Thoughts on backing up (part 2)

Recently I had a backup drive sort-of fail. I say ‘sort-of’ because I could see all the files on it, I just couldn’t copy any of them elsewhere. I tried the various tricks on my Mac to ‘repair’ the volume in question, no go. The drive held all the past projects I’d worked on, both print and websites. More importantly it held a shedload of photographs: gigabytes of the things.

I remained calm. So calm was I in the face of losing access all this work that my better half became worried that I’d already had a nervous breakdown. There was no eye twitching or psychotic outbursts of profanity. I wondered and wandered into a deep thought pattern on the greater topic of the lifespan of digital files and what we do with years-old information, and worse: how do we keep old file formats alive when the programs no longer exist or no longer run top open them on the current platform you’re using?

There are probably a few safe bets when it comes to image file formats: JPEG, TIFF and PNG. I can’t see being unable to open these in ten or so years. PDF is another format that I fully expect to be around then too. I don’t know the answer to the greater question. Perhaps there isn’t one. It’s rare that I go back to a 5 or even 10 year old print job to repurpose it. Perhaps I’d dig into and old InDesign file to fish out a few elements or some copy but that’s it. Photography files on the other hand hold their value - in a sentimental sense and probably in a commercial sense if you’re a professional photographer. Will the RAW files you shot ten years ago still open in Lightroom? The answer is yes, of course, by the way.

Perhaps this isn’t even a big deal but I wanted to give some thought to notion that in 100 years historians might pick through our bits and pieces and scratch their heads in wonder of our time here. It seemed easy enough (like I’d know) for archeologists to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs as they were set in stone. How on earth are the future people going to work out what was in the Ventura Publisher documents of the 90s? Perhaps it won’t even be possible or even necessary due to the amount of information we generate. It might just snowball until the planet is one big data centre, and now I’m talking nonsense.

So with my immediate problem it was plainly obvious I had not been paying attention to my backup methodology which relied on syncing programs to do the heavy lifting between multiple drives on multiple machines. The problem for me with these apps are they really bog down your machine and performing a sync during working hours just isn’t what you should do anyway. Once you’ve left for the day with your laptop your sync isn’t up-to-date. Plus syncs just take sooooo long to perform its not often practical to wait for a sync to finish.

and none of the tools at my disposal helping me much I went in search of more specific data recovery tools and came across Disk Drill which claimed to do a reasonable job recovering lost files from partitions gone troppo. After installing it and letting it run for (I think it was two days) it presented a list of all the files on my drive and would I like to restore them. Yes please. Depending on the quantity of files it took anywhere between a couple of hours to a couple of days to recover them into a local folder.

So where did all this end up? In pondering how I wanted this to all to work one of the items I wanted to tick off was replicating all my work to different volumes without me being involved or me having to trigger it. Secondly, I wanted some kind of redundancy.

I ended up with a Synology DS213j - the baby of the dual-bay NAS boxes - with two 3TB drives. It’s not setup in a RAID configuration at all, because "RAID isn’t a backup solution" from all the reading I’ve done. I set it up as two volumes. In the Synology admin I used the Time Backup app (which is like Apple’s Time Machine) to archive each of my shared folders (Work, Sites, Photos etc) from the first volume to the second. If one drive fails hopefully the other remains working so I can retrieve my files. But what’s irritating about the Time Backup is that it will only let you create two backup tasks - which is a bit of a daft limitation considering the wealth of other features this device has. So instead of splitting everything up into Work, Sites, I’ve pooled them into one shared directory/drive. It’s no biggie.

Next on the list is working out a way to backup any shared directory on the Synology to an external USB hard drive. What if your studio was broken into and your NAS got pinched? It might help to have a copy of all your stuff at another location - at home perhaps. I can’t seem to see an automated way to to do that yet. Whenever I try to setup a local backup my attached USB drive doesn’t appear in the available list of volumes to target.

When I do work out the last few little pieces of this puzzle I’ll be reasonably happy that all my work is reasonably looked after. I’m suitably impressed with the Synology drive. Setting it up was super simple. I’ve set all my Macs to target it as their Time Machine destination. It’s a lot less to think about.

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