January 30th, 2023
I finally needed to confront something that I’ve put off for a long time: my photo backup strategy. For years, my photo catalog was run from an external 4TB Western Digital Hard Drive that had a single redundancy to a second 4TB Western Digital Hard Drive. At one point I did have online storage but, more on that later. It’s easy to get complacent when things are working but in the back of my mind, I knew I was living on borrowed time. While this setup wasn’t ideal in terms of data redundancy, what I did like about it was its simplicity. Using Carbon Copy Cloner, it was a simple task of mirroring one drive to another. By putting that task on a schedule, I almost didn’t have to think about it. I knew I wanted to keep that simplicity but also afford myself some additional backup storage.
I replaced my two, 4TB external hard drives for a 2-bay Synology NAS (DS216) with two 4TB Seagate hard drives. Not having used a NAS before, Synology’s users guide made the setup process simple. The only part of the setup that required closer reading was creating the volumes and the RAID type. In keeping with my goal of simplicity, I opted for the Basic RAID Type. This let me treat each volume (hard drive) as a self-contained block of space where I can then schedule the backups myself via Carbon Copy Cloner. Though, in hindsight, I should have chosen RAID 1. RAID 1 supports disk mirroring and data redundancy across volumes. I added extra steps by doing the data mirroring myself but, at the time, I went with what I knew. Since the backups are scheduled via Carbon Copy Cloner, it’s not a lot of extra work, but RAID 1 would have been the more elegant solution, I think.
The NAS is cold storage (infrequent access), so my working storage are two 1TB SanDisk SSD drives connected to my Mac via USB C. These are mirrored to my NAS using, you guessed it, Carbon Copy Cloner.
Online storage is often encouraged because it gives you that third edge of redundancy of an off-site backup in case of local data loss. I use iCloud for personal data storage but using online storage for multi-terabyte backup was a challenge that ended up not being worth the advantage. I had used CrashPlan for some time before they ended support for home use. I then transferred to Backblaze but, like CrashPlan, upload speeds were inconsistent and often slow. To be fair, there are network variables, both home and offsite, that can effect the performance of backups but, in the end, it felt like I was having to work more than what was necessary to have complete cloud storage.
While it seems foolish to not have cloud storage as part of my current backup routine, I haven't given up on it entirely. Rather than backup everything I plan to backup only what is necessary. With respect to my photography catalog, the only photos that truly need backup are my final RAW files, which is a far more manageable number. The challenge right now is finding a workflow that makes that transition to cloud storage simple, which is currently a work in progress.
The data redundancy that this current strategy provides can certainly be improved but it is better than what I had before. I now have two points of backup (SSDs + NAS) rather than the single pair of hard drives. I do plan on upgrading my 2-bay NAS to a 4-bay NAS but it's not critical now as I would like to solve my cloud storage issues first. Once that is taken care of, I can work on refining the rest.