Backup Strategies

by Wren McMains

(This is one of many pages of tips on Organizing Your Images.)

Previously we talked about backing up your RAW images as soon as possible. Here we're talk about strategies for backing up all your data and even a about backing up your system and programs.

If you only have one computer with one hard drive, the choice may not be that difficult. You could just do a Complete System Backup, much more frequently. But, since they take awhile (especially when you use high compression), I still recommend a combination of complete backups SyncToy backups (see below) of your personal data.

However, as we get more serious about digital imaging, most of us have slowly found themselves with more computer hardware (and software). Many of you probably have a desktop workstation, a laptop computer, and your spouse may have another computer. Some have yet another computer they use as backup computer, for when their primary computer fails. Many others who have gotten burned by computer viruses, have one or two computers which they never attach to the internet and just use for digital imaging. Each of these environments has its own challenges when it comes to backup.

In a more complex environment, I try to simplify things by thinking about the backup of the computer operating system and all the programs differently from the backup of all my personal data.

In fact for many years, I had given up backing up my systems at all, I only backed up personal data. (Probably not recommended, see why in Complete System Backup and what I recommend now.)

The most important thing on your computer is all your personal data. Your documents, your images, your eMail and any other personal information you have on your computer. It's important that you know exactly where all this is stored, both to backup it up, but also to make it easy to move it to a new computer or to keep synchronized copies of some of it on your laptop or another computer. Other things that are harder to keep track of, but are a source of flustration when you don't have them, are your personal settings in various programs. For example, bookmarks in your browser; address books in your eMail program; customized templates, toolbars, or shortcuts you've defined in various programs; etc., etc.

A complete system backup is often going to be almost useless if you computer fails and you need to get a new one (which is often the wisest choice). Therefore, learn how to make a seperate backup all your personal data. Then should the need to change computers arise, you're almost home free.

Start with the most important and with the largest amounts of data first. (Like most other places, the 80-20 rule applies here too.)

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Since this is, we'll start with images. A few years ago, I was only careful to keep backup copies of my originals; my thinking was that with those I could re-create anything else that I lost and really wanted back. Now the cost of hard-drives is low enough that it makes sense keep backups of my PSD files and any variations on an image. For a $100 or so, it's not worth my time to recreate them.

For purposes of backup my images seem to fit into three categories, and I've reorganized my folder structures to allow for easy backup of each using SyncToy:

  1. Images that Need NO Backup: I'll often create folders for some temporary purpose which contain copies of images in other folders. These are the images I don't need to backup at all; if I loose the drive they're on I don't care, I can quickly recreate them if the need should ever arise. I often create these folders near their friends, but when I run a SyncToy Preview and see they're about to be copied to another drive it's time to delete them, or move them to a "BackupNever" tree. (I keep a "BackupNever" tree on every drive, so it's a quick move, not a copy across drives.)
  2. Images I keep on THREE or more machines: These are Review (Low) Quality images, not used for printing. I keep them in their own tree, which can be Synchornized across machines. The structure in this tree matches that of my Subject Folders. (On my machines I've named this tree _Albums. For reasons that probably won't apply to you, I will often try to avoid high-level folder names that start with the same letter; if you think some of my folder names are weird that may explain it. On the other hand, it may just be that I'm weird.)
  3. Everything Else: Each of these trees needs a corresponding backup tree on some another drive. At the moment I have enough space on internal drives that these are all network drives on other systems. In your case these may be external drives.

Now let's consider all the other personal data on your machine.

My recommendation is to be sure each of the following are in their own seperate tree (or trees) because over time you'll find you want to backup each differently:

  1. Documents:  Text Documents, Spreadsheets, Financial Data, etc. Even all together these represent a fairly small amount of data. By default, in Vista, this tree named C:\Users\<UserName>\Documents and should be included every time you backup. Prior to Vista, Microsoft called this "My Documents" and hid it in various places. The problem was that they also put all kinds of stuff (like Videos, Music, Pictures, etc.) under this tree and you might want to use different strategies for each. At least with Vista they were smart enough to finally create seperate folders for each, a the same level, in your "UserName" Folder.
  2. Music:  A couple years ago I finally realized the Windows Media Player was GREAT program, not just something that pops up when you have a sound clip or video to play. Now I recommend people take their entire Music library and RIP it to their computer. The size of this tree obviously depends on how much Music you have stored on your computer, but it's not so much you can't back it up. For estimating purposes, assume ever 100 CDs you RIP will require roughly 6GB.
  3. Videos:  These can be more of a problem if you get into serious video editing. They can be HUGE (and take up much of a hard drive). I don't have much experience in this area, so don't have any particular recommendations.
  4. Program Data:  Each program seems to have it's own idea of where it should put it's data files. For each program whose data is important to you, track down where it puts (hides) it data. Many programs let you provide ways to change where they keep their data. For years I've created folders under a top-level "Data" folder where I keep this kind of program data. It makes it easy to backup and/or synchronize with another computer. Vista has now created its own top-level folder called "ProgramData" where some programs are now putting their data. (You might also want to consider backing up this folder.)

Once you've determined which Folder Trees to backup, setup pairs for each using SyncToy. I continue to be amazed by SyncToy! It took under 12 minutes to examine 500,000 files and find the 700+ that needed to be updated, see the "All Pairs" example on the SyncToy page.

Check back, when I get a chance I'll try to add to the list above and include links to pages showing how to find and copy special files (toolbars, bookmarks, shortcuts, address books, etc.)

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