I Lost All My Images!

Imaging by Santosh D Kamble

Imaging by Santosh D Kamble

Neha Mutreja familiarises you with commonly available devices that you can use to back up your precious photographs and data, and their failings as well.

Just imagine this—one fine morning you turn your computer on, but nothing happens. You try turning it on again. All you get is a boot-up message on your monitor says that your hard drive has completely and irrecoverably failed.All of a sudden, you realise that all the photography you have done over the last one year has been completely wiped out because you did not back up your data. Could there be a bigger nightmare for a photographer?

New Technology, New Threats
In the age of film, the options were limited. Photographers preserved film by keeping them in moisture-free, fireproof safes. With the coming of digital technology, the advantage is that you can now quickly and easily make copies of data that are as good as the original.But there are also new dimensions to the challenge. Fire and water are just a part of the problem. As easily as you can make copies of your data, it can also be erased. Viruses and undependable storage media are other threats.

So What Is The Answer?
The only way to safeguard your data completely is to have several back-ups in at least two different types of storage media, secured against virus attacks, stored in different, safe locations, and checked periodically for signs of physical deterioration or impending failure. At the very least, you should have two back-ups of your important data on two separate devices, apart from the one in your computer’s hard drive, to be secure.Here is a list of storage devices along with their pros and cons to let you decide which device is best for you.

Solid State Drives or SSD
SSD is a plug-and-play drive that retains data in non-volatile memory chips. It is similar to the media cards used in digital cameras. This device has a far greater stability over its counterparts because there are no moving parts, unlike a conventional hard disk drive (HDD). So there are no chances of mechanical failure and it is less susceptible to damages through shocks, heat and temperature. It  also uses less power and are much faster than HDDs.

SSDs might offer better data security over traditional drives, but these are currently very expensive. They are prone to failures from electrical surges. SSDs also do not erase data completely unless it is overwritten. The maximum capacity available today is 512GB.

Hard Disk Drives
These are the most popular storage drives today. They are available as internal drives to be fitted into your computer, or as external drives within a protective casing.

Internal HDDs are generally faster to copy data on than external ones. As the drive is within the computer, it is less prone to shocks. But, it is also almost constantly powered on within a computer and wears out more quickly than external drives, which can be switched off or disconnected.

It consumes lots of power, produces noise, vibration and heat, because it has motors within it. Internal drives are also more vulnerable to virus attacks as your PC is constantly connected to internet and requires constant antivirus checks. Internal HDDs are less prone to electricity damages as opposed to external HDDs. They can also store large volumes of data as they are available in maximum capacities of 3 terabytes or 3000MB.

Powered external HDDs are available in even higher capacities if required. It generates large amounts of heat and requires a power adaptor to run. Though they are outside the computer, they are not conveniently portable, but they can be moved around.

Portable external HDDs are much smaller in size, lighter, and easy to carry around. They draw power directly from the computer when it is connected and does not require an external power source. These drives are available in the capacities of 500GB and 1TB. These drives are smaller than regular HDDs and draw less power and produce less heat. But they offer slower speeds. As with all HDDs, they are susceptible to damage if dropped  accidentally.

HDDs can operate without trouble for years. However, they can also fail quickly and often without warning. So it is best to maintain at least two back-ups on two different  HDDs.

An acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, RAID is a combination of multiple HDDs stacked together in one large, high performance logical disk by using special software and hardware. Data  is broken up and recorded simultaneously onto multiple drives in such a manner that a failure of one or more drives does not result in a loss of data.

Large RAID arrays are usually used for severs of companies to back-up sensitive data. A version of RAID can also be used with home PCs. This is a good method of storage for photographers who need continuous access to the images stored on them and find other back-up devices too time-consuming to be practical.

DVDs or Digital Versatile Disks
DVDs are used for storing data in much small volumes up to 4.7GB. They are light, easily transportable and can cost as low as Rs. 10. DVDs are prone to oxidation and they need to be re-copied onto new DVDs every year, to avoid loss of data. If stored and handled incorrectly, all types of DVDs will prove unreliable as a medium for back-up. They need to be stored in jewel cases and care should be taken to prevent scratches.

Gold plated archival DVDs are more reliable. They have a lifespan of upto 100 years under ideal storage conditions. However, it remains to be seen if the technology to read and write DVDs will still be available a few decade later. For  larger amounts of data, one can also use Blue-Ray DVDs which comes in capacities of 25GB to 50GB, but these are significantly more expensive at Rs. 800.

Pen drives
Just like digital camera memory cards and SSDs, pen drives employ solid state memory and have the same advantages and disadvantages as well. They are very small, extremely light and yet very sturdy, with capacities upto 64GB and 120GB, making it an ideal device to transport data. While  higher capacity pen drives cost a lot, the more popular lower capacity versions are relatively inexpensive.

Unfortunately, pen drives are also the largest carriers of viruses because its convenience allows it to be used easily on different computers. So before you save important data in pen drives, ensure that the device is virus-free and use it only on computers that are trustworthy.

Do not Abuse the Device
Always ensure that you close down any software or windows using or showing files from your back-up device. Then use the ‘safely remove hardware’ icon to eject the device, before physically disconnecting it. While using DVDs ensure, you are closing the session. Scan pen drives before using them, and use them only on virus-free PCs.It is the physical nature of all things, including human bodies, to deteriorate over time.

Essentials of Data Back-up
Immediately after a shoot, back-up your data on a DVD or a Hard Drive as there are chances of you deleting the data accidentally.

1. Have dedicated drives or devices that are used solely for back-ups.

2. It is unwise to rely on one back-up device. Always make it a point to back-up your data onto a second drive. If one fails, the other one will come handy.

3. Maintain another back-up onto a drive that you keep outside your home, in the event of a natural disaster.

4. Keep updating file formats of your back-up so they do not become obsolete.

5. Ensure you manage your data in proper manner so that you can retrieve it quickly, whenever required

Tags: Neha Mutreja, January 2011, Hard Drives, Raids, HDD, SSD, Solid State Drives, DVDs, PenDrives, Back up Photographs