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Backup, backup, BACKUP!!!

In the previous article we created a single centralised audio and project library that utilised a single disk for all its storage; however, with all your hard work sitting on one centralised disk we come to the biggest flaw in the system – what happens if this disk suddenly dies? No management system is complete without a reliable backup plan in place, so I cannot stress this enough – you must ensure that you have, at all times, at least one current and complete backup of ALL your work, although I would say it is much more sensible to have two or even three backups.

Cloning/Mirroring

So how do we backup our precious audio disk? One way is to simply copy (‘mirror’) this entire disk to another disk on a regular basis. You can do this manually, but I guarantee that after a few weeks of keeping on top of this you will eventually forget all about that backup disk – that is until your primary disk fails and you realise your most recent backup was made 7 months ago and is missing 80% of your current album project.

There exists many software cloning solutions that will automate cloning of an entire hard drive. I use SuperDuper on my Mac, this lets me schedule regular ‘clones’ of my nominated drives to a specified backup disk. You can schedule these backups as often as you wish – Superduper includes a ‘smart’ backup, which only copies over changed files, thus ensuring speedy ongoing backups. There’s plenty of similar apps out there for other computer OS, so pop over to Google to see what's available.

If you are just cloning your audio disk, then the backup disk must be at least the same size as your audio library disk. It doesn’t need to be a super fast disk, 5400 RPM will be fine, and you can even get away with USB 2 for this as it will sit there in the background just backing up automatically at its own pace. I advise you clone your audio drive daily, so set your sceduler to run just after you normally finish work so that each backup represents all the new stuff you did that day. While you are at it, consider cloning your system's boot drive daily as well!

Incremental Backups

A clone disk is a daily snapshot of your audio disk, and is completely overwritten with the new data each time a clone is performed – this means that if your primary disk fails you’ll have an entire copy of that disk available, which should only be at most, 24 hours old.

So what happens if realise that you’ve messed up a project and need to retrieve a version of that project from 3 weeks ago? In this situation, cloning won’t suffice as that data was written over, so let’s look at a backup option that you should run in unison with your daily clone.

Mac OS comes with its very own automated backup system called Time Machine. Time Machine will backup any disk automatically every hour to any external or internal disk of your choosing, or it can back up wirelessly to a Time Capsule.  One key difference to cloning is that Time Machine does not overwrite your older backups, it retains them and thus keeps a fully retrievable history of your work, so if you update a project and realise you’ve messed it all up, Time Machine will let you go back in time and revert to that older preferred version.

A Time Machine drive could be a standard USB desktop drive, but I'd suggest you purchase the biggest one you can afford as this will allow you to store many months of changed files, plus you'll be able to use it to store other data as well, especially your boot drive, so it's perfect for disaster recovery.

(BTW, Windows 8 has a similar functionality in its ‘File History’ application).

So with this combination of daily clone and hourly incremental archived backup, at any given moment in time you’ll always have

  1. Your primary disk containing your entire audio library
  2. A second disk containing a daily 'cloned' snapshot of your entire audio library
  3. A third disk containing an hourly snap shot of your audio library in addition to many months of archived versions of your changed files.

So, should your primary disk fail, you can instantly switch over to your latest clone drive (while simultaneously ordering a new disk on next day delivery to replace the failed one!) - and if your clone is missing some data that was added since the last clone date, you should be able to retrive it from your hourly Time Machine backup.

That’s a very robust system and will cover you for most common eventualities. However there are ways to improve this…

Off Site Backups

So far all your backups are stored in the same location. What happens if your house burns down? Or if thieves steal your computer and drives?

To ensure you have at least one archive of your work stored elsewhere, you could clone your audio library to another hard disk and store this disk at a friend’s or relative’s house, updating the contents on a regular basis. This will never be particularly up to date, and don’t be surprised if you forget to maintain this, but if the worse happens, at least you’ll have some of your older work saved.

A more robust off-site option is to use Cloud backup services – solutions like Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive etc all come with software that will perform live, real-time backups of a specified location on your computer network, which you could set to be your entire audio drive – (many services also include archives of changed files). Pricing on these services has dropped dramatically, with most currently offering 1TB of storage for only a few dollars per month. 

If cost is prohibitive, most of these services offer free storage (up to 15GB), so you could backup just your most ‘active’ folder (e.g. a folder containing all your current projects). Or split your folders across multiple free services.

One big advantage of these cloud storage services is that they tend to backup your files in real time, so each time you make a change to your sync folder, those changes are immediately backed up/synced online, ensuring you never lose anything that you are currently working on.

Disadvantages? Well you have to trust that these companies are secure as they say they are; if your Cloud provider gets hacked, how safe is your data? What happens if the company goes out of business? Is your data safe from corruption or loss?

Network Storage

Your backup chain could also utilise some form of Network Attached Storage (NAS). A NAS is effectively a specialised computer that contains one or more hard drives, typically set up in a RAID configuration where the first drive is mirrored in real time to the other drives in the RAID; if one fails there’s always an identical clone ready to take over. Unlike our previous hard drive solutions, network drives are not plugged into your computer, they are plugged into your network router via Ethernet cable and become available to any compatible device on your network (computers, phones, TVs etc). 

One advantage of NAS drives is the data remains available independently of your computer, so even if your computer is turned off you can access your work (assuming your router is still turned on). You can even access your files from anywhere in the world as the NAS can be set up to be your own private cloud server. You can of course store other data on a NAS as well (e.g. business data, photos, videos, music etc), so it’s quite a convenient system to have in place as you can stream your music and videos from it to your phone, TV etc.

It never hurts to be cautious!

A reliable backup plan is an essential but ultimately unexciting aspect of any self-respecting producer's workflow, whether you produce for a living or just do it for the joy of making music. You'll have to accept that the more robust the solution, the more expensive it will be, but if you've ever suffered data loss you'll know just how much it HURTS to permanently lose something you spent so much love and sweat creating. Sort out your backup plan today!

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