It's possible to use Internet services as part of your backup plan, but there are some important caveats. Archive size and bandwidth limitations present real problems. And no affordable online backup solutions provide any guarantee of successful recovery.
With so many video and photo-sharing sites on the Internet, it’s natural to think of the Internet as a way to back up and protect data. It can offer offsite protection even if your city is devastated by a hurricane. While it can be an important component of a backup strategy for some, it’s not a place for comprehensive backups, especially for the photographer who has a large collection of raw files to archive.
With video, the problem is even worse. Most video that you view online is heavily compressed and often resized, so it’s not a particularly good place to backup even finished videos. While an online portfolio is a great way to showcase your work, it’s not a place for comprehensive backups, especially for a large collection of footage to archive.
As a comprehensive backup, the Internet is limited by both bandwidth and cost. Even with a fast fiber optic connection, uploading gigabytes of video files is going to take a long time. You may not be finished uploading yesterday’s shoot by the time you need to start uploading today’s. And if you have a catastrophic loss and need to download terabytes of data, you could be looking at several anxious months as you wait for your files to come in (there are some online archiving services that will send you a drive in the event you need everything back in a hurry).
The cost of storage is very high for reliable Internet archiving of a sizable archive. Internet backup sites use drives that are probably more expensive than the ones you use in your home or studio. And remember, the Internet service will need to keep at least three copies of each file as well. Factor in the cost of secure server space, high-speed access, and professional administration, and it’s going to be a lot more expensive than doing it yourself.
Although some online photo services may offer cheap or free archiving, there will always be a catch. No one can provide a service for below cost for long and stay in business. They will eventually have to charge what it costs to provide the service, or stop offering it. Based on our research, every affordable contract for online archiving states that they bear no responsibility for the loss of the images, no matter what the reason.
No guarantees, No validation
At the moment, none of the online services provide any kind of guarantee or validation that the files remain on the server in an uncorrupted form. In the event files encounter some kind of error in transfer, you would not discover the problem until you need the files as you attempt to restore your archive. While it's not impossible for a web service to offer some kind of MD-5 validation, this is not commercially available in a price range that is affordable for video collections.
Even if some kind of data validations were available, there is still no guarantee that the service would be available when you need it. Companies can go bankrupt even while they seem to be doing well.
If you want to use an Internet service for worst case scenario backups, we suggest that you place high-quality, yet web-friendly versions online. For photos, you can make best quality JPEG files of your best images and upload those. For video, make best quality H.264 files that match the original dimensions of your HD video.
This can be a very affordable (or even free) way to preserve your most important images in the event of a major disaster. You may even want to upload TIFF files of your very best images if you have 16 bit master files, but they will require a lot storage space room and bandwidth to upload.
You may also want to consider using some kind of Internet-based backup to save your parametric edits. Uploading the small lrcat file from a Lightroom catalog will preserve all the organizational and image-editing work you’ve created.
With video workflows, most of the actual changes to video are controlled by a fairly small project file. Regularly backing this file up will improve your chances of recovering from data loss as you can use the recovered project file and the archived Virgin backup of your media to rebuild.
Internet backups for text and business files
While online backup services are problematic for comprehensive media backups, they can be quite useful for smaller files, such as email, word processing documents or other business files. There are several services that will upload data in the background to encrypted servers. Carbonite and Backblaze are two products that provide this service
While commercial Internet backups are probably not cost-effective for most serious photographers, there is another method that can make use of an Internet connection to get the images offsite without sneakernet. You can collocate the files in a do-it-yourself manner. If you have a fast Internet connection, you can set up a storage system in a family member or colleague’s house and mirror the files to that system. Of course, this means that the receiving end needs a fast Internet connection, a relatively secure place to put the storage hardware, and has to be okay with your using all the bandwidth.
Advantages of DIY collocation are real cost savings and your personal control of the media (to the extent you control your family or colleague). The challenges, at least at the present time, are that it can be difficult to set up; you need a dedicated fast connection, and you need a good place to put the offsite copy. Another real concern is that Internet transfers and FTP servers face many forms of file corruption, so data validation is a must.