The 3-2-1 backup rule is pretty simple in theory, but it’s also one of the most ignored for some reason. Whether you think your hard drives won’t fail on you, or that you don’t have the funds right now to fully build a solid backup/storage system, I can promise you that one day something will go wrong. It’s not a scare tactic to try to get you to buy an external hard drive or cloud storage (I was one of those photographers who would rather buy a new lens or camera than an expensive external hard drive to back up the one I was already using), but rather some well intended advice that I hope you take very seriously.
I have spoken to way too many photographers who have waited until after data was lost due to a device failure to finally look into a solid backup/storage system. I was fortunate enough to invest in a good backup system a couple years ago, before anything tragic happened, and this was really lucky, because over the past 2 months, I have had multiple device failures that made me truly thankful that I did. I had an external hard drive fail, memory card full of images fail, and my main chassis on my RAID system fail. While it is still a scary experience, not once did I have to panic about lost data. I have 3 copies of everything, 2 different formats, and 1 off-site backup.
Before explaining my backup and storage setup, know that this article is primarily about the importance of having a solid system in place, with a laid out example. I will explain the products I use and why I use them, but there are other options out there that you can look into. I personally use G-Technology drives in my studio, so does my business partner JD Land. Their HGST manufactured drives are proven to be at the top for reliability, and while I did have a chassis just recently go down on me, the drives were in tact and fully functional with no data loss. I won’t get into the ins and outs of the technicality of RAID or Cloud storage, but cover an overview of my personal setup and why you should have something similar.
The 3-2-1 Backup Rule
3 Copies of anything important
For my wedding images, I have a copy on two different dual drive, 12TB G-Drive Studios. Each one is running RAID1, which allows for the two internal drives to mirror each other. Running RAID like this gives me 6TB of usable storage. With both 12TB Studios running, instead of having 24TB of storage, I only have 6TB total. That 6TB is mirrored 4 times. With this setup, if one internal drive was to fail, the one directly next to it inside the G-Drive Studio is an exact mirror of its data. If the entire dual drive Studio fails, I have the 2nd Studio as a mirrored backup. My 3rd copy is Cloud storage, which is something new for me. I had previously been using a 3rd external drive that I would bring home with me every day as off-site storage. 5 months ago I invested a whole $5 a month into Backblaze, an unlimited online cloud storage. I backup my entire iMac, both G-Drive Studios, and my external drives that I use for personal work. That makes 3 copies.
2 Different Formats
My two different formats are my external drives running RAID, and online Cloud storage.
1 Off-site Backup
I play this a little safer than I used to as well, using Backblaze online storage, but also still keeping external drives of my most important data at home in a fireproof safe. I have a studio, so keeping a copy at my home gives me even more security.
My Recent Device Failure
Last week, I drove into the studio to upload the images from the wedding I shot the day before. I sat down and looked over to see my main G-Drive Studio’s power light out. I keep them running at all times, so this triggered my curiosity a little. I figured it lost power and I just needed to turn it back on. Well, long story short, it was dead. I tried everything. Since everything is backed up on the 2nd Studio, I wasn’t so much worried about loss of data. I was however worried about being down one Studio while I upload 6k wedding images from the day before and not having a 2nd backup.
I immediately called the G-Technology Tech Support line. They trusted in my theory that the chassis was bad, and it wouldn’t power up. I appreciated the fact that he didn’t ask me to try another power outlet, or if the lights were on in the room. He explained to me that I could swap the internal drives from the down chassis to the good one to ensure the drives were still good, which I did, and they were. He sent me an RMA to ship the bad chassis back, and arranged the shipment of a new one for me. Two days later, I had my new chassis and all is good again.
As photographers, the geeky tech side of data backup and file storage isn’t always at the top of our list of exciting or fun things to take care of; This is especially true for those just getting into it. A solid storage solution can be pricey, and when you can use your money to upgrade your camera gear, storage usually takes a back seat. Once I started charging clients and making money, I thought that investing in a couple single external drives was a good way to go, and for some it may be. However, the 3-2-1 rule is what I follow now, and that is because I want to make sure that even with two failures at once, I still have a 3rd copy of my files. If my studio burns to the ground from an epic bolt of lightning or a sink hole swallows it up, I like knowing that everything that is important to me is backed up online via cloud storage. Even my personal images are stored on dual G-Tech 3TB drives that mirror each other, then get backed up online. In total, my investment cost me just under $5k, and I pay $5 per month for online storage. I know that’s a sizable amount of cash, but you can do it on a scale that suits you, at a price point that also makes sense for your business.
This was a brief explanation of my data backup solution, and while this isn’t the only way to do it, the 3-2-1 rule is the best way to go. I know other photographers that take it a step further and don’t reformat their memory cards from a wedding or shoot until after the images are delivered. This is also a great method, although I don’t do it myself. If you have any questions about my setup, please don’t hesitate to ask, and I would love to hear some of your setups to be honest, and if you don’t have one in place, now is the time to do it!