What would you call the sudden loss of all of your photographs stored as digital image files?
I don't fear many people or things. But there is that moment in every married man's life when he realizes his wife would not hesitate to murder him in his sleep. Yeah. I realized this recently. I realized it when my wife told me "If 'we' ever lost all our kids and wedding photos and videos, I'll murder you in your sleep." (Obviously by "we" she meant, me.)
See, preventing this is not as simple as many people think. You can lie to yourself and say that backup hard drive will survive forever, and that clicking sound it's making is its way of telling you "Hello!". Or that those 500 CD's/DVD's you back up to will survive your house burning down. I mean, sure, your wife will totally understand that... right? right?
I unfortunately don't feel my wife would be that understanding, which is why I needed a way that would easily store our digital memories not only reliably on site, but also somewhere offsite as well.
Not only can your computer's hard drive fail, but your server or backup drive can fail as well. Sheesh. That is why is is advisable to have three storage locations for your data, with one of them being off-site. The hope is that no more than two of them will fail at the same time. No one mentions this in slick computer advertisements, but every IT person who has lived through this (or perished in it, at least professionally) accepts it without question. Large hard drives that store terabytes are wonderful and inexpensive (compared to what they used to cost), but they increase the risk of even greater loss because they can store so much more data than your old gigabyte drive. Fortunately, when we lost a server system drive a few years ago, we had already added a second server for redundancy and continued to make regular backups of the main server. (1)
By the time our main server's warning lights started blinking over a recent weekend, it was already too late. This time, a hardware failure on the server's motherboard prevented the server's operating system from accessing the data spread across three 2 terabyte drives (that's right, we have 6 terabytes of storage). Ironically, the drives were fine, but without the server's operating system to access the data, we might as well have lost the drives, because we had nothing. Consulting with my IT guru confirmed that accessing the data might be futile and would definitely take more time than restoring from a backup. The good news was that my data backup was intact and only five days old. Each day I add new image files, the server is backed up and, as luck would have it, I had not added any image files since that last backup. The backup drive was plugged into another server on hand for just such an occurrence and the data transfer initiated. When completed, many hours later, I could see the familiar file structure of the Lightroom catalog on the server. (2) No one was going to die in their sleep that night. (Not that that was ever on the table.).
The next step was daunting - I needed to connect the Lightroom catalog to 40,000 image files in a new location. Lightroom has a function for doing this, called "Update Folder Location," but would a mere mouse click reconnect the Lightroom catalog to all of my files and preserve all of the post-processing work that had been done? I was staring right into a very dark and scary place.
I am happy to report that it worked just fine and I slept like a baby that night.(3)
This experience led to a new thought: Like most photographers, I spend most of my post-processing time working with image files made in the current year. Access to files stored on the server is noticeably slower than files stored on a local hard drive because the data is transferred over the network rather than within the computer. I wondered if I could move my image files of the current year from the server to my computer's local drive (the C: drive) for faster access and then use the "Update Folder Location" function in the Lightroom catalog, or would I simply be tempting the fates?
The answer is that I could and I did.(4) It worked beautifully: Faster access time and, with a little thought, full backup protection. Exactly what my father used to tell me, "When one door closes, another one always opens."
Thanks for reading,
See ya next week,
Deep Dive: Geek Speak for those who want more
(1) The deeper techno dive is that both servers use a redundant array of independent disks (RAID), which stores our precious images file across multiple drives and continuously keeps a second copy of these files on the server. The concept of redundancy is effective as long as your server continues to operate. But, you ask, what happens if the server fails? Well, in short, your data becomes instantly inaccessible. That's right, one moment you are sleeping well, the next you are inside your worst nightmare. Swell. This is why the tech gurus preach a third tier backup.That other source can be another drive or the cloud, but preferably off-site, to increase the odds if an asteroid lands on your system, fire, or theft.
(2) Although Lightroom is not designed to run on a server, its catalog can access files stored on a server or an external drive. The catalog file is an index file that keeps track of where your files are physically located. This function would get more complex if multiple computers accessed these at the same time. To get around this limitation, I use the Lightroom catalog import/export function when I need to move image files from one computer to another.
(3) I also went a step further. The "Synchronize Folder..." function is a data saving feature that is used to find files that are not in the catalog for reasons that usually remain a mystery. Whether it be user- or system error, the files get detached or lost from the catalog and Synchronize Folder will find them. During the synchronization you have the option of running the Import routine and can avoid duplicate files as well as build your choice of preview file size.
(4) I coped the 2014 image files to the C: drive and updated the folder location by using the Lightroom catalog function. Then I coped the files to an external drive for safekeeping (no, not in an underground bunker, very funny, though). Finally, I deleted the files from the server. This last step was critical to ensure that I did not have an old and a new set of files. Single source data base is an approach that I always use because keeping one orderly data set can be difficult (hence the Synchronize Folder option), two is impossible, and three is absurd (like the underground bunker).
The last step was to configure a two step backup. First step is to back up files from the C: drive to the server. The second step is to back up the server to an external drive. This was supported easily by the server's software. More importantly, these backups are scheduled to occur nightly and I get an email each morning telling me that they were performed. Pretty cool tech.