Backup System Configurations

Let's see how we can use the various types of backup tools to protect the different kinds of data we have.

How this page is set up
One computer – single primary drive systems
One computer – multiple primary drive systems
Laptop and desktop system
Client-server system

How this page is set up

This page looks at backup configurations starting with a very simple one-computer system, up through a multiple client-server configuration. By adding the complexity one step at a time, it's easier to see what each element does. We suggest you start at the beginning, even if you know that your needs are more like the ending system.

Of course, this page presents a limited set of options. In reality, there are many different specific configurations you might use. If you've read through the pages on Backup Overview and Backup Types, you'll see what the options are, and how you can create the best system for you.

The first two options each show a one-computer system. In the first, all the data can fit on one single internal drive. In the second system, the data has outgrown the internal drive. The third example shows how backup can be configured for a system that includes a laptop and a desktop workstation. And the final system shows how to scale the tools to work for a client-server system.

One computer – single drive primary systems

Let's begin by looking at the simplest system and the most basic way to backup your digital data: a simple mirror or clone. If you've only got one computer, and all your stuff can fit on a single internal drive, then you get a reasonable amount of protection by mirroring the primary drive to an external drive. It's not ideal, but it's infinitely better than having no backup at all.

This arrangement has a few weak spots – either the backup drive lives near the computer or it lives offsite. If it's nearby, then it can be updated often, providing a rolling backup of current work. Of course, this means it's also vulnerable to many of the same hazards of the primary - theft, fire, etc. If the drive lives offsite, then it provides better disaster recovery protection at the expense of protecting current work as frequently.

simple system
Figure 1 shows a laptop mirrored to an external drive.

Simple mirror with offsite drive

You can add a lot of protection to your image files by making an additional copy on a second external drive, and taking that copy offsite. This provides excellent disaster recovery backup, as well as the ability to keep a rolling backup of current work.

If your offsite drive is set up to be an additive backup (link), then you're even more protected against some kind of file corruption or human error.

Simple system 2
Figure 2 The addition of a second drive fills lots of gaps in the simple mirror system.

Backup drive with write-once media

We suggest that this is an even better system for backup because the write-once media provides significant protections that are simply not available on hard-drive-only systems. Even if you implement an additive backup system, you're likely to update or migrate the images from that drive eventually, and at that point you introduce the possibility of some kind of corruption.

Simple system 3
Figure 3 Once you add the write-once media to the system, you're fully protected.

Figure 4 This movie outlines how the backups above can be configured.

One computer - multiple primary drives

Images take up a lot of room on your hard drive, and for many photographers, it's necessary to have a dedicated storage device just for your images. This will change a couple of things, from the simplicity of the backup arrangement to the path the images take on the way from the card to the archive.

Multi-drive systems like the one shown in Figure 4 often trigger the need to create a dedicated working files storage that is distinct from the archive storage. Images are downloaded to the working files area, and get archived once they have gone through the ingestion and working phases. Once you make the distinction between working and archive, you'll also want to consider creating a backup protocol for each phase of life.

The working files need rolling backups, as well as periodic backups since they are in a state of transition. The archive files are best handled by 3-2-1 backups, as described in the system above. Let's take a look at such a system.

Multi-drive system backups
Figure 5 Working from left to right are: The pocket drive which backs up the working files on the internal drive, the working file primary on the internal drive, the primary archive, which also holds a backup of the working files, the write once media, and the offsite backup drive.

Add in system and applications backup

Of course, it's important to also protect your system, applications and other user settings. We can use the same hardware outlined above, and add protection by backing up this data to the drives in the system. The arrangement outlined below adds protection for the system, applications and preferences. Let's take a look.

multi-droive with boot backup
Figure 6 shows the addition of system, program and preferences backup as shown in purple. (Add numbers to correspond to the description has below)

  1. The internal hard drive in the laptop is cloned to the external drive periodically. The working files can also be backed up with a periodic scheduled backup.
  2. The archive files live on external drive 2. They are moved there once they move out of the working folder. The working files are also periodically synced to a working file backup folder on drive 2.
  3. Files are copied to write-once media as they are put in the archive.
  4. The offsite drive backs up both the archive files, as well as the working files.

Laptop and desktop system

Many photographers need to split their computing between a laptop that is used on location and a desktop that is used as an imaging workstation. Once you start adding elements, the backup routines can get more complicated, particularly if you don't split the tasks up properly. It's impractical to create a backup protocol for a complex system that treats all data the same. So let's break things up.

Each computer has its own backup system.

In general, it's easier to create good backup systems if each computer is considered separately. The laptop, for instance, has several backup drives that are dedicated for its use. We suggest that you factor the cost of dedicated backup drives into the purchase price of the computer itself.

The laptop shown here has two backup drives that live in the location bag, and will accompany the computer whenever it's going on site for downloading and processing. This provides for three copies of the data, starting from the first download of the card. (You could get by with a single external backup drive, but best practices call for three copies). We also suggest that a clone backup of the laptop be created and stored in the home or studio, so that the loss of the laptop bag would not be a total loss of all data it includes.

The imaging workstation shown in Figure 7 also has its own backup drives, each with a dedicated purpose. The working drive is an internal drive in the tower. Another internal drive is used for the system and programs. (Other internal drives could also be used for a RAID1 fault-tolerant storage arrangement, or other purpose). The large external enclosure is where the primary copy of the archive resides, as well as backups of the working files. The small external enclosure is used for swapper drives or other temporary drive connection needs. The third copy of the archive files is provided by optical disk or tape, but could also be an Additive Backup (link) hard drive as well.

Laptop Desktop backup arrangement
Figure 7 outlines how a system can work when the photographer has a laptop and a desktop. (Add numbers for each drive, starting at the top left moving right.)

Laptop system

  • Drive 1 is a clone backup of the laptop's internal drive. The working folder is mirrored to that drive periodically to keep the working files up-to-date.
  • Drive 2 is the laptop's internal drive, with system, applications and working files.
  • Drive 3 is the second ingestion backup drive.
  • Drive 4 is a periodic clone of the laptop drive that is kept in the studio to protect against loss of the location system.

Desktop system

  • Enclosure 5 is used for swapper drives. One is always onsite, and one is offsite. This is used as a periodic backup of the works in progress (turned on and run at the end of a day). This enclosure can also be used for other data transfer, such as writing files to the offsite drives.
  • Drive(s) 6 are the internal drives on the desktop. At minimum, one drive is for system and applications, and one drive is used for working files. You could add a scratch disk for speed, or another backup drive for added security.
  • Enclosure 7 is the primary image archive. You can also use a portion of this storage to serve as a backup for the working files. You can even use this as a backup for the working files on the laptop, if you wish.
  • Drive(s) 9 are the offsite backups, for both the archive and, ideally, a clone backup of any boot drive in the system.
  • Discs 10 are the write-once media backups on optical discs. Alternately, this backup could be a digital tape copy, or an additive backup on hard drive.

Client-server setup

The next logical expansion beyond the 2 computer setup described above is the addition of a dedicated file server to the system. Once the system expands beyond 2 computers, it may be best to set one up as a principle archive and server. Note that this does not have to be an enterprise-grade server computer. It could be made out of a "regular" computer, set up to share files over a network.

The advantage of a server-based system is that you can create a single place to store all your important digital data. This should be the primary home for the image archives, and should also serve as the place that working files get backed-up to on an automated basis. Ideally, it would be located in a secure, well-ventilated location.

For the purposes of this description, we'll show a laptop and a desktop computer as well as the file server. The laptop has some special consideration as outlined in the previous section - particularly the "location" drives.

Client Server
Figure 8 shows a client-server setup. This simplifies some of the management by keeping the archives and the backups centralized on the server.

  • The laptop drives are largely the same as the previous system. The laptop group has its own backup drives that need to travel with it on location. The laptop can backup its working files to the server, however, whenever it's connected.
  • The desktop uses one drive for system and applications, and one drive for working files. Additional drives can be installed for scratch disk, or for RAID 1 backup.
  • As in the previous system, the swapper is used to protect working files by enabling offsite backup.
  • The main storage device(s) holds the primary archive, as well as a backup of working files. A compressed disk image of any boot drive on the network can also be stored here.
  • Offsite drives store the archive backups. You can also take other data offsite in the same manner. A clone of the computer that is used for correspondence, accounting and other administrative tasks is also a good thing to backup to an offsite drive.
  • The second media copy can be saved to optical disk or digital tape.

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Last Updated September 22, 2015