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Backups for the creative pro

Joe Kissell | Sept. 18, 2015
What to think about when you need to back up vast amounts of data.

This smart folder lists the files created yesterday, Command-Option-I shows how much space they occupy (not much in this case).

If you want to back up every file you have now plus all those you add over, say, the next year, take your daily average, multiply it by the number of days you normally work per year, and add the amount of space your existing media files occupy. Multiply the result by 1.5 (or more!) to give yourself room for additional file versions and breathing space. If that number is bewilderingly large, you can reduce the backup space required by allowing your backup software to delete older versions of your files.

For example, if you work primarily in video, you’ll have your original footage, plus project files from your editing software and perhaps dozens or hundreds of intermediate versions of each video before the final cut. You should always back up the original footage—it’s easier to redo an edit than to reshoot. But you might want to remove older versions of project files from your backups in order to reduce your storage needs. (For example, in CrashPlan, go to Settings > Backup and click the Configure button next to “Frequency and versions” to specify how long CrashPlan should save old versions and deleted files.) Similarly, original photo files and raw audio tracks should be backed up, but you need not keep backups of every single edit to a photo or audio project; in most cases, just the few most recent ones will suffice.

CrashPlan gives you detailed control over the retention of deleted files and older file versions.

Even so, you may need considerable storage space. Here are your two major options, which are the same as what you’re likely using for primary storage:

  • It’s fairly easy to find high-capacity hard drives (8TB drive mechanisms are easy to find, and 10TB drives exist but are uncommon). If your backups can fit on a single drive, that may be all you need, although a secondary backup is always a good idea.

  • RAIDs and other multi-drive products, such as Drobo devices, let you combine two or more drives for greater capacity, performance, and/or data redundancy.

Both individual drives and multi-drive devices may be packaged with local interfaces (such as Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, or USB 3) or network interfaces (Ethernet or Wi-Fi); a device in the latter category is called a NAS (for network-attached storage). A NAS makes it easier to share storage among multiple computers, whereas local interfaces (especially Thunderbolt) offer much faster performance.

I should mention that a RAID is not, by itself, the same thing as a backup—not even if you use RAID 1, which mirrors the same data onto two drives (or RAID 5, which requires three or more drives). A RAID can protect you against hardware failure but not accidental deletion, software bugs, theft, and other problems. So if you use a RAID as primary storage, you should almost certainly back it up to another RAID.


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