Gather ‘round children, and hear a cautionary tale from Uncle Michael. Remember, it’s not a matter of IF you’re hard drive will fail, but WHEN…
On January 22, 2019, my working hard drive failed. This drive had all my photos, graphic design projects, client master files, and archives. Basically, the last 10+ years of work were gone. So, why wasn’t I worried? I wasn’t worried because I had a backup copy of that data. I began copying the data from the backup drive to create another backup, when disaster struck, and my backup drive failed on January 24, 2019.
Let’s jump back a bit and discuss my backup strategy before January 22, 2019, and why I no longer use it.
My computer is a late 2013 (almost 6-years-old!) 15” MacBook Pro with a 512Mb internal solid state hard drive. I knew when I got this computer that I would need an external drive for working files, as apps and the system files would take up a good chunk of the internal drive. I decided on a portable, bus-powered hard drive that could easily be taken on location, if needed. My first drive was a G-Tech 750Mb FireWire (remember that???) drive in a stylish metal case. My backup plan was to manually copy (via drag and drop) these files to a larger desktop hard drive of higher capacity. The other part of my backup plan was to replace the portable drive every year to year and a half as drive capacities increased and to hopefully replace the drive before failure.
This plan worked well until it didn’t on until January 22, 2019. Full disclosure: I carried these portable hard drives almost daily in my camera bag. So, they did get some extra stress from moving around from place to place. With the last portable hard drive, I did carry it inside a padded, hard side case inside the camera bag for extra protection.
Here’s why my backup plan failed: First, it wasn’t automated. The drag and drop copy of files happened most of the time, but not ALL the time or right away. Second, I only had one backup of working files, which is at least one too few.
Back to January 24, 2019, the day my backup drive failed. I researched data recovery services and made some calls regarding process, timing, and price. I found a service (DataTech Labs) in Bellevue. I thought they would have facilities in Bellevue, but it was a shipping drop off location for their Denver lab. So, the working drive (Seagate 5TB) was on its way to Denver, along with a Western Digital 8Tb desktop drive for data recovery.
I was not familiar with how the data recovery process works, and I’m guessing DataTech is fairly similar to how other data recovery industry folks work. Their process had no cost up front. They would diagnose the drive and let me know fees from there. I could decide to proceed or not. After a few days, I got the call. The drive had mechanical failures of pretty much the worst kind. Cost for next step - to attempt to mechanically repair the drive, was $350 in parts. If data was recoverable, whether this was one file or all of them, the recovery fee would be $3,500. I would receive a list of all recovered files and could decide then to pay recovery fee or not.
After I recovered from sticker shock, I had an idea: the backup hard drive (Seagate 4TB) that failed didn’t seem as badly failed. By that, I mean it didn’t make scary clicking sounds and the computer could almost access it. I was hoping that the damage to this drive was restricted to directory damage or something not physical. So, I sent the backup drive to Denver. Unfortunately, it too, had some physical damage, but as it was a smaller capacity drive, the fees would be less. Parts were $275 and data recovery would be $2,400. Look at me, saving money! Haha…
I gave the go-ahead to order parts, and then waited. And waited. Once the parts arrived (about two weeks) and repairs were made, I was sent a list of recoverable files. And there they were - just about all of the files from the past 10+ years. Ahhhhhh… I decided to pay the $2,400 recovery fee, as the files were literally priceless to me.
Needless to say, I have a new backup plan. All data will now live in at least 4 places. Here’s the specifics:
Backup is now automated by Carbon Copy Cloner software. It’s only $40. Why, oh why, didn’t I do this sooner?
Computer files get backed up daily at 6:00am to Backup 2 (Western Digital 8TB Desktop Drive)
Working Drive (Western Digital 4TB Portable) gets backed up daily at 6:30am to Backup 2
Backup 2 gets backed up daily at 7:00am to Backup 1 (Western Digital 8TB Desktop Drive)
Computer files and Working Drive are backed up to cloud via Backblaze. This service is $60/year for unlimited storage. The only downside is that my Comcast upload speeds are very, very slow, and at the current rate will take about 144 more days to backup the 1.7TB of remaining data.
Photos also get another layer of backup in having a second copy of the photos made in camera to the second memory card.
I will continue to replace all critical data drives about once a year. They’re relatively inexpensive - at least compared to data recovery fees. Also, I will not be carrying the portable hard drive in my camera bag every day. Now, it will only go on the road when needed.
I’m looking forward to when solid state drives (non-moving parts) will be come more affordable. Currently, a 2TB solid-state drive costs about $350, while a mechanical disk drive of the same capacity costs about $65. My current photo library is about 2TB in size, so I need these SSD drives to get to about 4TB of capacity before making the move.
Following is a list of the drives and software I am currently using in my backup plan:
MackBook Pro (15” late 2013) - system software, applications, iTunes media
Working Drive (Marvin 2) - Western Digital Easystore 4TB USB 3 bus-powered portable drive - $110
Backup 1 - Western Digital MyBook 8TB USB 3 desktop drive - $210 (I got mine on sale for $170)
Backup 2 - Western Digital MyBook 8TB USB 3 desktop drive - $210 (I got mine on sale for $170)
Carbon Copy Cloner - Automated backup software for local copy of hard drives - $40
Backblaze - online (cloud) storage and backup - $60/year
I hope this cautionary tale has been helpful. If you have questions, please let me know. Remember, always practice safe computing and have at least three backups of all your data.