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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.

Here's My Story, It's Sad But True

There we were, happily working with a pair of matched external Seagate GoFlex 4TB USB 3.0 drives, one of which was a mirror image of the other--at the beginning of this story, anyway. As we worked on projects, every so often we would copy the project files--which are quite small compared to the raw footage files--from the working drive to the backup. And then one day, when I hadn't backed up in a couple of weeks, Windows would not recognize the drive. Though it was plugged in to a battery backup, it just stopped spinning up. Some call it "the Click of Death." It sounded like an old rotary phone (if you're old enough to remember those). It would go click-click-whir, click-click-whir, a total of ten times...and then nothing.

I changed power supplies, removed it from the external casing (shhh, don't tell Seagate), all to no avail. I even put it in the freezer but stopped short of plugging it in before carefully defrosting. If you've never heard of the Freezer Trick, it turns out it is not a recommended procedure if you ever hope to get your data back by a Data Recovery service.

During the process of trying everything I can to get the drive to spin up, I started a dialog with Seagate's Data Recovery Services. I had heard horror stories from a Houston colleague about other recovery companies and the extremely high costs with no guarantee of success. But I figured if anyone knows how to get data off a Seagate drive, it's Seagate. Costs are determined by how quickly you need the data back, if they can get it at all.

The good thing is, you only pay if they are able to retrieve data. Christie (my wife and partner) lamented that the drive was under warranty and Seagate should replace it. And they will cheerfully replace the drive...but the data is and always was our responsibility (in this case, my responsibility) to keep safe. I should have had a more complete backup strategy in place.

Cover Me

You may be able to file an insurance claim to pay for the costs of data loss. (You do have insurance for your business, don't you?) If your insurance does not cover data loss, now might be a good time to shop for new insurance. As it turns out, ours does not cover it. So we're shopping for new insurance, too.

I'm told by that same Houston colleague that an organization such as Professional Photographers of America (PPA) offers insurance to members that will help cover losses due to data loss. It's worth looking into.

To RAID or Not To RAID

RAID is a technology that allows you to configure multiple drives in such a way that your computer (PC or Mac) sees the array as one drive. Some RAID designs that are optimized for performance, some for security, and some for both. I was an early beta tester for the popular Drobo product, but we ultimately chose not to use any flavor of RAID. I did not want a drive system (for backup) that relied on a proprietary standard such as RAID. I've never considered RAID a backup system that was any better or more cost-efficient than just using multiple (identical) drives.

I'm particularly suspicious of anyone who sells a RAID 0 solution as a "robust hard drive" solution. RAID 0 is great for performance but is twice as likely to experience failure vs. a single hard drive. RAID 1 is more secure, albeit possibly a bit slower.

However, this is not an article about comparing different RAID levels and systems; there are plenty of other technology sites out there to provide you that information. I would remind you that if you do go the RAID route you will still need to backup your RAID some other way. One popular (but expensive) method is to use two or more RAID arrays, one for your normal work and the others as backups.

Our Backup Solution

So Thing One for me was No Proprietary Hardware for the backup solution. Thing Two was that I did not want a software solution that created backup files in a proprietary format. You may not know what your backup contains unless you test-recover each file. How heartbreaking would it be to think you had solid backups and find out when you tried to recover, there was a problem with the recovery software or with the recovery media.

None of these risks are worth it for me. I wanted to stay away from anything proprietary whether it was hardware or software. What we now use is very simply a collection of hard drives that get backed up to each other at regular intervals. Again, these are choices we've made for our particular situation. There are myriad other backup solutions that you can choose from; this is just what works for us.

We are a PC/Sony Vegas Pro shop (but keep reading Mac users--this works for you too). We have two editing stations and two editors. Each station has internal removable drive bays to house bare SATA drives, kinda like plugging in a video game cartridge or an 8-track tape (we had those when we had rotary phones, for you youngsters).

Removable backup drive

We have matching drives in each of our PCs and backup across the network from one to the other. WORKING_1 in PC 1 backs up to WORKING_2 in PC 2 and vice versa. You could just as easily use external USB drives on each workstation as that workstation's backup or use a shared network drive, either of those ideas will work too.

We also have a third external drive offsite (at home) for weekly updates of both systems.