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Developing a Digital Backup Strategy
Protect your files from human error, hardware faliure, and natural disasters

In June of this year, a very large and quite unusual dry lightning storm passed over the northern part of California, igniting over 1,000 wildfires. Hundreds of thousands of acres were burned and many homes were destroyed. Fortunately, even though there were a few large blazes burning within 30 miles of where I live in the Sierra foothills, the fires were never an immediate threat to our community. But wildfire is always a possibility in my part of the world, and something we worry about every summer and fall. The entire wildfire situation in California this summer, as well as the catastrophic floods in the Midwest, got me thinking about the steps you need to take to make sure that your digital photography archives are protected from catastrophe.

It doesn’t take much for a huge collection of digital images or other important information to be wiped out in a few seconds, either through human error (accidentally re-formatting the wrong drive, unexpected interactions with gravity), drive failures, or disasters like fires or floods. I know that many of you may already have a good system already in place, but for those who don't, I've put together an overview of my own backup and archive system that hopefully will give you some ideas and inspiration towards implementing your own backup regimen.

First, a disclaimer of sorts: This is an overview of my own system and not a comprehensive survey of the many different configurations that are possible. The hardware and software that I mention are included because they have worked well for me and not because I have compared them to every potential product on the market. Other hardware/software solutions may be just as good or better. Finally, I am limiting myself to covering a simple backup strategy and will not be addressing an archive or asset management system.

First Law of Digital Backup: Redundancy

Hard drives can fail in an instant, leaving you no time to copy important information to another drive. If it has never happened to you, consider yourself lucky. It’s not a question of if, but when.

So, the First Law of Digital Backup means having more than one copy of important files.This backup copy can be stored on a variety of different media, including external hard drives, DVDs, or online backup providers on the Internet. If you’re using a hard drive, it needs to be a totally separate drive from the main drive where your photos are stored. Just having two copies on the same drive won’t help you if that drive fails.

Next Page: Backing Up Your System Drive & Image Archive 

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