Three is One and Two and One are None!

September 18th, 2013

By now everyone has read or seen the account of taking out Bin Laden. In the book  Seal Target Geronimo about the seal team operation that killed Osama Bin Laden the Seal operators have this saying, “Two is one and one is none“. 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 secret stealth helicopter because two of it’s critical avionics boxes failed at the same time and it didn’t have a third one. Luckily they had two other helicopters.  What the Seals learned is that having two backups is sometimes essential when you are dealing with complex systems. Commercial avionics systems like those used in 747 and 767, 777 have 3 copies of critical avionics components that operate in a voting arrangement where any device that is “odd man out” (fails) in the voting gets automatically 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. But you’re not! 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, theft or natural disaster 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 for people with fast enough Internet connections. 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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18 Responses to “Three is One and Two and One are None!”

  • I use FreeFileSync to sync files between my workstation/laptop and my server. I use CrashPlan for offsite plus it does point in time restores if needed.

  • I’m using Puresync for local backup and Sugarsync for cloud storage. Both great and hassle free!

  • I have become incredibly dependent on both Box.net and also Dropbox. I have the paid versions of both services and I’m using close to a 100GB of data with Dropbox alone so far. I love the fact that it automatically syncs with my work PC, home PC, and my laptop, PLUS its stored on their servers in the cloud so its accessible from mobile devices as well.

    If there has been one thing in the last 3 years or so that totally changed my work flow, it would those two. I’d certainly encourage other people to at least take a look at them as well.

  • I’ve been using Backblaze.com ($5 a month) for cloud backup for a few months and a few weeks back it saved me. I lost my 2TB D drive that held all my image files. The real estate images were no big loss; they had all been delivered. The disaster was losing dozens of my fine art photos and I hadn’t backed up to an external hard drive for months. It took several days to restore the drive via overnight download (I could have opted to have them send me a thumb drive for $100 but I took the opportunity to clean up the new drive and restore only what I wanted to keep).

  • I’d like to insert a word of caution to anyone considering Carbonite. When I set them up initially, their sales tech heard what I was looking to back up, was told all the specs of my machine and my memory and even accessed my Mac. She certainly saw how much space I needed to back up but somehow neglected to inform me that after a certain amount of space had been stored, their back up speed would grind to a near-halt … I’ve been looking at about 50 GB to be downloaded now for months. (I also back up externally on Mac’s Time Machine in addition to another external that holds only image files. Client photography, straight out of the camera as well as final images, also go onto CDs.) Very frustrating. I’ll be watching this thread to see what other options are out there. Thanks.

  • Some great advice! I experienced a hard drive failure many years ago, that resulted in the loss of (a mere) 6GB of photos. What was even worse, was the merchant, lost the physical hard drive, so I was not even in a position to send it to a recovery service. With today’s cloud storage options, I might have to rethink how I manage my backups. Thanks for all the tips on services!

  • I really like the convenience and functionability of Dropbox. It is reasonable in price, it syncs automatically, and if you need to send something on the go you can login from another computer or even from the iPhone app and upload a photo or send it to a client.

  • It kinda makes me wonder how we survived when all we had were negatives or slides!

    I’ve lost hard drives and backups a couple of times over the years and was so irritated both times. My current solution involves the last custom build I had done.

    My new machine has twin 2Tb hard drives with one functioning as the boot drive and the second one mirroring the first. If one fails, I still have a second one to be able to continue, at least that is the plan. Additionally, I have another 2TB hard drive on board to just hold my photos. I retain WAY to much, so I have to go through and purge the unnecessary files every few months. My backup is a 12Tb network drive connected to my router that maintains a backup of everything continuously. I feel protected, or at least I did. Since reading this article, I’m thinking that my need to keep everything somewhere I can actually see is flawed! Gee …. Thanks! 🙂

  • I have three RAID systems, and each RAID is redundant. If one drive fails the others have the same info so all I need to do is replace the failed drive. In my studio I have my main RAID system and the second one that I mirror with Carbon Copy Cloner (It reviews changes from the main drive and copies to back up RAID). My third RAID system is located offsite and is backed up once a month. My iMac also backs up to the RAID system via Time Machine.

    My laptop is also synced with my iMac for all critical files. So it acts as another backup of business files. The laptop is also backed up with its own separate Time Capsule via Time Machine.

    I also use Smugmug as another way of backing up files. All of my final work (High Res jpg) is uploaded for clients but also as storage. They have no limits on storage and I pay $150 per year. For clients it is great too as Smugmug allows me to download all files via zip, it sends me a link and then I just forward to my clients for download.

    I think this is a great topic and helps all of us try to stay on our toes as much as possible!!

    Aloha!

    Ethan

  • My current system is not perfect but luckily it has served me well so far. I download images to a data disk and at the same time LR copies the images to an external HHD. The first of every month I copy all of the photos from the current year to a portable HHD and it goes to the safe deposit box at the bank. I have two of these portable HDDs and just rotate them out of the safe deposit box monthly. Another HHD that contains all of my files and images from 2012 and prior stays in the safe deposit box. Something else to consider when thinking about backups. What about backup power? I’m currently under generator power due to a storm that came through earlier today. If it was not for the generator I would not be posting this, downloading images or charging my batteries so that they are ready for tomorrow. My neighbors may not like the noise form the generator….but, at least I can still work and I won’t loose any food since the first priority was ensuring that my refrigerators and freezer were connected.

  • @Kerry – Great story Kerry! What dedication… your Internet service provider must have a generator too or perhaps you are using ADSL which like phone service carries it’s own power.

    Your story reminds me I need to test my generator. I haven’t started it for a year, and it has 15% Ethnol gas sitting in it.

  • For on site one of the best long term solutions for backup is FlexRAID (http://www.flexraid.com) or unRAID (http://lime-technology.com/)

    Just use an old computer and add Drive storage as you need it….the drive sizes dont even need to match.

  • Good post. I always use that military phrase when I’m in the outdoors when people say I overpacked for a camping or hunting trip. In my photography/videography life I have had four (count em), four Western Digital external hard drives fail on me over the years. Including the latest one which was recently mailed to me directly from the company that WD had paid to have 1.5TB recovered. It worked for about a month and then failed. However, I admit it didn’t really sink in until I watched Chase Jarvis’ video on his complete workflow http://youtu.be/Y-6EQo6it7Y. It’s intense. Multiple backups in separate locations. I now think of it in terms of protecting yourself from corruption or catastrophe. Malfunction vs physical damage. What is is worth? $100, $1000, 10,000? Priceless? Backup of your backup’s backup.

  • Is there such a thing as cloud storage that does NOT need to use your harddrive space? I find it redundant and annoying that Dropbox needs to use my harddrive when my RAM is so limited as it is… just curious

  • @Robin- I’m a little puzzled why you say that Dropbox is using your local harddrive. Sure, technically it’s using a small amount of both RAM and harddisk but only because every Application on you machine takes some small abount of both. I have 100GB of Dropbox and the app only takes 78mb of ram and I can’t even find how much disk it is using but it is very small.

    If you are using the cloud storage for backup yes it will take space locally and in the cloud but with a service like Dropbox you have files only in Dropbox and not on you local machine… not a great idea to have it only in the cloud but it’s possible.

  • Having 2 or more backups in your house is great, but what happens if your house burns down…ALL of your backups are gone. I remember reading the case studies of the compaines in New Orleans that had “Offsite” backups that were only 10-15 miles away…yeah it was technically offsite, but when Katrina came in, it wasnt far enough offsite to prevent loss. WHAT is your data worth (not only to yourself)…an honest assessment of that should, be the driving force in deciding on how much to spend to protect it. Digital is great, but it has also made us lazy in some respects..we sometimes forget just how fragile those 1’s & 0’s really are…

  • Zoolz is worth a look for long term storage… https://www.zoolz.com/Zoolz_Home

    Wish they had a Mac client though.

  • My plan:
    Mirrored data drives using JBOD on an external (G-Tech) box. I can pull out a drive and plug it into the computer (or another enclosure) if the box fails. I am avoiding a situation where the format of the drives is tied to the external enclosure as can be the case with RAID configurations.

    Two off-site drives. I send one to my mother with a label for her to send the other one back to me on receipt. If California slides into the ocean, I will have no backups, but at that point, I’m not likely to be worried about my data. We are far enough apart to discard common disaster due to a weather event.

    Cloud services are being pushed hard and it’s very trendy right now. It is wise to play devils advocate and consider what you will do when things go bad. If you have a hard drive fail and you plan to restore from the cloud, how long will that take? You are backing up a little bit at a time which is no problem. Getting it all back at once may take a fat connection and days of time. Does the cloud service charge for retrieving your data? Will you exceed your ISP’s “unlimited” data allowance. Are you paying for internet access according to the bandwidth you use such as with a satellite link. What do you do if your cloud provider goes under? Without notice or with a week or two notice?

    With the amount of data I have, it was much cheaper to use the system of backing up that I have. I also like the fact that my backups are not subject to a monthly service fee. I’ve never had a crushing need to get at my data from a remote location. I rarely get a connection at a hotel or hot-spot that is fast enough to do more than check email or patiently wait to get directions from Google maps. RAW photos? Fugetaboutit.

    I was part of a discussion on another site where one of the members suggested a nice solution. Co-locating your own computer at a small ISP. Depending on the amount of data you want to store, how much access you want to that data remotely and the monthly charges, you may be able to get a plan that is cheaper and/or more flexible than a “cloud” service. Smaller ISP’s and hosting companies can be simpler to deal with. I am thinking about finding a company in the Las Vegas, NV area. I’m in California and Las Vegas is very easy to get to by car or plane. It’s far enough away measured in miles and geology to be a good back up site, yet it’s close enough that I can get there in a few hours. My thoughts are that if the worst happens and I need to recover my data, I can drive to the ISP with a box of drives and have all of my data back in a few hours by plugging directly into my computer in their rack. I could make the round trip with a fresh copy of my back-ups in one day. I don’t think that I could download all of my stuff in one day even if the connection speed on my cable connection stayed at its top speed. I’m pretty sure that Mr. Murphy would stop by and kill my internet connection half way through.

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