Monday, March 30, 2009

Automatic Duplication of Files

The way I protect my files from hard drive failure is using an automatic duplication system.

Instead of a storing my active files on a single hard drive, I use a solution that couples hardware or software with multiple hard drives. When I save a file on a “volume”, I see one volume on my computer, but that volume is actually two or more hard drives that my duplication system controls and presents to the computer as a single volume. And when I write a file to it that volume, it automatically writes it to at least two separate hard drives.

This is the first...and most important layer in protecting my photographs. Hard drives all fail eventually, and this is the most likely disaster I’ll encounter.

With a good automatic duplication system, when a single hard drive fails, I won’t lose any files because an exact copy (including my directory structure) is on a separate hard drive. And if I’ve chosen a good automatic duplication system, it should be easy to install a new drive and tell the system to use that drive in place of the old drive. A new duplicate of my files will be made automatically, and I can keep using my files with minimal down time.

Some examples of an automatic duplication system are RAID 1, RAID 5, and the drobo.

From the poll answers, I’m guessing few of you are using one of these solutions. The far more common approach is to only have one hard drive with a copy of the active files, then do a “backup” using a hard drive, CD, DVD, or online backup solutions. If that’s what you are doing, you are exposing yourself to a lot of risk, and I’ll explain how.

Risk One - Out-Of-Date Duplicate

Since your duplicate copy is not automatic, it is always out of date. The more out-of-date it is, the more data you lose when your hard drive fails.

Basically you’re being a human RAID 1, which is a boring job’re not going to be as good at it as a computer, and the pay is horrible.

Seriously, how diligent are you about making a copy of every file you work on to your hard drive, CD, or DVD duplicate? How many times have you had only one copy of a file for days, weeks, or months? How much will you lose if your hard drive crashes right now?

Sure, you could make a copy of your hard dive every night, but the larger your hard drive gets, the longer that takes, and the less likely you are to do it. Basically you’re back to being a human RAID 1, doing what you should be automating.

Risk Two - Restoring

Let’s say you are very diligent about making duplicate copies of your files. The next challenge is restoring a copy of your hard drive from all of those files, recreating the directory structure, and making sure you have the most current file (while possibly weeding out dozens of older files). In a worst case scenario, you MIGHT be able to do it, but why put yourself in that situation?

I had to do this once, back in 1998 with a 8.6 GB hard drive, and I NEVER want to have to do that again. Trust me, you don’t either....and you’ll never find ALL of the pieces.

Doing anything other than a complete copy of your hard drive is a Humpty Dumpty backup. When the hard drive fails, all the kings horses and all the kings men are going to have a lot of pieces to try to fit back together. Even if you have all the pieces, it’s going to be hard...but you will lose some pieces.

The reality is that without an automatic duplication system, 99.9% of you are at a high risk of losing some or all of your files. Read that again and let it sink in.

All hard drives fail, and there is no way to predict when it will be. It will usually be at the worst possible moment.

The best protection is an automatic file duplication system. I wouldn’t store my files without one. In the next installment, we’ll look at some systems you can buy, and evaluate strengths and weaknesses that will show you which solution to purchase.

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Happy 10th Anniversary to Terrance Reimer

Ten years ago, Terrance Reimer left his career as a photo journalist and traveled west to join us in a new pursuit: Making beautiful digital prints for landscape photographers. Back in those days, we had a shared passion for fine art printmaking, a few handfuls of clients, a couple of Macs, and big dreams. Ten years later, Terrance has printed thousands of images and hundreds of exhibitions for some of the top fine art photographers in the world. With his passion, natural talent, and depth of experience, Terrance has become one of the best digital printmakers in the
world. We are truly thankful to have him as one of our printmakers at West Coast Imaging.

Terrance has played many roles at West Coast Imaging...dreamer, teacher, inspirer, listener, preacher...he even came up with the name, "West Coast Imaging". Through the years, Terrance has poured his talents into every job, and every other member of our staff, and has remained committed to the high quality that continually sets our studio apart from others in the industry.

Thank you, Terrance, for your dedication, loyalty and support of us, our business, our fellow staff members, and our clients. Your vision and inspiration in the "early days" continues to shape and form who we are today. There will never be enough words to express our gratitude for what you do here every single day.

Rich & Susan Seiling Owners

Join the celebration!
Take a minute to send Terrance an email to congratulate him on his tenth anniversary!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Protecting Your Files Overview

I want to keep going on this topic of protecting your files because for all your digital photographs, it is of vital importance, yet there is a lot of bad information out there.

Keeping your files safe is one of those things you have to be on top of all of the time. If your files aren't safe, then you need to act immediately to make them safe.

How you do this boils down to having answers to four questions:

1. What do I do WHEN my hard drive fails?

2. What do I do if my hard drive is lost, stolen, or destroyed?

3. What do I do if I find that one or more files has become corrupt or unusable?

4. How much money am I willing to spend to lower risk level?

I’m assuming that you keep an active or working copy on a hard drive that is attached to a computer. In my mind, this is the “master” copy of a file. It’s the one I’m going to open up if I’m working on a photograph, and the one that I’m going to “backup” and protect with multiple copies in my backup strategy.

There are three strategies that I use to address my four storage questions:

1. Automatic duplication of the working copy

2. Backup of the working copy

3. Archiving

Let’s look at how these solutions answer my questions:

What do I do WHEN my hard drive fails?

This is the most important question because your hard drives will eventually fail. Even new drives fail. And the easiest way to answer this problem is to have an automatic duplication system in place. What I mean by an automatic duplication is, instead of having my files on one literal hard drive, I have it on a RAID-like system (Mirrored RAID, drobo) that automatically creates a duplicate of my file on multiple hard drives when I save it. If a single hard drive in the system fails, the system still has a good copy of my file on another hard drive that I can immediately access, and I can easily add a new hard drive to restore the duplication ability of the system. This is all automatic so I can’t forget to make the duplicate, and I don’t have to do anything crazy to restore access to my files

My goal is to never have the failure of a single hard drive keep me from accessing my files. I also want to NEVER need one of my backups to recover my files. I want to keep my active copy active at all times.

What do I do if my hard drive is lost, stolen, or destroyed?

This is the worst-case disaster question. If you only have one copy of your files, and they are lost, stolen, or destroyed, you’ve lost your photos forever.

The answer to this question is to make backups. Backups are off-line copies of your main volumes, and at least one backup should be stored in a separate location.

The easiest way for a photographer to create backups is to use software like EMC’s Retrospect to do an incremental backup every day to external hard drives. The software will automatically keep track of all your files and backup only the files that have changed since the last backup. Should your hard drive become lost, stolen, or destroyed, it will let you restore it just as it was at the time the last backup was made.

I have at least three “backup sets” at any given time, so I have multiple backups (increased safety) and it makes them easier to rotate offsite.

If you are using a good automatic duplication to protect against hard drive failure, you’ll probably never need your backups. But if you ever do need them, you will REALLY need them. I wouldn’t consider operating without them.

What do I do if I find that one or more files has become corrupt or unusable?

This is answered by having backups and archives. If a file has been corrupted, you need to go back in time to a point BEFORE the corruption occurred. A good backup and archiving strategy should allow you to do this, but it can be time consuming and difficult to find that exact file from the exact date before the corruption happened.

File corruption hasn’t happened to me often, but it is possible. Ask yourself what you would do if a shoot from the once-in-a-lifetime Safari became corrupt...if you photographed it with a digital camera, you can’t just rescan the film.

How much money am I willing to spend to lower risk level?

This is the big one. You could spend limitless amounts of money making your files safe. Multiple copies stored in multiple locations, including underground salt mines, across the world. The National Archives are going to be able to afford a more robust system than you and I, but there is a point of diminishing returns.

With a finite budget, we’ll always have to weigh the cost of each part of our protection scheme against the security it brings.

At a minimum, I want to have a automatic duplication system in place, have three active backup copies, and make occasional “archive copies” that let me “go back in time” to access copies of files as they were when the archive was made.

Is there one perfect system for everyone? No! That’s why I created these questions. They are open-ended, and you need to follow them as deep as they go to make sure you are comfortable with the answers.

That’s all for today, I have some backups that need my attention....

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How do you protect your files from hard drive failures?

How do you protect your files when your hard drive fails? One of our clients came face-to-face with this question when his drive started to fail this week...and then his backup copy failed!

We want to know how you protect your files. Vote in the poll and leave comments we can delve deeper into this important issue.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Poppies Still Blooming

I was up there last night and I think they've even gotten more intense. Should be great this weekend. Evening light was very nice, but I think the best time will be after sunrise when the sun starts to penetrate into the canyon.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Spectacular Poppies in Merced River Canyon

This is the best year for poppies that I've seen in the 14 years I've been visiting the Merced Canyon. It is unlike anything I've ever seen!

The most outstanding fields of flowers are just past Briceberg, in the areas that burned in last summer's wildfires. These areas don't normally have an intense poppy bloom, but the fires have brought out a unique show -- one we aren't likely to see again anytime soon.

Besides the sheer volume and intensity of flowers, what makes this year extra special is their location. They are across from the road in easily photographed locations. Most years, the poppy fields are high up the mountains and can be difficult and dangerous to access because of the Merced Canyon's steep walls.

Most locations are receiving full midday sun, so you might want to visit in the early morning or late afternoon when the open shade will reduce contrast, bringing out more intense colors in softer light.

If you are within driving distance, I highly recommend a visit soon. It's impossible to predict how long they'll last. I've attached some pictures from the weekend of March 7-8 to give you a preview.

And if you are in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by and visit West Coast Imaging.

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