Lori Carey Photography

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Data Storage

I began shooting 100% digital in mid-2005, and 99% of that was RAW by the end of that year. As my Photoshop knowledge and skills improved over the next few years, so did the size of my saved layered files. So it really came as no surprise when I maxed out my 160 GB backup hard drive late last year.

As I was researching my options I realized I had been neglecting the importance of off-site storage. I had stopped making backup copies on CDs quite some time ago after running into problems with corrupted data on several CDs from a few years ago. I never used DVDs because I didn't trust their longevity either. Now Blu-Ray is about to become the next big thing but it was plagued with problems from the start. I just think that optical media technology has yet to be perfected...My thought was always that I could just take my external hard drive with me if I had to leave, but IRL I know that's not a foolproof answer. SmugMug stores my high-res jpegs, but I am more concerned with my original RAW files and layered psd's.

Two on-line backup companies quickly came to my attention; Amazon's S3 and Mozy. Everyone who uses S3 has nothing but the highest praise for it, especially when paired with JungleDisk, and at $0.15 per GB (plus $0.10 per GB for upload) the pricing is competitive compared to other similar services. But I was now up to 200GB of photos, which meant it would cost me $30 the first month, plus $20 for the upload. I seem to be accumulating approximately 10GB of image files per month lately, so my cost would increase $1.50 every month, plus another $1 for the upload. Still very affordable compared to similar services, but I could project how it could quickly get out of hand. I started thinking about how many external drives I could buy for the cost of S3. I think it's a great solution if you're a pro and can charge it as a business expense. For the amateur hobbiest who is a prolific shooter, I wasn't convinced it was the best way to spend my money.

I read several user reviews of Mozy and Carbonite and corresponded with one photographer who has a significant amount of data stored with Mozy while I was researching and Mozy seemed to be the clear winner. They have four levels of service; Mozy Free provides anyone who asks with 2GB of data storage, Mozy Home offers unlimited data storage for just $4.95 per month, Mozy Pro is $3.95 per desktop license plus $0.50 per GB for storage, and Mozy Enterprise is $6.95 per server license and $1.75 per GB of storage.

Obviously Mozy Home was the right choice for me. Paying for a year in advance would bring the cost down to $4.08 per month. After downloading the software and setting the parameters for the initial backup, incremental backups are automated. The data is encrypted (you can even choose your own encryption key if you want, but don't lose it!), the software runs in the background and hasn't caused any performance issues with my computer, and you can choose how much bandwidth you want to utilize at any given time. I haven't tried using it yet, but restoring files seems simple - the Mozy server appears as another drive in Windows Explorer, making it easy to select the file(s) you want to restore. The files are apparently packaged in a self-extracting zip file for download. For bulk restoration Mozy offers the option of having your files FedExed to you on DVD for an extra (unspecified) cost.

I've been using Mozy for two months now and so far I am pleased, especially given the cost. I had occasion to contact customer service to ask a question (because I didn't read the user manual ;) and the response was quick and accurate. I was aware that my initial backup would take at least several weeks because upload speed is slow, but to be fair I've been told the same thing about Amazon's S3. S3 does allow you to send your data in on DVDs for the initial upload to avoid this problem. I usually run Mozy at 3/4 speed, and I did suspend it while I was watching every single episode of "Lost" in HD streaming (I am now addicted!). With that in mind, I have been able to upload 98 GB of data so far. A bit slower than I had planned for - I had estimated that it would take 2.5 months to complete my initial backup - but again that's party my own doing. I'm less than halfway through, and at the rate I add new photo files I'm guessing it will take another three months to be caught up. Lesson learned; do not wait until you have 200GB of data to start an online backup!

I do still plan to add to my external hard drive backup system, but I still need to figure out how many TB of external storage and in what configuration. Even worse, I have just about maxed out my internal hard drive; I only have 45 GB left! So now I'm faced with needing to purchase two new hard drives of at least 1TB each. I'm feeling old - I can remember when I 20 MB hard drive was something to dream about (okay, honestly I remember punch cards). Now one image file can be larger than that. I'm mad because I can't figure out how to format and wipe clean that old Maxtor One Touch so I can reuse it's 160 GB for additional storage until I figure this out.

We're just going to continue to generate more and more data, and all of the storage options available today are just short-term interim solutions. If I managed to generate over 200GB of images in just over two years, with most of that occurring in the past year, how will I ever be able to store ten years, twenty years worth of images? And I'm not shooting every day! All of the discussions on the photo forums I frequent seem to focus on solutions for today; no one talks about having to transfer a TB of data from an old hard drive to whatever the new technology will be. I sure hope someone develops faster data transfer methods quickly. And if you fill up a hard drive, you can't exactly stick it in a closet for a few years and hope it will work when you decide you need to access one of those image files.

And I'm old (he-he) - what about someone just starting out who will eventually accumulate 40, 50, 60 years worth of data?

I can't be the only one dealing with this problem, but it seems like everyone is not worrying and just assuming that the technology will be there when they need it. Me, I get hung up on visions of having to transfer endless data from one drive to the next every year or so and hoping it survives.

There's something to be said for negatives and chromes!


  1. For all online backup, file sharing and storage related info, I recommend this website:


  2. Hmmm...I'm actually going to let that spam remain since that is one of the sites I checked out while researching my options. I can't vouch for the validity of the rankings, but they do appear to be inline with the independent reviews I've read.