, not the actual berry, is Blackberrys.)

Assumption #2 – Your house or place of business may burn down in a fiery spectacle that will leave your neighbors talking about ‘the big one’ for months to come. Just imagine it! No, really. Do it. Imagine all the data you stand to lose. “Gaw-lee! That girl’s house burnt like the fires o’ Hell for near’bout two whole days!” You will be well and truly screwed if your prized data and your backup are both housed in that horrific-yet-now-enthralling display of nature’s wrath that burns so hot you end up with one side of your face a bright red.

OK. Stop thinking about it. That’s freaking scary, no? So store your backup — heck make it two now that you’re freaked out by the vision you just had — elsewhere if at all possible. If it’s not possible… then… Wait, what? Where do you live? The arctic shelf? Prison? The Moon? Even on the moon you could find an off-site crater to tuck a drive into. Talk to a friend and suggest, like (blatant plug #2 ahead!) Dan Benjamin did, that the two of you can create a new symbiotic relationship vis-a-vis your respective backups. Swap drives/tapes/whatever on a regular basis and protect each other’s most valuable possession: your video files and pictures of that girl who broke your heart after graduation and I’M NOT BITTER, SHARON, I’M NOT! Sorry…

No, don’t ask the pyromaniac in the apartment upstairs, but do ask your co-worker or your mom or your Call of Duty partner (HOORAH!). Or, simply, just take a drive to work and stick it in your desk drawer. When doing either, I highly recommend that you encrypt your drive/data, if it’s personal or sensitive, and definitely label it clearly as to who owns it and what it is. You don’t want your friend peeping your shameful video letter to the Stargate SG-1 fan club or a co-worker taking the drive from your desk because his Dell dropped a kidney on Sunday and he needed a ‘spare’ hard drive post haste to finish stalking someone on Craigslist. (Hang on, you over there going “What about ‘The Cloud’???” I’ll get to you.)

Where was I? Ah. Two copies and, hopefully, two locations. And, finally before we move on to the ‘how’ part, having a RAID storage device is not a backup. If you’ve got a nice new workstation with a built-in RAID or a deskside enclosure, good on you. It’s a wonderful life. But… BACK THAT THING UP! And store that backup off-site. Word.

OK. Now… how the heck are you gonna accomplish this? Well, what can you afford? Don’t beat yourself up thinking you must pay some service to vault your video or that it will cost an arm and a leg to to do this. You’re a rebel! Let’s start cheap and work up to ‘you got too much damned money, you’re no rebel!’

Bare Drives
Oh, yes. Oh, baby. Drives are cheap these days. Damned cheap. You can buy a 1TB drive for well under $100 if you shop around. And 1.5TB to 2TB drives aren’t that much more. If you add a drive dock like this or this to your rig… BAM! Instant backup system.

Copy your preciouseses to this drive and then haul it off-site for storage before the pyro upstairs drops that fateful match. Or, better yet, automate it. I use the awesome (some claim ‘super’) SuperDuper to do this. Find what works for you. And remember, you’re a rebel. Spend what you need to, not what some captain of industry says you need to.

Yep. Magnetic media. Look, it’s not dead. Ask any studio. And tape doesn’t ‘head crash’ and can be forensically recovered at less expense and with greater success than hard drives. And… well, OK, it costs more. So… you have that to think about. But, search around on eBay or Cragslist and maybe, in between the Star Wars collectibles and ‘misc romance’, you can find a used LTO drive or even a DAT drive for cheap. Sure, tape backups take a long time, but they work.

Just make sure to verify your backups (nothing ruins your world like a blank tape, pal) and clean your heads regularly. And by that I don’t mean “pop ’round the pub for a beer”. Well, yeah I do, but not in relation to cleaning your tape drive heads. Do that sober.

The Cloud
Don’t overlook the possibility of relying on the kindness of strangers. The Internet is full of both porn and companies trying to solve the online storage conundrum. Dropbox. Amazon S3. Mozy. Rackspace. Elephant Drive. MobileMe. Idrive/Ibackup. There’s a metric buttload of these things out there. And they all want to offer you the use of their storage (usually in exchange for some of your moneys if you want much storage). Just pick carefully and try not to lean too heavily on them. They are, after all, on Teh Internets. A wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Keep in mind that the upload speed for Teh Cloudz will be even slower than tape. So plan well and give it some time. But, if you go this route, you can check off ‘2 copies’ and ‘2 places’ with one stroke of your imaginary pen. Or pencil. If you’re one of those people. And if you’re even more of a rebel… build your own cloud! If you do your rebellious work somewhere that’s not home, set up a shared drive at home that you can access and backup your stuff. Or get one of these and slap a drive on it. Be creative. Be a rebel. Go on. Be one. Off with you.

Sure, what I’ve just covered amounts to, in hindsight, common sense. But every day I talk to people who, whether they admit it or not, I am certain have not archived their very important assets. Some will admit it, some will just shuffle their feet and look at the ground as they give a sideways answer. If Newton had been a technologist, he probably would have posited that “a backupless user tends to stay backupless unless acted upon by an outside shaming force”.

I am that force. Boo! Go back up your data now! Do it! No more excuses. Today is the first day of the rest of your good backup habits days. And the 16th as it just passed midnight here. So, it’s now tomorrow. You’re late already! Go, you rebel you! Go and be safe.

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