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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

DPP Solutions: Setting Up Redundant Storage

A look at the extensive possibilities of external hard drives as a digital photo archive

This Article Features Photo Zoom

RedundantThe ideal goal of any image management is simple: keeping finished images at arm's length without them being in the way. The solution is a little more complex, however. There are a variety of ways to achieve this goal, but at the core, methods for image archival should offer a strategy that you're comfortable with, doesn't consume a lot of time or processing power, and makes you confident that the images you've saved will remain safely stored and accessible from start to finish.

External hard drives offer these methods in a casing the size of a novel. Advents in external hard drive manufacture offer bigger capacities with longer shelf lives, too, and with street prices for external drives hitting under $200 for one TB of capacity, it's hard to argue against the strength of external drives as an archival medium.

Mike Mihalik of hard drive manufacturer LaCie explains. “We've migrated to disk drive systems and individual drives being the primary vehicle for not only the work we do every day, but also for archiving,” he says. “Just as photographers take good care of their negatives, if you take good care of your disk drive, especially if you're using it as an archive medium, and you have multiple copies, your chances of a data loss are pretty slim. It's when you have only one copy of your important information that you risk having a problem because you have nothing else to go to if something should go wrong.”


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The biggest advantage that external hard drives have over other archival solutions is convenience. Internal drives always will be the most cost-effective solution, but with many externals now including 3 Gbps data transfer through standard eSATA connections, the bottlenecking that historically was associated with external hard drives has dissipated. The ease of plug-and-play also gives photographers a lot of flexibility when it comes to coworkers, customers and clients viewing and sharing large amounts of files across multiple workstations. Keeping your large archive of photos mobile also stops your primary computer's resources from being consumed by others who need to access those files. Most importantly, from a portability point of view, if there's a fire in the building, you have your entire file system safely in your hands.

Most externals offer a two- to five-year minimum warranty, which is based on full operational cycling, so unused they generally will last longer than that life span. Drives are a mechanical device, though, and they eventually will fail. However, drives also offer the ability to duplicate themselves automatically across one or more drives, diminishing the risk of catastrophic loss.

Operating systems can split attached hard drives into a redundant array of independent drive structures (RAID). Many drives come bundled with software that will perform this function, as well. RAID on a single drive can be done through partitioning, though most everyone recommends using at least a dual-drive system. NewerTech's Guardian MAXimus FireWire 800/400+USB 2.0, for instance, includes the capability for live activity data redundancy through RAID 1 mirroring on paired SATA drives with up to 1 TB of capacity each.

“There are two basic types of RAID—RAID 0 and RAID 1,” says Chris Haeffner of OWC. “RAID 0 is commonly called striping. As the data comes in to the dual-drive units, it alternates itself really quickly on the two drives, so you have little chunks of data on both drives. That's done for speed, because while one drive is working on something, the other one is picking up on the next task. The downside there, though, is that if one drive happens to fail or goes bad, all your data is gone, which is where RAID 1 comes into play—which is mirroring. It's two drives that mirror each other, so as the data comes in, it automatically copies to both drives at the same time. If one goes down, you're still up and running off the other drive.”

Simplified backup processes are another advantage of external drives. Maxtor's OneTouch III Turbo Edition offers RAID 0 and RAID 1 organization across two 3.5-inch ATA drives, or you can use Maxtor's OneTouch backup for push-of-a-button redundancy, with an option for scheduling automatic backups.

“With our drives,” says Jon van Bronkhorst of Maxtor/Seagate, “on Macs and PCs, you can burn a backup app that will do a scheduled automated backup for you at whatever time you ask it to be run. Then it will do it on a scheduled basis, so every night at midnight when you're not working, it will continue to replicate your content, continue to update the backup files for anything that has changed, and everything will move forward nicely. If you ever do have a failure on your primary drive, you have an up-to-date backup.”

Windows and Macs also have their own automatic backup solutions. At this point, the only necessary evil is proper notation through metadata. From a management standpoint, an image library that builds over the years easily can include thousands of images, so the most important aspect when it comes to long-term archival storage is the ability to easily locate it later by including keywords, dates, locations, subjects and anything else personal that you may use to find a file. Image-management software like Apple's Aperture and Adobe's Lightroom can perform these tasks manually or through customized automation, and even can reference archived images that are stored on unattached hard drives.


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