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Backup Strategies for Video Production Pros

Event video producer David McKnight lays out a backup strategy for CF, P2, and SD-based videographers who have sizable quantities of card-based client video they need to store and back up systematically, locally and/or in the cloud.
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A lot has been written since the dawn of the computer age about backup strategies. Corporations large and small still use tape backups and data management services to pick up and deliver tapes to offsite locations. Cloud-based storage alters this approach only in how the data is delivered to the storage location than how it's actually stored. Cloud storage has become as popular with media consumers as creators, with individual users everywhere backing up their iTunes collections to Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, Mozy, or whatever Cloud-Service-Of-The-Moment claims their allegiance.

Locally, there are dozens of software backup utility programs for all operating systems. Every video production professional interacts with data coming off the camera no matter if the output is streaming, file, or disk-based, and terabytes of data are amassed every day by video pros around the world. This isn't news to anybody. As soon as producers moved to file-based camera systems, we all had to address long-term data storage in a way that they hadn't before.

What's The Big Deal About Backup?

In my company, when we shot on tape we kept the tapes around forever and never reused them; that way we always had the original footage. Tape was cheap. Now, we have a handful of Secure Digital (SD), Compact Flash, or P2 cards to acquire footage with. After a shoot we dump those to hard drives, and format and reuse the media on the next shoot. Of course, now our original footage lives on a mechanical hard drive, a medium with a catastrophic failure rate compared to tape. With tape you had an occasional dropout sure, but when your hard drive dies you can lose it all. Multiple projects, raw footage, intermittent work, deliverable files ... the whole enchilada. How can I wax poetic on this subject? Because it recently happened to us! Yep, we lost a drive.

Ever since we've been using file-based cameras and workflows, we have been diligent about offloading footage onto multiple drives but after winding down and delivering a recent project, I got lazy and did not back up the final week or two of work. The 4TB Seagate drive I'd been working on went completely south, and took that work with it. Said drive is currently in the hands of the Dr. Frankenstein mad scientist-types at Seagate to see if their Data Recovery services can resurrect it. Fingers crossed.

As mentioned above, there are a multitude of software utilities designed to facilitate backup and recovery, and just as many philosophies on how to do it. In this article I'm going to explain what we do, why we chose this route, and some of the risks and pitfalls along the way. There are many ways to facilitate backup and there is not one right way.

My goal is for you to pick up some new information from this article and my hope is that you never lose one byte of data that you cannot recover from a backup. The process I'll describe in this article works for us at this point in our career; I'd love to hear what is working for you.

The Short Answer

If your footage and projects exist on one hard drive and you are not backing up to at least one other hard drive, start now. If this is you, my friend, the only wrong decision you can make is to continue doing nothing. Back up the whole hard drive immediately. It is not a question of if you will lose a hard drive; it's a question of when.