Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Image that No Digital Photogapher should be without!

Creating an "Drive Image" or a "Clone" as they are often refered to it is a great way to build yourself a system of safety nets. This is esentially an exact copy of your hard drive on a system as well as file level. (software, drivers, Operating system et...)that in some cases, based on the software that was used to create the image, is bootable. Meaning that you can just install the hard drive and start your computer right up again and have EVERYTHING. E-mail desktop settings....EVERYTHING.

After a little research I had gone with Apricorn's EZ Gig. One thing I liked about the program is that you could also use the drive images as a file back-up as well. Instead of just a full system restore, you can also restore just selected file(s).

Up until about a year ago I had never needed this for worst case scenario. Well, due to a couple of misunderstandings when I first spec'd out my workstation with Dell I came head to head with one of those worst case scenarios. You can read about our little adventure here...

(above: me sinking my teeth into a 10,000 RPM Raptor Hard Drive)

At any rate, I can say now that I have had first hand experience with this over the course of about two weeks.

As emotionally draining and completely disastrous as it was, This was a ray of hope in what would have been a completely dark time.

Long story short, I was able to install a new array of hard drives, restore the Drive Image to the Array, and with a little help from my tech get right back up and running again.

Along with EZ Gig we also have other systems in place to help create several safety nets to keep us up and running;

-First line of defense is our Sanho Hpeydrive UDMA (read more here). This portable hard drive speed demon is where all are cards go as soon as they leave the camera. Ranging in size, we have a 250 Gb version. Once it is close to full I knock off the oldest 70 Gbs or so. This gives our or most recent RAW files immediate on-site back up as well as gives us a single point upload from the three camera bodies that we run. By the time we get back to the home office it is now a one connection upload. No card shuffling at 1 AM after a wedding. Instead we get a first look at the wedding before we hit the hay.

-Using Vice Versa Software and the Black X (read more here) we sync the data on our Drobo (containing completed client work, all our documents ect…) with hard drives that I store offsite.

-Using Vice Versa Software and the Black X (read more here) we sync vital files from my work station to the Drobo nightly (Outlook files, current projects…)

So you can see here that we have several safety nets in place that keep us covered from a variety of scenarios. We let our customers know what we do as well. I think it adds value to be able to show that the lengths at which we go through to ensure that the memories we have captured for them our safe. Not to mention your own work and family photos!

Vice Versa and Black X....Wonder Twin Powers, ACTIVATE!

So what the hell am I babbling about?

Vice Versa is a software that allows you to synchronize your files (among other things) between two different drives (source and target) via multiple levels of comparisons. (PC only at this point, but I am sure Macs must have something like this.) It has a lot of other features and capabilities, but I want to keep it clean here so I can show you how we utilize it and how I think it can best be used from a photographer's standpoint.

This is where the Black X (by Thermaltake) comes in. Essentially it is a hard drive docking station for internal hard drives(yes, PC and Mac compatible)that allows you to turn just about any 2.5" or 3.5" internal SATA hard drive (up to 2Tbs) into a plug and play USB Thumb drive! This makes buying Data storage nice and cheap! There are a couple of diffent models including this one (left) that has added USB ports. Currently we just have the standard version.

Gail and I combine the abilities of these two great products together into a great back-up plan for protecting all our files and clients' images!

Here is how we do it...
So on my main workstation I have the Black X set-up. Using Vice Versa, I have it compare all the data on our Drobo (the "source" in Vice Versa terms) to a regular 3.5" internal hard drive (pre-formated, see below side notes) that is docked into the Black X (the "target"). In doing so, Vice Versa will then go through all the files and folders and compare and scan for any additions or file modifications/updates made since the last file syncronization. As far as deletions go, it will also give multiple options on how to handle them from completely deleting them to foldering them in a trash bin.

Another real cool feature of Vice Versa is that you can set limits on how much band width you want it to eat up during this process (so as not to render your computer usless during these times) as well as the speed in which it is doing it. This will eliminate errors created by lag time differences in read/write speeds.

Once you get these options set, you can use the scheduler to have this operation happen every night when you are sleeping.

Take it one step further-you can have two drives (keep one offsite) and rotate them every day, once a week, once a month etc--whatever is best for your business. This way you always have an up to date back-up and an offsite fail-safe in the event of total disaster.

And still go further-use the Black X and EZ Gig Software to protect yourself from a much more likely event--internal hard drive failure (UGH). (Which of course is only a pain in the neck and not a catastrophic event because you are storing your files on a Raided Drobo system...right?) Back to Black X... so, if you've created a drive image of the primary working station, that will have all your software loaded, settings, email, etc, then, in the event the system fails you install your complete system info as it was at the time the drive image was created) saving you hours of locating, reloading and updating programs to get you back in the action! So cool.

Some Side Notes:
The Black X is both USB 2.0 and eSATA capable. (I have not worked with the eSATA connections yet, but they claim 3Gbs per second which is like 6 or 7 times faster then USB 2.0.) Whenever you buy a new internal hard drive, you will have to format the new blank hard drive before you start using it. It's easy and once you do it once you will be all set. Read about it here. It can take a while so don't plan on using the drive right away. You're best off running this the night before you plan to put it into action.