My Backup Strategy Just Saved My Ass

Do you have a backup strategy? That's great. Have you checked to see if it's working?

It's a very sickening feeling. You go into your library to export a photo and get an error for your effort. That's annoying. Then you look a bit closer and discover the cause of the error. You can't export the photo because your digital asset manager can't find the original. Oh, shit.

A Backup Strategy Isn't All You Need

In case you're wondering, here is a post covering my advice on how to protect your photos – my backup strategy. This strategy served me well, but I think it's time to go back and update it with a few things that I've learned since I wrote it.

First, I'm not as much of an advocate of RAID systems after experiencing a crash of my RAID enclosure. I was able to repair the enclosure and it's still chugging along, but the plain truth is that these enclosures use proprietary chips. Although the manufacturer of my enclosure still makes the product, the manufacturer who made the chip used in my enclosure doesn't make that chip anymore. A different chip won't read my disks, and there is a dwindling supply of the original chip left to make repairs. When that source dries up, there's no way to repair the enclosure and I can't access my data on the drives.

That's why I've taken to using a combination of backup devices. I use a Striped pair of disks as a Mac Time Machine backup. That doesn't help long-term, but it keeps a live copy of my system.  I've restored files from it recently and it worked just fine.

The next stage is to create generational archives of my important files, such as my photos. This is the part that just saved me from that sinking feeling. Aperture allows you to create Vaults, which are essentially a backup of your Library. It's a very nice, convenient tool built into Aperture so you don't have to worry about making separate backups of your Library and your Photos.

The thing you have to keep in mind is that updating your Vault is an overwrite. In other words, it just makes another current copy of your present Library. If you lost something in your Library and you overwrite your backup…well, then you can't recover whatever you lost.

That's where the word “generational” becomes so important. Every once in a while – about each quarter – I create a new Vault for Aperture and leave the previous one as an archive. This takes up more space, but it gives you a chance to go back to a snapshot in time.

Why not use Time Machine? Because it just doesn't keep that long of a history for a multi-terabyte system like mine. I can go back a couple of months, but then it has to start overwriting data prior to that time to keep up with the current snapshots.  That's OK, it does just what I want. Generational backups are my responsibility and I keep them on a different set of external drives.

The Monumental Loss

I watched NBC Nightly News last night and saw an interesting story about the Washington Monument. It's covered in scaffolding while they repair it from the Earthquake damage. Rather unsightly, at least until darkness falls. They decided to cover it with lights, which makes for a unique and interesting site. That got me to thinking about checking my own images of photos of the Washington Monument. My last trip was in February, 2012.

As you can tell by now, the photos weren't in my Library. Since the originals were from over a year and a half ago, they weren't in Time Machine, either. If I hadn't kept generations of my Aperture Vaults, I'd really be devastated. Those generations are the important key.

However, it's not enough to have a backup. You also need to test it once in a while to make sure you can restore the files inside. One thing I've learned from working with backup systems is that they can let you happily backup every hour into a corrupt database that can't be restored. If you haven't restored a file in recent memory, give your backup strategy a test. It's only a good backup if you can restore your files.

Backup Strategy

3 thoughts on “My Backup Strategy Just Saved My Ass”

  1. I agree William, Back up is one of the most important step of my workflow. Currently I have the HD of my MacPro that holds my Aperture library to back up into a Drobo every night (on site). I have an external HD (3TB) that I bring from work every month to update my vault (offsite).

    I am planning to start an online back-up method but have not decided which one to use yet (Blackblaze, CrashPlan, etc). An interesting solution is Everpix (although this is not a backup per se since it doesn’t upload the RAW but rather just the preview). Its a good way to guarantee that at least the “memory” is safe. Would work for me since I am not a professional photographer.

    I find interesting your approach of creating an archive of Vaults and I plan to use similar strategy. Specially with the decreasing cost of external HDs. The only problem I see with that is the fact that Vaults are locked files and you cannot open them, you have to import and not just open it with Aperture. Wouldn’t be easier to just copy the library as opposed to creating a Vault?



    1. The reason I like using a Vault is because it allows an incremental backup. In other words, it only has to write the changes since the last backup. If I copied the entire Library, I have to copy all the data it contains each time I make a copy. Vaults are faster.

      Of course, they only work for Managed photos. You’re on your own for backup if you use a Referenced approach.

  2. Meenakshi Chaudhary

    Great post, William. I’m with PicBackMan and we are laser focused on solving this exact problem of photo/video backup process that can work consistent, is effortless and most importantly ensures redundant backups. Please take a look at – would love your feedback.

Leave a Comment

You have to agree to the comment policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.