One year ago I made a technology purchase that was probably one of the best investments I've made in recent history. As the Chief Technology Czar of a professional photographer, it's extremely importat that we have a secure place to keep all of our digital files so that we know for a certainty that we aren't going to lose any client images. For the first year or so of January's professional career, we employed the "keep copies of every file in many different places" approach. We had two 1TB hard drives -- Backup Senior and Backup Junior -- attached to January's computer and as soon as she finished shooting a wedding she immediately copied all of her cards onto both of these drives. As soon as she was done making edits to any photos, the final proofs went onto each drive as well. This worked well enough for a while, but was cumbersome. There was also a bit of risk involved during the editing phase, as the work-in-progress files were only on one drive.
In early November of last year, Backup Junior had what we in the technology sector call a "serious hiccup." The drive was completely inaccessible on January's computer and she, as anyone whose livelihood relies on data retension would, freaked out. I spent the better part of a day going through hard drive diagnostic programs until the drive finally connected to my computer, at which point I immediately copied all 600Gb to my own computer, assuming the drive was on it's final legs.
After that crisis, we agreed that it was time for a serious investment in data security. My friend Bryan Smith mentioned that they were using the Drobo backup system where he worked, so I took a look at it. The Drobo is a pretty fantastic little device, and really doesn't require any technical knowledge on the part of the user. It's a 6"x6"x10" box that holds four hard drives. The whole box is then plugged into your computer, either via standard USB plug or the faster FireWire 800 port. After that, as far as your computer is concerned it's just one giant hard drive. But behind the scenes, inside the Drobo, it is constanly working to spread your data out over the multiple hard drives to keep your files protected. At any given time, you could have at least one hard drive failure and your data will still be safe. When you do have a hard drive failure, the previously-green light next to the bad drive changes to red, at which point you can open up the Drobo, remove the bad drive, replace it with a brand new one, and the machine just keeps chugging along -- all without even turning it off.
The Drobo will set you back a bit; We got ours on sale for just under $500, not including the hard drives, but they can be purchased for around $350 now. But trust me when I say that the money spent was not wasted; It was money spent on security and peace of mind. Earlier this year, while on a working vacation in Maine, we had our first Drobo hard drive failure. January was editing a wedding from earlier in the month and one of the red lights blinked on. That evening we took a drive into town, picked up a new hard drive, popped it in, and didn't give it another thought. Drobo kept right on rolling, moving her files around so they would be fully protected.
It may not be the cheapest backup system available, and it's definitely not for everyone, but I haven't regretted our purchase of the Drobo for a second. It sits there on January's desk, keeping watch over Yellow Fish Studios' client photos so we don't have to worry about it.