Friday, February 13, 2009

How do I backup my pictures? (UPDATED 3/15/09)

Like all Photographers, I am amassing a HUGE collection of images which makes me worry about what would happen if my computer were to fail or my house were to burn down. I'd lose everything that wasn't up on the web already, and even then I wouldn't have my precious original RAW files to work with as my Photoshop skills mature.

Currently I have about 450GB of images that I really care about, but roughly a terrabyte of data total. I had started going the route of keeping my data on removable drives like this for each year:

and backing them up to additional larger drives, but it didn't help me with the fact that my drives were all at my home. Sure, I kept the passport drives with me when I traveled with my gear, but this was a solution that was destine to spell disaster.

Windows Home Server / On-Site Backup

This topic of backup kept coming up in my photography group and many people would suggest Microsoft's Windows Home Server as shown here:

and this is certainly one solution, but it is an "on-site" backup solution in  your own home and I was looking for an "off-site" solution that would provide me with some protection against a fire or natural disaster.

Mozy / Off-site backup

This lead to me going to a leader in online backup, Mozy. They offered 2GB Totally Free so I picked subset of my photos and tried it out.

How does it work?

You are required to install a client application that you use to define what files you'd like to backup (chosen from drives your computer thinks are fixed). Unfortunately my files were on removable drives, so I had to start by moving my photos to my internal drive. This was unfortunate as I would have much preferred support for external drives, despite the consequences of doing so. Hopefully the folks at Mozy will sort this issue out in the future.

Once you are all set up you can configure backups to start when your system is idle or at specific times. Personally, I've chosen to have it run all of the time and I never turn my computer off anymore.

The dialog below shows the progress (which isn't showing the full 450GB anymore because Windows Update rebooted my system automatically):

Mozy

Despite having my system set to "Quicker Backups", I haven't had any performance problems on my computer and I've been able to use other computers on my wireless network without any issues. I also use Xbox LIVE and Netflix streaming movies from my Xbox 360 without any issues.

How Long Does it Take? (UPDATED)

I started my 446.2GB backup on January 9th, and it completed on March 15th. I did have some trouble for a few days due to a router that went bad, but beyond that it was going nearly non-stop. Of course, the occasional down time from Comcast or power hiccup may have slowed things, but you’re likely to experience the same thing with such a long backup.

On a good day I averaged about 4.5GB per day (via Comcast cable modem on a wireless network), but upgrading my cable modem service didn’t help because Mozy throttles the upload speed to 1mbs to their servers when using unlimited accounts. This limitation doesn’t exist if you use the more expensive pro accounts, so there is a workaround if you’d like to backup faster. (WARNING: If you use Comcast (and perhaps others) they will limit your monthly upload to 250GB, so if you exceed that then you may not be able to upload at all – which means no Internet service).

Of course, now that the initial backup is done, just the differences will need to be backed up so things are going much better. In fact, I’ve decided to go ahead and back up another 121 GB of data not originally included in my backup set.

To learn more about Mozy, read the top articles and guides here.

Conclusion

Overall, I like the service quite a bit and think I’ll stick with it. While it isn’t perfect, it meets my needs fairly well. However, I do have a few gripes:

  1. Backup isn’t as automatic as I’d like – if Windows Update reboots the machine, you have to log in before the backup will resume – this has cost me a couple days of backup time.
  2. Restarts are slow and it doesn’t seem to be working hard enough to get the data online as quickly as I think it could.
  3. It is slow to give you a view of what you have uploaded, but once it loads it works fine.
  4. It doesn’t support removable drives.

Performance

I’m seeing upload speeds of about 1 mbps with no negative impact on my system or Internet access. I frequently watch movies on the Xbox 360 using Netflix streaming video (sometimes in HD) and Mozy doesn’t seem to be impacting that performance (of course that is downstream and Mozy is upstream, but still – I was pleased about that).

Restore is very easy and fast, so overall I’m pretty happy with what I am seeing from Mozy. They offer 2GB Totally Free so there's nothing to lose for trying it out.

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The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

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