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What’s Best for Data Backup: Onsite or Cloud Storage?

The “Perfect” Data Backup System

By David Anderson, Cr. Photog. CPP

Causes of Data Loss

As a professional photographer, I probably create more computer data from one photo session than a medium-size law firm will in a month. Image files take up a lot of drive space!  And if I  lose that data – or my bookkeeping software and other business data – I can’t produce my products and I won’t be able to account for my sales, expenses, taxes, or anything else.  I could be out of business in a heartbeat.  So, even though I have onsite backups, if my studio suffered a fire or a theft, it could all disappear in the blink of an eye.

The most common data losses happen when we have computer breakdowns, whether that be the computer itself, the hard drive, or a problem due to a virus or other cause. And the question isn’t whether or not your hard drive or computer will go down – it’s when will it go down? Nearly all of us have had this happen, and it’s never fun. However, no matter what type of problem we experience, there are steps we can take to make things easier on ourselves when it does happen. You can probably imagine now why I find data protection to be so important.  But, just what is the perfect data backup system … or as close to “perfect” as we can get?

What we do

Truth is, like most things in this world, there isn’t really a perfect system to prevent loss. Fortunately, though, we have lots of options to make a total loss nearly impossible. To me, the key ingredient for a good backup system is that it’s automatic.  And for me, the next most important ingredient is to have both onsite and offsite automatic backups. Here’s a brief rundown on what I do here at the studio, and also how I plan to make my system even better:

Onsite Backup

Drobo data backup

Drobo 4 Bay

  • My main computer has a 1TB (TB = 1,000,000 Megabytes) hard drive, and a second external drive with older files from a previous computer. The main drive automatically backs up in the background directly to a Drobo system that currently has 7TB of storage. And that can be expanded when needed by simply pulling out one of the current drives and replacing it with a larger one.

  • What is a “Drobo”, you might ask? In a nutshell, a Drobo system is a box that holds several hard drives to create massive file storage or backup. It uses technology called BeyondRAID, but you don’t need to know that, unless you’re really into that sort of thing. The beauty of it is that if any of the hard drives fail – as all hard drives do eventually – the remaining drives still have all of your data safe and sound. Simply pop out the bad drive and put a new one in and the Drobo takes care of the rest. (It really is that easy – I’ve done it.) My version of the Drobo holds 4 hard drives, which can be mixed brands and sizes. Drobo has several models for various needs and budgets, and I highly recommend them. If you want to investigate further, take a couple of minutes to click on the Drobo website.

Backblaze suitcase logo

Backblaze “Cloud” Storage

Offsite Backup

  • I researched several “cloud” type storage companies before settling on Backblaze (click the link and we’ll both get a free month if you sign up). The price was right, they have redundant safe storage, and their system is easy to use. With Backblaze, your main hard drive and any other drives connected to your computer are again automatically backed up, online over the Internet. You always have access to your files from any computer anywhere in the world (comes in very handy when you need a file and are away from your main computer).  Then. if something catastrophic should happen to your in-house computer or storage system, they will FedEx a hard drive that contains all of your data. That does cost a bit extra, but it could be well worth every penny to have all your files in less than 24 hours.  (Note: A“free” bonus is that Backblaze may also be able to help you track your computer if it’s ever stolen.)

  • Possibly the only “con” for online storage is that your initial backup can literally take weeks to upload, depending on how much data you have, and your Internet speed. After that, new or changed files update automatically and you will rarely notice. You should always have onsite backup first. Of course, online providers can go out of business too, but you can always go to a new one should that ever happen.


  • My current system is great for retrieving files and all my other data. If I have a loss, I could plug another computer into my Drobo or use the files from Backblaze and be back to work in minutes. However, all those programs I have loaded are not backed up, and those can take a long take to reload on a new system. And that’s if the original setup folders or disks are still available. For that reason, I also plan to add a “clone” drive soon that mirrors my main drive that contains the computer’s operating system. In the event of the failure of my main drive, this clone could then be hooked to any computer to run all my programs just like I run them now.

So, to sum it all up … there may not a perfect backup system, but with a little bit of effort, you can set up a system that’s reliable, quick, easy, and automatic.

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