Disaster Avoidance - part 2 of 1 2

Published 01/06/2006

Portable hard drives

Portable hard drives are quite popular now but they too should be treated with great care. They have the advantage that you can take the current wedding out of the shop, studio (or shed at the bottom of your garden) and bring it into the house at night. They are also small enough to store in a fireproof safe. However you need to carry them carefully as they might not withstand being dropped as you fumble for your house keys. The Seagates, shown below, have a claimed non-operating shock resistance of 300G, a fairly meaningless figure without additional data - some drives will do 350G operating and 1000G non-operating. Best advice is, take care when they are not operating, and be very careful when they are operating, ie don't bang your fist on the table! Also leaving portable drives in the car while you pop into the off-licence on the way home leaves them vulnerable to theft - make sure that they are a true backup - in other words they are also stored on the office computer. Remember that two, mirrored hard drives are a backup if one is in the office and one is in the car on its way home. Two mirrored drives on the car's parcel shelf, while you are deciding which Shiraz to take home, do not represent a backup - they represent a juicy target for a car thief! One of the tragic things about backups is we always think it will never happen to us - one of our members found this out, when an opportunist thief snatched their precious Jiffy bag from the front seat of the Parcel Force van. It contained transparencies which could not be repeated. You would like to think that Parcel Force should have known better in central London. For absolute security you might go as far as storing your data off-site via the internet, a bit expensive for images because they are so large but we might be talking about your pension here, so it is worth protecting! This might be particularly important if you make images for sale as fine art or limited editions.

For this feature we checked out Seagate Portable USB hard drives, available from 1st Cameras of Staffordshire. They are available in 160GB, 200GB, 250GB, 300GB, 400GB and 500GB capacities with a 2 terabyte version about to be stocked (1TB equals 1000GB). The capacity of these devices is always on the up but the rules of redundancy still apply, two small drives, containing identical data, are a better option than one thumping big one! 1st Camera prices show (nominally) £175 for 120GB, £250 for 400GB and £350 for 500GB. Buy wisely and compare the cost per GB of storage. They come with BounceBack Express, an auto-backup utility which takes the strain out of selecting which files to back up (and remembering to do it). We show the timings we acheived with the 300GB version. Subsequent, partial backups are faster because only those files that have changed are rewritten to the disk. The discs can be stacked together or placed on their own stand - all are very quiet, which can be important when lots of drives are involved.

Overall best practice
1. Use small camera cards,
2. Download via card reader not through the camera,
3. Make download to a hard drive your first action on arriving home, then make and check twoidentical CDs or DVDs, one of which is to be stored someplace else.
4. Write the files to two computers or, as a poorer option, to two hard drives on the same computer.
5. Use sequential backup software to look after changing files such as your accounts records, addressbooks and appointments. Make paper copies if possible, as protection against electronic losses.

What do we do?

If you think we are preaching one thing and practising another, here is what we do at Professional Imagemaker (with a fervent prayer to the gremlin gods). The magazine files are backed up regularly across a network to another computer. Both machines are fitted with RAID arrays, which give failure protection (of a sort, we still get into trouble now and again). As the magazine deadline looms we make more frequent backups especially of the InDesign file, which is the one that hosts all the late, hard work - the source-image files and diagrams change little. We make backups before the final, Save for Service Provider (SSP), after we have carried out Preflight checking. Then we make DVDs of the SSP for the printer, one SSP set for each hard drive on the office computers and a spare DVD set for the archive. In addition we also make DVD sets of all the source files, which includes discarded data, spreadsheets and diagrams (just in case we need to revisit the data at a later date). Each magazine has about 16GB of files associated with it and the total in the system is now running up towards one million files. If you imagine that we sit here smugly thinking we are cast-iron safe you are wrong, we agonise as much as anybody about data security and a loss of archive readability. On the positive side we can still read CDs made in 1995, although some of the files are in applications that are no longer available.

Finally, one more thing we never do - place data files on the desktop of the computer. If your Windows installation fails, you lose all files on the desktop, so don't put them there, ever! Also if your data disk is separate from your operating system drive, you have more options in the case of a system failure - you can always remove the drive and put it into another machine.

Quality control How do you ensure that the copy you have made from your CompactFlash is good? This is a vital quality test and you should not wipe a wedding from your cards until you are sure that your backup is complete and checked. Software such as Beyond Compare has a look in your duplicated folders and compares the original and your backup, flagging up any differences (ie files that you have forgotten to transfer), errors (such as corrupt files) and any files that you may have modified. Beyond Compare will detect even a single byte difference between your files, so nothing is likely to escape its searching eye. It even does the dreaded cyclic redundancy check, one of the common failings of CDs and DVDs. When you choose a pair of "identical" folders to compare, the software flags the differences, missing items and modified items by colour coding them. You can, if you choose, synchronise any files/folders from one location to the other, without leaving Beyond Compare.

Visit for a 30-day trial, Beyond Compare costs a mere $30, a small price to pay for an easy mind at night!

Post Script During the preparation of the magazine and just after we had completed the draft of this very piece, we managed to blue-screen the workstation and nice kind Windows corrupted the system bios leaving us without computing for several hours. Although we did not need it in this instance we always had the previous night's backup of the magazine. Ed.

Howard Butterfield is a Director of

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1st Published 01/06/2006
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