Brian King’s Ten-Year Backup Strategy
This is a backup system that I’ve developed after ten years of being a professional video creator. It works great for my Apple-centric space, my budget and my needs, but your mileage may vary.
Here are the absolute key takeaways of my backup stragegy:
- If you have one, you have none.
- Clients always pay for storage.
- Spend money for good backups.
- If you have one, you have none.
Read on for specifics, or scroll to the bottom for a TL;DR. As always, feel free to say hi on twitter and let me know what you think: @bkbkbk
Three Mac OS apps run the show for all of my backups:
$5 per month backs up your local hard drive, and any other drives plugged into your computer. Files can be accessed via their site, or via a physical hard drive that gets mailed to you. It’s a great “set it and forget it” service, espcially if you’re about to go out of town for a few days for the initial upload.
Every time one of my drives is “mirrored”, it’s done through Super Duper. The paid version of the program enables “smart updates”, which only modifies or adds data that is changed. This speeds up every backup enormously, and eliminates human error when it comes to manually slinging around finder folders. Carbon Copy Cloner is another popular program that does the same stuff.
Disk Catalogue Maker
Finding files on offline drives is a pain in the ass. Disk Catalogue Maker fixes that by (quickly) indexing external hard drives and keeping all of the information in a database. By opening the app, you can do a spotlight-style search on all of your files, and identify which hard drive it was last seen on. Between DCM and sticking physical labels to my external drives, I have an extremely good command of what went where.
My Digital Essentials:
All my documents currently live in iCloud Drive (for a long time, I used the same strategy in Dropbox, same difference). I keep my office as paper-free as possible, so every single thing is scanned, OCR’d and dropped into folders by year.
Digital document files are also saved into the cloud, either with their own backup service (Day One Sync or iCloud, for example), or into appropriate folders in Dropbox and iCloud drive. With this strategy, my documents and data are not tied to my computer. Storing documents and data exclusively on an internal drive (or worse: a USB drive) is absolutely not an option.
While you’re putting your digital life on external services, be smart about passwords. Use a good, paid password manager like 1Password to make secure logins, and use tools like two-factor authentication anywhere you can.
I’ve been taking digital photos since 2003, so my Photos library is my most prized collection of data. Photos and iPhone videos are backed up as follows:
- Locally, in Photos
- Apple’s Photos in the cloud
- Google Photos
- Time Capsule
Every single one of those backup methods is automatic. As long as a picture hits the photos library in one of my devices, it’ll eventually get to all five of those spots with zero interaction on my part.
Backblaze and a Time Capsule back up my entire local machine, with a second backup handled by a Super Duper clone of my internal drive. Between these options I can get a quick restore of a lost machine without any issues. Backblaze also allows me to access files remotely, should the need arise.
All of this space and automation costs a little bit of money. 100GB on Google Drive is $2 per month, unlimited space on Backblaze is $5 per month, 2TB of iCloud storage is $10 per month and 1TB of Dropbox is another $10. This comes out to a deductible $27 every month for complete piece of mind when it comes to my photos and data.
As a video guy, I end up with a lot of personal video. For several years, it’s all been stored on Drobo RAID drives, but I’m not a big fan of the hardware. With the advancement of inexpensive storage and larger drives, that time is coming to an end.
Personal raw footage is organized in Final Cut Pro libraries on a per-year basis, and those libraries are primarily accessed through the Drobo, and backed up to paired naked internal hard drives that go into a cheap hard drive toaster. The drives are protected and orgnaized in color cases, and the Drobo itself is backed up to Backblaze.
Completed edits from that personal footage go everywhere. “Finished Projects” folders exist on every cloud platform I subscribe to, as well as YouTube and Vimeo as public or private links. Video projects are nearly as important as my photo library, and they will never be lost to a random hard drive failure.
If you want to spend some money on disk redundancy and massive storage, the best user-friendly RAIDs right now are made by Synology. Buying a pair of big externals and mirroring them is also an attactive option.The 8TB MyBook drives are currently selling at a very reasonable price, but the failure of external drives is always a matter of “when” and not “if”. Buy two, and keep them mirrored.
Projects for Business
Storing client projects on that one big G-RAID drive you bought a few years ago is a popular freelancer strategy, but it’s a horrible one. You never want an external drive failure to compromise more than one project. You also never want to run into a situation where you’re managing storage when you should be working. Isolate your projects, isolate your clients, and save yourself a lot of nightmares.
Every client gets charged for storage and archival. This buys them a matched pair of portable USB3 hard drives. These aren’t the fastest or the largest drives, but they get the job done perefectly well for almost all of our short-form clients, even when we’re working in 4K. Sticking with one particular type of portable drive keeps storage simple, and the connection cable consistent. Buy drives that don’t require external power, and label them.
Client drives get named “ProjectName A” and “ProjectName B”, and are labeled before they’re ever plugged in. Drive “A” is always the master work drive and drive “B” is always a clone, manged by SuperDuper smart backups every night. If the drives are traveling, the A drive stays with my laptop, and the B drive goes into another bag, or with another person.
After the projects are completed, the drives go into storage, ready for client requests. They’re never re-used, but they are occasionally mounted and spun up to help the longevity of the disk.
Larger companies with larger budgets might opt to save these archivals to tape or to servers—I used to do this with a hulking (but slow) Drobo Pro with 17TB of storage. Personally, I prefer having the mirrored working drive slotted away on a shelf, completely out of sight and out of mind. I’m sure this strategy will evolve as servers get more accessible, or as my upload speeds get faster.
We rarely have projects that require more storage than these portable drives offer, but we do sometimes have projects that require faster connections. In this case, the clients are still billed for a pair of portable drives, but a portable SSD work drive is employed for the actual edit. The SSD is mirrored to both portable drives, and is wiped for the next project.
Massive projects with lots of footage usually come to us on some massive, stupid external drive. Keep shelf-space and outlets ready for those, demand a second one for mirroring, and live with the eyesore until the project is done.
TL;DR: If You’ve Got One, You’ve Got None
Going from a “shit, I really need to start backing things up better” strategy to an actual plan might be overwhelming. Here’s the very least you can do:
- Make sure you’re using Apple’s Photos in the cloud, or Google Photos to back up digital photos. Facebook doesn’t count.
- Sign up for Backblaze, back up your computer.
- Keep your important documents in the cloud.
- Start charging clients for storage, and get their stuff out of your mixed-use drives.
Countless family memories have been lost to photos in shoeboxes and magnetic degregation of VHS tapes. Countless more will be lost to low-quality uploads on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Your memories are worth a couple dollars per month for cloud storage.
Use the internet to protect everything smaller than a gig or two, and be smart with mirrored local backups for the big stuff.