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Some Cautions about Online Backup

Published: 22/05/2018
By: larry

Justin in Oregon says:

I wanted to provide your readers a cautionary tale that may come in handy regarding online backup solutions. Up until recently, I had used Backblaze to backup my data and been happy with their service. I had never had to use a complete restore but felt confident that all of my photos were maintained in the event I needed them.

However, a few months ago after some computer problems, I did a complete reinstall of my operating system. Because of the way Backblaze identifies the computer that holds the license, my old license was not transferred over. After contacting support, I was directed to start a new backup. Not only would that take many months, the data exceeded the monthly allotment by my ISP, requiring me to pay additional monthly fees. To compound the problem, I had to do another reinstall of my OS a few weeks later, and start the process over. After exchanging many messages with Backblaze support, I was told that online backup may not be for me given the size of my data (over 5 TB) and that they recommend their service to people who can successfully backup all their data in 30 days or less.

In summary, if you use Backblaze and have a lot of data, any time you get a new computer or reinstall the OS, you will likely need to back up everything starting from the beginning. This could take many months and cause you to pay hefty fees to your ISP for the data usage, amounting to many multiples of the annual cost of the Backblaze service. If others have successfully used online backup options, I would appreciate knowing how they've worked out.

I think Justin's cautions are good things to consider when you are planning your photo backup. My reaction to Justin's comments in general are as follows:

  1. I use cloud storage for a lot of things but I don't use it to backup all the digital photos I've shot in the past 19 years since I started using digital. I have multiple copies like Hunter in the video above describes. It would just take to long to get them all there.
  2. My first reaction to Justin's comments about "hefty fees from your ISP" was what fees? But to my surprise, I also have a data transfer cap on my internet I wasn't even aware of. I have just never gone over the monthly cap! ISPs are moving toward charging you more and giving you less.

So what do readers think? Is storing all your photos in the cloud practical for anyone?

16 comments on “Some Cautions about Online Backup”

  1. I don't store all my images on the cloud. Completed HD catalogs are stored off site with a copy at the studio for rapid access.

    I DO backup my active HD on Backblaze in addition to multiple HD backups.
    I have a 50Mbps upload speed and no throttling or surcharges by my ISP so those are not concerns.
    I also have a large Dropbox account to store portfolio work and other docs.

    So far all has worked well for me.

  2. I'm still evaluating BackBlaze, and I'm less than satisfied. However, at $5 per month, it's worth continuing to try out, and I'm pig-headed with things like this.

    To reduce the chance of exceeding the monthly cap, you can tune the Backblaze preferences to use reduced throughput. For example, I tune my Backblaze Preferences to use no more than 10 GB per day (~300 GB per mo). Now obviously, this would take many months to do a complete backup (the first time). But, this was better than not doing any offsite backup.

    Additionally, to avoid the problem that Justin states about setting up a new computer or hard-drive, there is a "migrate" feature which should help to keep from backing up that which has already been backed up. I'm not saying that the feature is perfect, but I have had some success with it.

  3. Don't use online backup companies, for all those reasons.

    I have external HDs for all of it. I buy a few more each year, (yuh, they're adding up) but I just buy the small ones now with about 5T or whatever size they're up to. I don't feel that $200 or so a year for those is much to complain about. Yes, they go bad eventually and you have to keep an eye on them and preventively back those up to other new ones.

    I have externals HDs from as far back as 2000 (small, of course) that still work. I don't bump them and I don't keep any HD plugged in. I plug them in when I need to back something up. It takes me five minutes a day to back up my days work which I do on a few different HDs.

    I have digitized all my film work from the sixties on and they are also backed up.So far, in my twenty years of shooting digitally, I have never lost anything.

    On thing I have done is gone back in and gotten rid of a lot of Tiffs and DNGs related to my real estate work. I used to save all of it. I don't see the need of it. I have every job I've ever done on file, in the thousands, so keeping anything but the large jpgs was crazy.

    It seems to work well for me. I don't use LightRoom.

  4. I have the same backup protocol as Mark. The initial backup onto Backblaze did indeed take several weeks, but I did not have any additional ISP fee's backing up 11TB. As I recall, you can also get a HD sent for backup/restore thus bypassing the need to work online if that is a concern.

    You could look at Amazon S3 cloud storage, but I like the simple Backblaze automatic backup. Again, because our primary backup is to storage HD's (we also do a set of optical BluRays), the Backblaze is a last fail-safe

  5. @Ellen: Of course, you certainly want to back up to multiple hard drives locally. Backblaze addresses the offline storage issue. Many of us should do all of these.

  6. Thank you George and John. Definitely going to look into the Blu-ray solution, especially for what I consider my best stuff over the years !

  7. IMHO these bargain on-line backup solutions were never designed for professional photographers let alone videographers.

    Basically, anything marketed to the masses will not support a serious RE photographer over time for all of the reasons mentioned. While I'm not the most prolific RE photographer, after each shoot and processing I preserve the original Raw files as well as the finished JPGs. That means each photoshoot I have at least 2GB of data added to my collection just for stills. Video is another thing. So my data grows by 4-5GB per working day, 20-25GB per week, 80-100GB per month, at least 1TB per year.

    Now each year that 1 TB growth grows even more because of the incremental growth in sensor sizes. Yes my friends many of us keep up with the Jones's every 2-3 years or so as sensor sizes expand. Growth is exponential and never stops.

    I have over 40 years IT experience and 11 years in this business. Photographers and Videographers will always be on the leading edge of "one man show" data needs and data production. On-line backup solutions will always be designed to serve the entry and middle market, never leading edge data producers.

    It's just business. What ever it would cost you to do it yourself it would cost them close to the same, then on top of that they have that pesky overhead and taxes and operations costs. So basically if they provided the solutions we actually need, they would have to charge at least twice what it would take for us to do it ourselves before they make a profit.

    There are a lot of ways you can do it yourself but there are certain characteristic you should have with any DIY system you settle on.

    1) Understand the concept that your main workstation and laptop will not hold all of your data. One to two years worth is the sweet spot.
    2) You must have two backup systems and both must be highly reliable and of equal size and expansion capabilities.
    3) They must both be sized to hold all of your current and past data and at least three years of exponential growth data.
    4) Every three years or so expect to updated or expand those two systems.
    5) Always understand your backup media will always go bad. It will not last forever.

    I will not attempt to tell you exactly what to do to incorporate these attributes into your business model but I assure you it would be wise to do so. Some are just starting and this will be overkill. Others are kind of part time and the same goes, it may be overkill. Those who depend on this for a full living or a growing business model would be wise to think about the enormous growth factor characteristic involved in backing up your data.

    There are no On-line solutions that exist today that meet those requirements simply because it does not fit a reasonable business model. By the time they can fill our current business needs our requirements will may moved forward to at least 8-16 times their current best capability.

    The longer you are in this business the higher the mountain of data you will be buried under. Oh and when you're gone, your survivors will just trash it all.

  8. I agree with Frank, but there is no best way except what works for the individual. I repeat myself, so far I've lost nothing in my 20 digital years. I've got backups of my backups, but not so that I have to move out of my house. There is no reason to be compulsive about it and if any of our "precious" work is lost, oh well... And, I've heard it said that a true artist does not care a damn once a work is completed. (It's not for me to say whether I fit into that category or not...)

    I think one solution is to not think you have to collect everything. Saving, at least the jpgs of each RE job has been good for me, because I've had many occasions where rental companies and realtors "buy" a completed job over again instead of hiring me or another photographer to reshoot a reselling property or new rental of it. That itself more than pays for the few little drives I buy each year to backup my backups.

    My very best in any given genre I've shot or shoot is important to me because, #1 I like it and #2 I sell prints and never know what someone else is going to like/buy. But, I don't have mountains of it and it's relatively easy to keep backed up.

    The fact that my beneficiaries are going to trash everything when I leave has nothing to do with it. Hopefully they'll keep a few tokens of my hard work, and St. Peter knows... I won't be needing any of it.

  9. Imo, cloud solutions don't work for professional photographers. Especially when video is incorporated. As the original poster found out, it isn't the backup that it is issue, it's trying to do the reconstruction.

    I have 3 copies of my data. One is my working copy on my local machine. Another copy is on an external drive that I keep in an armoire and only plug in when I do a backup. This protects me from viruses, and is available immediately if I need to reconstruct. A third copy is offsite that protects me from a fire. This copy is an hour away at my parent's house, but could just as easily be around the corner at my bank in a safety deposit box.

    I'm just starting out, so this works for now. As my data increases, I'll be using the same methodology; but I'll be incorporating a RAID to make it easier to manage this setup and make my backups, hotswapping drives to make my "armoire backup" and my offsite backup.

  10. I'm surprised no one has mentioned a NAS solution. I of course can't use it now due to my lack of internet service in my area, but getting a NAS box is really a middling one-time fee to buy the server and drives (yes, you have to buy the HDDs or SSDs separately). NetGear has a few good options and you can configure the drives any way you want. Some servers can handle more drives than others; for example, if you get a large NAS that can handle 4-6 drives, you can set it up in RAID 5 (one of many RAID configurations that allows for redundancy in case one drive fails, and the drives are hot-swap). The photos would be transferred over WiFi and you can set backup to start while you sleep so when you get up the next morning it's done. Even better, you can get a battery backup so even if you lose power you are still able to back up your photos. And to top it off, if you have multiple computers you use (maybe a backup system to edit), you can access the NAS with your backup PC, Mac, or laptop through WiFi in case one system goes down. Most NAS (probably all) have client-side access as well as Windows Explorer access, with the real control being client-side. I realize that this may sound like a solution that is more for the IT-minded photographers and it can be complicated to set up and figure out how to back up and figure out the LUNs and such, but I'll be damned if I can think of a better backup solution for high-volume photographers. You can even go elsewhere and edit and access the NAS.

    This is expensive up-front. But for large amounts of data (something we work with), it's one of the better backup choices in my opinion. If you want to do yourself one better, you can still back up to the cloud just in case so you have multiple options for recovery.

  11. You shouldn't be using a cloud backup as your "first line of defense" in the first place. Cloud backups are intended for situations where your local, primary backups are not available, such as a fire, a power surge that affects all local drives, or burglary/theft of your equipment. Your backup strategy should be 3-2-1. Three copies, two of which are on different media, and one of which is off-site. It's not that you shouldn't use cloud backup services—it's that you need to understand their purpose and how they fit into a larger backup plan.

    If computer problems were the only concern here, you should have been able to restore or even live-boot from a "cloned" drive (that you would have set up prior) that contained an exact image of your primary drive, updated about every 30 minutes. Tony Roslund has a great YouTube video where he explains this process and the multiple layers of redundancy he incorporates into his DAM process. Like run-flat tires on a car, the "live" clone drive is not a permanent remedy, but it keeps you going until you can replace the primary drive and clone back to it. If you avoid missing a client deadline because you had a live clone drive to work from, it's paid for itself already. Additionally, I'd recommend checking out a NAS system as Ryan mentioned. My Synology NAS backs up to Synology's cloud service, which is affordable and designed for the needs of professionals.

    It continues to boggle my mind that photographers so often take such a cavalier attitude to their backup process. Your photos are your livelihood and your legacy. If you lose your work, you lose your ability to re-license it at high resolution. You lose your ability to re-edit it later. You lose every benefit you could potentially realize from the work down the road. A single re-licensing event at commercial rates will pay for a simple, robust backup system.

  12. I have never heard of Back Blaze. I use which is unlimited for $60/year. I used to use which I believe is a similar deal. Not sure how Backblaze works but Carbonite is constantly backing up in the background so you don't even have to think about it though you should monitor it occasionally because sometimes there can be issues.

  13. There is nothing better as amazon S3 or Glacier storage, fast/cheap and I have full control over what I store and when. I have all backups scheduled automatically, specific folder/targets even type of files using ChronoSync.

    Best, Jared

  14. Long time career in IT here. I cannot begin to tell you all the external drive failures I have seen. I never use them.

    I'll echo what Ryan mentioned above with NAS. I have a few of them. I think they give you the best of both worlds with the redundancy of multiple drives on a volume, snapshots of your data, and offsite cloud storage for an extra level of safety. The offsite is block level so once the update is done they go super fast. I put my offsites on S3 and it is very cheap.

    Back it up!


  15. The postal service has amazing bandwidth. I have images on my internal hard drive, an external hard drive that I do frequent back ups to but don't leave on all of the time and an archive drive that I send to a family member. When I send them one, they send me back the one they have on hand. I also have a stored archive drive of older jobs at the house. I picked up a bunch of NOS 158gb HDD's for a few bucks each and they have been great for backing stuff up.

    If there were a local ISP of some kind that I could transmit my files to incrementally and be able to visit with a hard drive to retrieve a bunch of files at once, I'd do that. So far I haven't had to problems with my back up regime. If I were to use a "cloud" backup method, I'd only use it for the last week of files until I made my two off-computer backups and then I would delete those files. It's too hard to retrieve terabytes of data over the internet and ISP's get angry if you try.

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