Storage Wars

I cannot stress too strongly the need to have secure storage for all of your images. Any hard drive, whether in your main computer, your laptop or an external drive,  will fail someday and if that is your sole storage device, you can kiss your photos goodbye.

Most of my students have backup systems. In AppleLand, Time Machine is the preferred system and most users have an external hard drive for this purpose. In the PC World, there are similar backup systems, so the net result is that nearly all of us have some sort of backup system in place. But I feel this level of backup needs to be taken further.

In my office, I use a RAID array of external hard drives which means that all of my data is spread among four separate hard drives. They are held in an enclosure made by Drobo (see above, purchase below) and their robotic software does all the heavy lifting of allocating the data among the four drives. The Drobo device connects to my desktop computer via USB and appears on my computer as Drive E; it works as though it is one separate drive.

The reason to use a RAID system lies in the idea of redundancy which is just a ten dollar word that means that your data has more than one copy of itself spread over the multiple drives. If one of the drives fails, the data is still there, allocated to one or more of the other drives.

An  important point here is that my workflow does not use my computer’s internal hard drive for any data storage. When I import new image files from the memory cards, the program I use (Adobe Lightroom 4) is set up to copy the data directly to the Drobo system. In fact, I use my Drobo system as my main storage for all computing bypassing the hard drive on my desktop. I sacrifice some speed doing this, but I like knowing all my data is very secure all of the time.

My Drobo has four bays with a one-terabyte drive in each bay. So far, the system has performed flawlessly without any loss of data. The four terabytes of storage has been adequate for my image library. In the future, if for any reason I need more storage space, it’ll be a simple matter to exchange a drive for one with more capacity. To this end, Drobo lets you replace any of the drives on the fly reallocating the data in the background while you tend to other tasks.

By using the Drobo system, my valuable image data is safe and redundant. A main competitor to Drobo is G-Tech  ( ) which Scott Kelby (big time guru) recommends. He had an issue with Drobo and switched. Here’s his post about the whole thing: ( ).  I haven’t had Scott’s problems, so I can’t say whether or not his beef is legitimate. Warranties are not Drobo’s strong suit and smacks of bean counters at work; competition has a way of solving this sort of problem.

But a bigger issue arises about what happens when disaster strikes and your house is burgled or ruined in a fire. Quite likely, you’ve lost your data storage.  I’ve worried about this a lot and I think I have a pretty good solution but first I’d like to address cloud storage.

Cloud storage is a concept where you upload your data files via the internet to off-site storage depots. There are several companies who have solid but costly plans, the most talked-about of which is Crashplan ( ).

My quibble with this idea is that the transfer rate with a normal cable company hookup (mine is Cox) is too slow, about 7MB/sec (for upload).  Mobile and DSL transfer rates are slower. Only if your image library is relatively small would this make sense. Mine would take a week to upload, so regardless that Crashplan runs in the background, it would slow down the connection for which I need high speed.  Also, the storage prices aren’t cheap. Time and competition might make cloud storage appealing in the future but not for now IMHO.

So here’s my solution: back up the back up. In other words, copy your external files whether on a single drive or on Drobo to a new separate external drive (see above) and keep it in your bank’s safety deposit box.  Your local bank branch has small safety deposit boxes (free on most plans) and the two-terabyte drive I recommend (see above, purchase below) just fits the 2 x 5″ size. While this is not a perfect plan (the data is not copied redundantly), at least you’ll have a backup off-site if and when the tsunami reaches your front door.

As of today, I’m secure knowing that my image data is safely backed up and doubly so off-site. When I’m working at my desk, the Drobo system is my main resource for all data storage and since it’s a redundant system, the data is safely spread over multiple drives.  And now I have the additional security that the data is off-site, too.

I’m planning on retrieving my BankBuddy drive on a monthly basis and perform an incremental backup which means that only new data will be added to the drive. This is a quick and easy process with the Acronis software I use  ( ) Then back it goes to the vault at the bank.

I’m sleeping better knowing I’ve done what I could to protect my data. Take a moment to consider how you would feel if all of your photos, by hook or crook, vaporized into thin air. I recommend this plan of action to one and all.

You can purchase Drobo and Western Digital items right here through my Amazon Affiliates program from which I earn a VERY small residual. It helps support my site and I’d appreciate your business. For more about Drobo, visit their website at


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