(Not Quite) Foolproof Backup

April 10, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

I had a scary near-data-loss experience yesterday. I use an external SSD drive as my disk storage for recent photos and videos, and the USB connector came right out of the drive! But I have a good backup strategy, so I opened up the folder on my primary photo library drive and found that none of my files from 2019 had been backed up-my trip to L.A., family photos from New Year's and Spring Break, my daughter playing her violin at the school talent show, and lots more-32 GB to be exact. I didn't panic because most of those files were still on the SD cards in my cameras, but it was going to take a lot of work to re-import and organize all of those files.

The first thing I did was copy everything off the SD cards to get the files into the photo storage library, then I manually ran backup to get all of those files copied onto my two backup drives. Then I looked online and discovered that failure of the micro-USB connector is a common problem on this particular series of Sandisk portable SSD drives and that the actual SSD can be removed from the enclosure to retrieve the data. I was able to rig up a connection to the SSD using an old desktop computer (see the photo below) and retrieve all of the files, and even though my drive was one month out of warranty, Sandisk (with some coaxing) has offered to replace my faulty drive with a newer version. I am grateful for the replacement, but really Sandisk should have notified their customers about this issue. I've been having connection problems with that drive for the past 2 years, but never realized the problem was with the drive.

My (Not Quite) Foolproof Backup Strategy

Although I didn't lose any data this time, I have unfortunately experienced a catastrophic data loss previously, so I have attempted to put in place a process to prevent that from happening ever again. Recent experience indicates my plan is not foolproof, but it still works well for me. If you are trying to figure out how to protect your data, maybe my plan will be helpful, or maybe you can tell me how to improve it.

In theory, my data is on 3 to 4 hard drives and uploaded to Backblaze at all times. Because I have limited space on my computer's internal SSD, I use a portable 500 GB SSD (the one that failed) for new and recent photos (last ~2 years) and a second 2 TB external HDD as primary storage for my entire photo library. The SSD for recent files is labeled "PHOTOS" and the HDD is labeled "PRIMARY". All of the data on PHOTOS, along with my Lightroom catalog (stored on the computer's internal SSD) are copied daily to PRIMARY using a scheduled backup.

PRIMARY is copied daily to another external 4 TB HDD called BACKUP_A which is both mirrored daily to yet another 6 TB external HDD (BACKUP_B) and continuously backed up to Backblaze (along with the internal SSD of my laptop). Both of the external backup drives are hidden inside my desk so are unlikely to be stolen if my office is ever broken into.

I take the PHOTOS drive and sometimes the PRIMARY drive with me when I travel depending on the trip. I like having full access to my entire photo library and being able to make a single backup of imported files while I am traveling. I also keep the files on my SD cards for a while, and I always check to make sure those files have made it on to the BACKUP_B drive before I reformat an SD card.

The problem I ran into is that my backup program did not automatically pick up the 2019 folder on the PHOTOS drive, so none of those files were copied anywhere else. I have decided to add that drive to my Backblaze drive list just in case this ever happens again.

For local backups, I use Syncback Free for Windows. I have been using this software for several years. I did not have it configured properly, so it was my mistake that caused my recent files to not get backed up.

For cloud backup, I am using Backblaze. Backblaze offers unlimited storage for $60 a year. I've had very fast upload speeds for backing up data, and I've had a good experience downloading files that I accidentally deleted off my laptop a couple of times. I started using Backblaze instead of buying a third external drive to keep offsite. The cost of a drive pays for about 2 years of Backblaze service, and Backblaze continuously backs up my data whereas I would update an offsite backup every 2 to 3 months at best.

Update (4/24/2019)

I received my replacement portable SSD from Sandisk today, exactly 2 weeks after filing the warranty claim. To their credit, they did honor the warranty even though my drive was out of warranty by one month when I made the claim. I think the replacement process is far too cumbersome for the customer and definitely too slow. They sent me the newer version (Extreme 510 Portable SSD) of the drive I had, but judging by the Amazon reviews, I'm not sure the problem with the USB connector has been fixed. We'll see if I can get another 3 years from this drive.


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