Best Way to Secure Your Collection

There’s no worse feeling than sitting down to edit some photos, plugging your external drive into your computer, and hearing a ticking sound like something out of Peter Pan.  That evil, evil ticking sound which means that the data reading arms in your drive have failed or are failing. 

Nothing appears in your file manager, and there seems to be no way to get to your drive. It’s gone, and it had all of your clients’ data for the last two years and all of your personal files as well.

That’s no good!

Today I’m going to go over some ways to avoid that situation, and the best ways to secure your photo (or general data) collection.



The 3-2-1 Rule

We’ll start off with the 3-2-1 rule for data storage. The rule basically says that you should have three copies of your data, in at least two different places, and one of them should be offsite.

In my opinion, the bare minimum should be two copies with one offsite. A fire, flood, or other natural disaster could destroy your property, including you storage devices. So it’s important to have another hard or cloud copy in a location that is not your home or office.

We’ll come back to this rule in a bit, but now let’s talk about your different storage options.


Physical Storage

Physical storage is going to count as any storage medium you can hold in your hands: external hard drives, internal hard drives, solid state drives, flash drives, etc. This includes the drives in your laptops!

Storage options come in a variety of different sizes, and drive capacity is growing every year. Small form factor drives (2.5inches)
come in capacities ranging from 1 Terabyte to 4 Terabytes There are also more rugged options available for the adventure photographers out there.

Larger 3.5 inch drives are going to give you massive capacity gains at the cost of form factor. One of my favorite drives is the 8 Terabyte Western Digital Easystore drive, and I’ll explain why later in this post. WD also offers a 10 Terabyte version of that drive.

If you really need to keep things compact, there are external solid state drives available in both 1 Terabyte and 2 Terabytes.

But we’ll want to follow the 3-2-1 rule, so if you want to use external drives, you need to pick up two of them, using one as a

It would become very tedious to copy files to both drives every time, but there’s a fix for that in our next storage solution!

RAID Storage

RAID, or Redundant Array of Independent Disks, is a method of data storage using multiple hard drives connected together via software. 

There are several different versions of raid storage, but for now we’ll focus on RAID 1. 

RAID 1 is direct mirroring of data. With two drives, this would mean that any data copied to the first drive would be identically copied to the second drive. This gives you an automatic, software-managed backup. 

There are several ways to accomplish RAID 1 storage. The simplest way, for those who don’t want to get too technical, would be something like this. The WD 12 TBMy Book can be changed from RAID 0 to RAID 1, giving you 6 TB of mirrored storage. 

If a drive in the My Book fails, the other drive will continue to work and maintain all of the data that would have been lost from the first drive. 

Another solution is something like the Synology DS218+.  The DS218+ does not come with drives, but you can put in two (of the same) drives of any capacity and use the built-in software to configure them in RAID 1. The advantage here comes from the ease of switching drives in and out. If one of the RAID 1 drives fails, it can be pulled out and replaced with another drive of the same capacity and the data from the surviving drive will be copied over. 

Most Synology cases can be used as Network Attached Storage, or NAS’s.. This means that while you can plug the synology directly to your computer via USB, you can also connect it to your home network and access the files externally and on any computer on the same network. This is especially useful when doing remote work, so that you can back up your photos or videos while still on the road. 

Synology also sells storage solutions with more drive bays, including the DS1819+, which allows you to insert eight hard drives. Eight hard drives get expensive though, with 8Tb Barracuda drives coming in at $185. Using the DS1819+ that puts your total at ~$2500 with eight full drive bays. 

That’s where my favorite drives come in handy – the 8Tb Western Digital – with a process called “drive shucking.”

Drive Shucking

While the 8TB WD drive comes in an external case and is accessed via USB, inside is just a regular internal hard drive. The price of the WD at the time of writing is $140. This is the sale price, the MSRP is $180, similar to the Barracuda drives. But looking at the sales history via CamelCamelCamel, we’ll see that the drive is almost always on sale! And some other retailers like BestBuy have had the drive for $129. 

Buying the drives on sale will save you several hundred dollars on your total cost, and the only work that has to be done is to remove the drive from the enclosure. 

While that may seem complicated, this particular drive is so popular for shucking that there are countless video and text guides for removing the drive. After practicing with one drive, doing another only takes about five minutes, and in doing so you save ~$40!


One other type of storage I want to talk about is UnRAID. UnRAID is standalone RAID software. It is not free, but the license costs are more than fair for what you get. 

UnRAID runs as an independent operating system off of a USB drive. This means that instead of buying a Synology unit, you can put together a Network Attached Storage unit using individual parts, load up your hard drives and plug in your UnRAID USB.

I’ll be doing a separate write-up to document building an UnRAIDsystem using cost efficient parts. 

Cloud Storage

Now I want to run through data backup solutions in the cloud. Cloud storage is the same as regular storage, it just lives on remote servers provided by the cloud storage company. This provides an affordable option to have your data backed up offsite, fulfilling part of the 3-2-1 rule. 

There are two different types of cloud storage we’ll want to look at: backup storage and active cloud storage. 

Backup storage is a cloud backup that cannot be browsed online, meaning the only purpose is to have a remote copy of your storage. 

An example of backup storage is BackBlaze. For $60 a year, Backblaze provides backups for an unlimited amount of data. Installing the software is simple, and the interface is very user-friendly. 

Here you can see that I have almost 4TB backed-up to BackBlaze. In case of a data loss, I can replace my drives and use BackBlaze’s software to restore all of my files.

The other type of cloud storage is active storage. Google provides active cloud storage in the form of Google Drive. Using GSuite for businesses, we can upload unlimited* files and they can be viewed and downloaded individually. This is ideal for remote editing and uploading, so we can backup data on the go. 

*Google says that unlimited storage is available only to businesses with five or more users, but many customers have found that they can use unlimited storage with only one user. 

Putting it All Together

So now that we’ve looked at several different ways to secure our data, let’s run through a use-case that complies with the 3-2-1 data storage rules. 

Local Storage: 

Our local storage is going to be the DS1819+ in RAID 1 using the Western Digital 8Tb Easystore drives removed from their enclosures. This provides us with 32TB of usable storage with an identical 32TB backup. 

Remote Storage: 

Our remote storage is going to be the exact same setup but at a remote location, such as with  friend or family member, or at a work office. When properly connected to the remote network, we can copy the data from our local storage to our remote storage for a safe backup. 

Cloud Storage:

Finally we’ll use BackBlaze to provide another remote backup for redundancy. This will take some time to fully back up our data if the collection is large, but it is fully worth the peace of mind to have another secure backup in case of emergency. 

Final Thoughts:

A severe data loss can be catastrophic. Besides the potential to lose all of your personal documents, you could also lose hundreds or thousands of dollars of your customers’ work. Investing the money now in a comprehensive data backup solution could save you heartache and business in the future. 

“You don’t own any data that is not backed up, you are simply renting it from fate.” 

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