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Data Backup | The 3-2-1 RULE & Why You Need To Implement It Now

By Jay Cassario on May 24th 2016


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 Failurejay-cassario-gtech-studio

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.


Photo Credit: JD Land

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.


Photo Credit: Sandi Cassario

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!

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Jay Cassario is a fulltime photographer from South Jersey, owner of the multi-photographer wedding and portrait studio Twisted Oaks, and Brand Ambassador for Leica Camera USA.

WEBSITE: Jay Cassario
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Twitter: @JayCassario

Q&A Discussions

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  1. cisco support

    For any problem regarding networking, one should go to the website-<a

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  2. Dennis Hellwig

    Yesterday I signed up for Backblaze and now I discovered there Best Practices help page where they state:

    “If you have external drives, it is even more important that you run Backblaze continuously for five hours once every two weeks. If an external hard drive is detached for more than 30 days Backblaze interprets this as data that has been permanently deleted and securely deletes the copy from the Backblaze datacenter.”

    Furthermore, if you delete your local RAW files, they will be also deleted in the cloud. Because it’s a synced mirror. For those reasons I canceled my plan and subscribed to Crashplan. They will backup all your data without any of these restrictions. Even if you delete your RAW files on your external drive they will remain in the cloud.

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  3. robert garfinkle

    I wont risk the cloud – as there is not a large enough entity with a 100% guarantee, be it Microsoft, Amazon etc. who could guarantee safe storage. The cloud to me, is too much in its infancy to place trust. IMO

    3 things concern me with cloud storage – 1. assuredness that the content I store wont be lost / stolen / hacked, 2. I want a guarantee that anything I store in the cloud is not subject to search and seizure and / or, 3. a provider’s guarantee that my content remains solely mine with no restrictions as to what is considered objectionable etc. I retain full rights and privacy is guaranteed more or less. If they cannot commit to that, I cannot give my business.

    If I were to cloud, I’d cloud to a secondary server that I own, in a different location – it’d be a mirrored system to my local office / home server. That to me has lower risk than online / cloud solutions. Essentially, the author’s “#1” is a verbatim copy of his #3 setup.

    I like mirrored solutions, ideal – I do it now, with success.

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  4. Rita Egot

    I found this very helpful.

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  5. Sandy Toma

    What about using Amazon Prime as an online backup? Anyone have any experience using it? Compared to Backblaze?

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  6. Jonathan Di Iorio

    I’ve always been of the school of thought that RAID, no matter if RAID1, RAID0+1, RAID10, or JBOD is not truly a backup.

    If you lose the controller or the key corrupts, you lose all that data.

    And worse, a lot of RAID setup’s are proprietary to their controller so in a pinch you can’t pull the drive and read it independently. You need the controller.

    You’re setup of redundant RAID1 setup’s does lean towards backups but as you had, you lost a chassis.

    You should always keep an entire incremental backup separate from any RAID or cloud storages.

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    • Jay Cassario

      Jonathan, you are correct, RAID alone is not truly a backup. I actually don’t recommend it as one in this article, I only mention it because I use it as another layer. That is the reason I run RAID only on my G-Drive Studios individually, but manually back the one up to the other. I look at each individual G-Drive Studio as it’s own drive, so the true backup is having two of them. Using the 3-2-1 Rule, my RAID setup doesn’t count. My 3 copies are both G-Drive Studios, and Backblaze. Plus I have the client’s online gallery as a 4th once the images are delivered. So, just to be clear, and to reiterate what you stated, I don’t look at RAID as a true backup, but I do however use it as another layer of protection on top of the 3-2-1 Rule.

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  7. Olivier Borgognon

    My backup plan is actually a bit of a mess i realize and I should work on it more seriously.

    I was trying LIMA but something went wrong and i can’t access files, and i know some did not go onto the lima stuff and are probably somewhere on the HDD but i’m not even sure.

    I also have a synology with 2x3To and a QNAP with 2x1To.

    Main concern is really what to backup. Some tutorials, workshops and stuff i have or music should also be backed up, but it’s storage which could be used for professional use mainly (and i do consider the tutorials, workshops and music as pro usage).

    The Backblaze is a great online storage option and I think that will be the next move. Keeping a google drive for invoices, documents etc. and backblaze for the images.

    Question to you all, How long do you keep your RAW files (the ones you didn’t deliver) after you have delivered the whole set to the client ? I am enclined to consider they should go after 1 year as if they didn’t make the cut they won’t serve a purpose, what would your call be on that considering cameras are getting more and more greedy on storage space.

    Thanks for an eye opener and great article, really makes me rethink my strategy as a pro studio in switzerland.

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  8. William Irwin

    For a nice alternative setup with a spare home computer, you can purchase 4 3-TB WD NASdrives and setup a FreeNAS network storage drive. Setup the FreeNAS with ZFS with the four drives and you have a RAID setup. With four you can lose one drive and still be good to go. Your system will hobble along until you replace the bad drive but it will work. Once you get the replacement, the system will “resilver” the drive which may take a few hours or a day, then its back to normal.

    I tend to store files locally on my working computer, backup to FreeNAS and third backup is a copy of my working computer to BackBlaze. I implement a fourth backup of the RAW files to DVD after offloading from my CF cards. I also create a backup of the completed edited jpeg files which I may give to the client depending on the package they pay for. Both DVD’s are stored with any model releases in a 6×9 envelope and put into a filing cabinet with the Job Number on the cover.

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    • Jay Cassario

      I have a NAS drive, two actually, that I use for backing up old personal photos and other data. The problem with NAS drives that makes them hard to use for me personally, is I like to run Lightroom off of my external drives. You can’t run Lightroom off of a NAS, it requires a directly connected device. But yes, NAS drives are great for storing files and data.

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    • William Irwin

      This is why I run the working files on my local computer where I use Lightroom and Photoshop. The NAS drives are basically acting as my file server where the catalog and raw files are backed up. The same local files are backed up to Backblaze so everything is the same. So you have a working file location (local), a local backup (the fileserver) and an offsite backup (BackBlaze). For additional security I backup the local files to DVD by job number.

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  9. Justin Haugen

    What kind of internet speeds are you guys getting? I have Cox preferred and I get upwards of 50MB/s down and anywhere from 1 to 5MB/s up. I could upgrade to their Premiere service for 150MB/s down and up to 10MB/s up.

    I’m just curious what up speeds small photography business owners are using at their home offices to maintain these cloud backups.

    If I come home from a wedding with 128gb worth of wedding images in RAW format. It would take several days to upload the images to Backblaze, all while crippling the downspeeds of the entire home network.

    I’m looking at business internet packages and I still can’t find anything above 5 or 10MB/s up.

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    • Jay Cassario

      To be honest, I haven’t tested my internet speed at my studio. It does take a few days to upload the images to Backblaze for me, my internet speed isn’t the best, I know that. It doesn’t cripple anything because I have it scheduled to run it’s backups at night when I’m not at the studio.

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    • Justin Haugen

      thanks Jay, I hope more people chime in on this, I’d like to know what people are using for their internet packages.

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  10. Stanley McPartland

    Not only is all the redundancy important, you need to act quickly when you have a drive failure. I waited a couple of weeks before I got around to ordering a replacement drive and the other drive of the mirrored pair failed before the RAID set was rebuilt. Fortunately it was the Windows (C:) drive and did not impact my data. Just lost a few evenings reinstalling Windows and my software. My day job is Information Technology so I should know better ;-). I also use Backblaze and am very pleased with them. Use RAID 1 (mirrored) or 10 (mirrored and striped), not RAID 5 (striped) for all of your storage. You are much more likely to lose a RAID set with RAID 5 and I’m proof that it can happen with RAID 1.

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    • Sur Ugo

      Firstly, an Interesting article Jay (and Stanley).
      Thank you very much.

      Our bandwidth in South Africa is pathetic and more expensive than some countries in Africa.

      So I have been toying with idea of my own Cloud backup system on my own network.

      I had a look at a D-Link product, but it did not have the security that I was looking for.
      Lately, I’ve being working with FreeNAS on a small Micro-server (but I still have to learn about software RAID mirrors on a ZFS unix filesystem).

      From what I understand, FreeNAS will send an email report to you if a disk fails or if the data becomes corrupt. Fixing or recovering it is another exercise though.

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    • William Irwin

      Your weakness in a setup like this will be a catastrophic event locally (earthquake, house burning down, flooding etc).

      To avoid that problem you can use the DVD backup plan and store those offsite (at a studio, friends house, bank deposit box or some other idea)

      FreeNAS will alert you when a drive is failing. You simply need to get the serial number identifying which drive then pull that drive and replace it. Replacing the drive is easy. Once you put the drive in there, follow the steps to recover/replace a drive and then the system will “resilver” which means it will replace the drive in the system and put the data back that was on the drive. I was surprised how easy it was to do.

      Make sure you setup a “Scrub” plan at least monthly if not weekly depending on your needs. This will identify when a drive is starting to fail more quickly and help keep things tidy.

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  11. Noel Pombuena

    Great article, Jay. Anything you can recommend for a small-time/part-time photog. I only have 2 6TB WD EHD (one is used as the main drive and the other is the back up). After reading your article, I will have to invest in 1, if not, 2 EHD’s. I know I have to invest in some more but have been procrastinating. Again, thanks for sharing.

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  12. Moise Oiknine

    Great Article. This is absolutely NECESSARY for anyone in this professional industry. It happened to me twice that a hard drive failed. Thankfully a friend was able to get the images recovered.

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    • Jay Cassario

      Glad you liked it, thanks for reading! Glad you were able to get the images recovered, scary though!

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  13. David Wagelmans

    Great read Jay and indeed the New lens or Shiny camera is so much more tempting.
    Backblaze was on my radar and Will surely give it a try.
    And a rethink of my backup is overdue.

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    • Jay Cassario

      Backblaze is great, it’s nice knowing I have online back up now, and for only $5 a month for unlimited storage. Thanks for reading David!

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  14. Kiel MacDonald

    Great article and important idea. I have a physical backup + cloud backup of my important photos. I am looking for an SD card backup on-the-fly… so far most options are either expensive (600+) or seem to have some issues (WD Passport). Any suggestions for something that will get the job done without breaking the bank?

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    • Jay Cassario

      Glad you liked the article, thanks for reading! I don’t have a SD card back up drive like the Passport. Maybe someone else will chime in :)

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    • Moise Oiknine

      I keep an sd backup, literally. My camera of choice is the D810 which provides duplication of all images on both cards. Since the sd cards are not as pricey as the cf cards, I bought 30 of them and keep the used ones in a sepparate holder until the cuatomer recieves their images. At that point they go back to the camera bag and get formatted for uae.

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    • Justin Heyes

      Hi Kiel,
      I use the RAVPower RP-WD03 to back up SD cards in the field. You can plug in any drive you want to transfer files. I usually set it in a corner somewhere and check the back up status with my phone.

      A full 64 GB card take about 20 mins to transfer

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