Here’s something that you need to know: at some point, every hard drive will fail. It’s just a matter of when.
That’s quite the hard opening, right?
Today, on Filmmaking Lifestyle, I want to speak on something that’s become a controversial issue in video production and filmmaking circles: media storage. Backing up and storing media is nothing if not a thorny issue. Everyone has their own preferred method (be in offline or online), but I hope to shed some light on the matter and give you the best current options for backing up your footage and keeping things secure.
What You Will Learn
- The best backup and storage options for securing your media.
- Why media storage is so important whether you’re a video freelancer or a video company.
- The future of cloud based storage and how it will one day be the go-to solution for media storage.
- Which hard drive brands are the best and which last longest.
- How a special hard drive setup with an aggressive sounding name will save you a lot of heartache.
Firstly, let’s start with a story.
As My Hard Disk Slowly Burned – Back Up Or Be Sorry!
The Royal Library of Alexandria was one of the greatest storehouses of knowledge in antiquity. Within its walls lay countless unique manuscripts, the destruction of which was perhaps the greatest setback in the advancement of philosophy, science and mathematics that humankind has ever seen.
And yet when one of my hard drives imploded during my first year of working with clients as a video professional, I might have felt worse than those poor librarians did.
Not because what I had on my hard disk was so important, mind you – the closest thing to a great work of philosophy I’ve ever written was a university essay where I compared Freud to a certain modern day politician – but because I felt so horribly stupid.
‘I could have backed it all up,’ I thought to myself, ‘why didn’t I?’
Yes, it wasn’t my only hard drive, but this particular hard drive was my ‘working drive’ and I was knee-deep in a project for one of my early repeat clients. Whilst I had backups of this clients raw footage from the shooting days, I hadn’t backed up the working project file as I was editing.
Poor form. It’s mistakes like this that led me to look at backing up and storing footage as the most important consideration after a project has been filmed.
Back in the day, when the librarians of Alexandria wanted to copy something, they had to do so by hand, painstakingly copying every swirl, picture and hard-to-read word. What was more, as vellum and papyrus react poorly to the ravages of time, just replacing everything before it was illegible over the three centuries the library existed must have been a full-time job.
I have no such excuse. If I would have just planned ahead, hit a few buttons and paid a few bucks, then all my projects and client work would have been saved, backed up, archived and rendered unlosable. And yet I didn’t. Let that be a warning to you.
Back up your stuff!
Storing Footage – Should You Put It In The Cloud Or Closer To Home?
For most people this isn’t even a question. The cloud is convenient, ubiquitous and cheap. Heck, for 90% of people the free 15 GB that Google Drive gives you and the 5 GB for both Microsoft OneDrive and Idrive offer are more than enough.
And for most college students, or even professional writers, with their tiny Word docs, the basic 2GB that Dropbox comes with should be more than sufficient!
We video producers aren’t that lucky. Dealing in multiple terabytes of data at any one moment lends itself to needing a more robust and efficient solution. The numbers don’t make easy reading.
Using 10TB of storage as a benchmark:
- The aforementioned Google Drive would cost $99.99/per month,
- Meanwhile Dropbox is $9.99 for every 1TB of data, so it works out about the same price.
- A slightly more inexpensive option is Office 365 at $99 per year.
- CrashPlan is another useful alternative coming in at $10 per month and offers an impressive system of automatic backups and restore options that are some of the best out there.
What’s more, these plans are subject to change, with Microsoft very soon scaling down their unlimited offer from what is listed here. It raises the question: How can you be sure of your backups if you’re not even sure of how much storage you’ve got?
Now the above solutions all come with a number of their own unique bells and whistles in addition to the raw data storage allowances. And not all filmmakers/videographers are going to want to store 10TB in cloud storage at one time. Most people might get by with a 1TB cloud storage in combination with on-site hard drive solutions.
And that’s not even the whole problem, because unless you’re willing to shell out serious dough for your connection, uploading all that information all of the time will be a headache. I mean, what’s the point of backing up everything to the cloud when the newest videos (which are often the very files you’re working with) haven’t yet been uploaded?
What’s more, even if you do fork over the cash to have your connection keep up with your data creation, you can’t take that connection with you. When you’re out in the field, you’re limited by whatever speeds you’ve got available and that’s rarely going to be fast enough to be efficient.
As most of us know, when you’re out in the field, hard drives are your only storage option. Uploading to the cloud just isn’t an option.
For the moment, that means that for video professionals buying extra physical hard drives for storage purposes is the best way to go. Nowadays, setting up your system to auto backup to such drives is easier and cost-friendly.
Now, this isn’t to say that cloud storage isn’t an option as part of a footage backup strategy. And it’s certainly something that’s going to improve and become more efficient as the years go on and cloud based technology plays catch-up to increased media demands.
Look at it this way and you won’t go far wrong: the best media backup and storage strategy combines in-person hard drives and online cloud based options.
But Which Hard Drives Actually Last The Longest?
Now that’s a great question!
When we’re talking about protecting our data, we’d be remiss to ignore a major component of all this – hard drive longevity.
The cloud storage solution Backblaze have a great article on hard drive longevity, where they actually give you a number of stats and a breakdown of how the top brands perform against each other. Here’s the table, courtesy of Backblaze, that they formed based on years on using these hard drives in their own professional backup systems:
This next graph shows the annual failure rates of the three main drives they use:
This has led Backblaze, and other professional backup solutions, to favor Western Digital drives. So we’ll use Western Digital as our preferred hard drive recommendation for the rest of this article.
So There’s This Thing Called RAID…
RAID? Yes, it sounds a little aggressive, but if you use this backup method correctly, you’ll soon be singing its praises when it bails you out of a jam.
RAID arrays are a great collaborative editing solution and make for reliable media storage while you’re working on the project. Before I get stuck into a discussion of RAID, I need to note that it’s not absolutely essential (especially when just starting out). It’s just considered by most to be the safest method of backing up during important video projects.
When starting out, a simple system of backups of everything on multiple hard drives, with at least one hard drive with full backups in another location, will do.
RAID (which stands for redundant array of inexpensive (independent) disks is a type of backup system that improves throughput, redundancy or both. There are different ‘levels’ of RAID with each numbered increment offering a more impressive backup solution.
RAID 0 splits data evenly across two disks (data is written to drive A, then drive B, then drive A, and on).
RAID 1, on the other hand, is slightly more protective and features mirroring. That is, all of the data written to drive A is also written to drive B.
RAID 5 offers the best protection. With this backup solution, you get the best of RAID 0 and RAID 1, which maximizes speed and redundancy. For more information on RAID and where speed and redundancy comes into things, checkout this awesome series of diagrams on the RAID process.
For RAID 5, you’ll need at least three drives so, for example, four Western Digital 1TB internal hard drives will set you back $220. On the other hand, one Western Digital 4TB internal hard drive will set you back $190. While the overall capacity is (more or less) the same, the four 1TB drives will be faster, and should one fail all of the data on that drive can be recovered from the remaining three.
However, here comes the tricky part…
You will need space for those four drives. You will also need to learn how to setup a RAID 5 array (which is a bit of a learning curve), and, of course, you’ll need to know how to recover a failed drive.
That’s just a starting point and the bare essentials.
The Sweet Spot Of RAID Arrays For Video Production
So my solution?
A couple of Western Digital 2TB internal hard drives, which’ll set you back about $80 each. Setup them up in a RAID 0 array. That’s a solid enough backup system for most video professionals, and it’s easy to setup and cheap, too.
Sure, it won’t be as fast and efficient as RAID 5, but for most video professionals, RAID 0 will suffice. And it’ll certainly be much more durable and safe than the backup systems the majority of people are currently working with.
My Media Storage System Explained
Here’s what I do:
- I have three drives. One is a 5 TB archive drive and the other two are 2TB hard drives, setup as RAID 0 (see above).
- The 5TB archive hard drive is linked up to a Dropbox account. I keep all my media synced, so everything in the 5TB drive is also in my cloud based storage system. You can do the same with Google Drive, or any of the other options I discussed earlier in the article.
- The ‘working hard drive’ is the RAID 0 setup.
- At the end of every editing day, I copy that day’s work from the RAID 0 setup to the archive drive and sync to Dropbox.
- The following day, I do the same and just overwrite the previous day’s files.
- I also have backup hard drives in one other physical location that I update once a week, just for an extra level of safety. Some might say this is overkill.
Using this method, the most I’m ever at risk of losing is a day’s work, which would be extremely annoying, but I’m not going to be losing a whole project.
If you travel a lot, you can even use this method provided you have access to an internet connection. Use your ‘working drives’ for editing while travelling and just backup to your Dropbox account at the end of each day. Leave your home computer connected to your archive drive and synced to your Dropbox. This way, even while travelling, all your media is in two physical place drives and backed up to the cloud, too.
The Difference Between Data Backups And Archives
The best backup system is one that is automatic and includes at least one offsite copy – that is, a copy in your office and one somewhere else in another building (ideally a different ZIP code).
As we’ve discussed, backing up your data is not the same as archiving it. Let me reach back to my earlier analogy: backing up your data is the equivalent of those librarians copying one of Socrates’ lost dialogues from one scroll to another. Archiving is like carving those same words onto stone tablets. If they’d done a little more of the latter, possibly we wouldn’t have lost quite as many important works, aye?
What’s more, modern-day archiving is a little easier than it was back then, with there being numerous data centers dedicated to it. Yes, it takes a little longer to retrieve it and it’s a little harder than just letting your computer run, but you don’t want your important footage to simply disappear a few years down the line, do you?
Here are some of the top online backup options (a few of which we’ve already discussed):
It’s hard to give a definitive list because, as you probably know, these kind of offerings are dynamic and ever-shifting (both in price and actual existence), but those are five solid ones that have stood the test of time.
There’s More To Back Up Than Just Your Videos
So imagine this scenario, you’ve got a deadline coming up for a serious client who’s demanded a serious product and is paying serious money. You’ve had a computer meltdown, but you’ve made sure you’ve backed up all your video footage.
So no sweat, right? It’s just a matter of grabbing your material and working a little harder to hit your payday!
Or it would be, if your computer didn’t need 10 days in the shop before she’s up and running again. Don’t forget that if things go wrong it’s not just your video files that can die, but your operating system and your tools as well. Viruses, malware and other nasties are an ever-present reality that can hit you hard if you’re not prepared.
Having your entire system backed up can be the difference between a happy client giving you a wad of cash and an irate client giving you a piece of their mind.
It’s not even that hard. If you’re already backing up your footage anyway, then backing up everything else will just require a fraction more space. Most modern-day operating systems come with built-in backup tools. It’s just a matter of remembering to turn them on and keep things updated.
If you’re running an Apple Mac, you’ll have Time Machine bundled with your computer. There are PC backup tools out there too, of course, as well as non-proprietary solutions as well.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of backing up non-video material, remember that if you’re one of those people still using POP3 email, where you download all your messages to your computer and don’t leave copies on the server, you’ve got to ensure you have a copy of them, as well as your address book!
If you don’t, they might be lost forever and that could be a real headache as far as client work is concerned. Can you imagine trying to piece together that detailed back-and-forth conversation with Mike Jacobs where he goes into detail about his requirements for an upcoming project? Jeez!
It’s been known to happen that even when you tell your email program to leave your mail on the server, they still get deleted. So back them up!
Better yet, switch your email client over to IMAP and avoid all the hassle entirely.
Don’t Wait To Watch It Burn
Don’t mess around with this. I did and I regretted it.
Yes, now I’m doing it all, backing up, archiving, having copies in two physical locations, in addition to my cloud based system. Pre-empt the misery, because – and yes I know I’m mixing my legends here – once Rome is burning, you can’t do much more than fiddle.
I hope this discussion of the different media storage options has been of help to you as you work out which backup system is the best for your particular circumstances. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to write in the comments below. And feel free to share this article with your friends and colleagues using the sharing buttons below!