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Three is One and Two and One are None!

March 27th, 2012

Just recently I read  the book Seal Target Geronimo about the seal team operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Seal operators have this saying, “One is none and two is one”. Which means when you are dealing with physical equipment you have to have a backup if you want a high probability of having one piece of that equipment is always working. On the operation against Bin Laden the Seals learned something new about backup because they lost a super secret stealth helicopter because two of it’s critical avionics boxes failed at the same time just as they were leaving the Bin Laden compound. Luckily they had two other helicopters.  What the Seals learned is that having two backups is sometimes essential when you are dealing with complex electronics. Commercial avionics systems (like the 747 and 767, 777) have 3 copies of critical components that operate in a voting arrangement where any device that is “odd man out” (fails) in the voting gets disconnected.

What does this have to do with real estate photography? Everything! If you are like me your whole digital life is on entirely on a few external hard drives which are very failure prone. The natural tendency is to think that if you have one backup you are safe. No you’re not! My motto that, I learned from my Boeing Avionics Engineer friends that designed the avionics systems in the 747, is that a file is not saved until it’s  in three places. Or “Three is one and two and one are none!

I believe that your primary backup should be on site but your secondary backup should be off-site. This is to protect against a local disaster of some sort (like fire, earthquake or flood) that  effects the location where your primary and backup are located. This offsite backup is I admit kind of a nuisance. I keep my secondary backup at my son’s house, seven miles from my residence. I’d feel better if it was across the US from my home. The world is quickly evolving towards a model where automatic cloud storage will eventually be able to support off-site storage. I think we are a ways off yet but many services are beginning to support really large (TB size backup).

Peter Krogh’s, The Dam Book is a great book that goes in to all the considerations of managing your digital assets. Take the time to think through the way you are managing your digital assets because a mistake in this area can be devastating!

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7 Responses to “Three is One and Two and One are None!”

  • Larry
    This post, its the most important one you’ve posted in 2012 for professionals.
    I have not read the book, but now after what you have written, I have to.
    I used to think it was cool to advise friends/pros that asked, of course you had to have a back-up, but ….a second back-up?
    It really makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  • Larry — I agree, Three is One… I just bought a 2TB WD External drive for about $180… and I just signed-up to Backblaze off-site storage for 2 years of unlimited back-up (my iMac + the non-TimeMachine files on my 2TB drive) for $95 for 2 years = $3.96 a month…
    Backblaze, at roughly half the cost of the External Drive, seems really cheap to me… if the external drive lasts 4 years I would be surprised, but for the equivalent I should get 4 years of off-site back-up.

    When starting a complete cloud storage back-up, be prepared… your first back-up can take weeks (about 2 weeks for my 650 GB), especially with a tonne of RAW files on your system… but, once that initial back-up is done, the off-site back-up seems easy… I would recommend cleaning-up your system and deleting all those photos you will never need before starting the back-up.

    Larry — have you checked-out services like Backblaze.com — why do you say they are “a ways off”?
    I know others may have lots more data than I do, so yes it will be a slower initial back-up… but 3 weeks for 1TB would be ok…
    If the initial back-up is an issue, Crashplan.com has a “Back it up Fast” service where you send your initial back-up (they say up to 1.5TB) to them on an External Drive.

  • I’m with Andrew and use Backblaze and have been very happy. My initial backup took 4 months, but it is now safe. This backup includes my computer HD and my big RAID drive.

    If anything goes wrong, I can grab a single file, or all of it with either a long download or order an external drive with the data on it. And the price is very affordable. I know Carbonite does something similar.

  • We did cloud backup for 2 months when we decided to drop the service. We have a 2 TB drive and after 2 months it still hadn’t finished its first backup. That really wasn’t the problem because I know that once it was backed up the updates were much quicker. The real problem arose because the cloud software – always off somewhere in the background taking care of the first backup was slowing down the computer to a point of non-operational even with the conservative settings that the company recommended. Now we have a 4 tier backup system including a charge to the real estate client for the files after 6 months. This really clears out my system. Other than the one or two portfolio pictures that we keep (or portfolio videos) we don’t really need to keep the other files. In any case – every client is on an archival gold DVD – which I save off site for 1 year and only the finished pictures.

  • Larry,
    Hard drives(both internal and external) are magnetic devices. They can be erased by strong EMP, either from the big CME’s (sun spots) that the experts say are coming or from a nuclear event or from the EMP weapon that North Korea supposedly has. Cloud storage also uses magnetic devices. Optical devices like DVD’s or blue ray are not effected by EMP but should be stored in the dark and they do have a limited life. Maybe another reader can tell us what the safe life span is.

  • Back up is critical and having a plan, like the pros above, can save a lot of heartache and missed business opportunities.
    1- Internal back up drive.
    1- External back up drive.
    1- DVD/CD back up.
    1-Carbonite back up. (Which saved me once when I accidentally deleted a folder of client images.)

    I am going to check out Backblaze. Thanks!

  • @Andrew- I say cloud backup is still aways off because of experiences like Suzanne relates. There are still mixed feelings out there about cloud backup. Not that some don’t work but some work better than others and the usage is still quite low. I’ve had a pretty good experience with Carbonite but it’s only backing up my internal 250 Gig drive. It sounds like you are not over the initial hump of getting you 2Tb backed up… that’s where the rub occurs. I’m thinking about adding my 2 TB drive to the cloud and will probably dedicate one computer to just doing that.

    @Wayne – Yes, I’m not sure there’s a good solution for EMP events. DVD are such a pain I gave them up years ago. If it all comes to that we are all back in the stone age for a while.

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