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Backup your digital photos part 1, continued.

Capacity and convenience have ruled out traditional optical media for me. CDs and DVDs are great, but large photo collections would require several, and I just can’t be bothered creating new disc compilations every time I want to make a backup, nor having to wait around for each one to complete before starting on the next. Besides, I’ve also found poorly recorded media or discs kept in less than optimum conditions can have a worryingly short shelf-life.

What I’m after is a backup medium that’s large enough to swallow my collection in one go and in the shortest possible time. Today there’s only one technology which fits the bill, and that’s another hard disk. Of course this will suffer from the same reliability problems as your main hard disk, but again, no recording medium is perfect. At least with a hard disk I can get my entire collection quickly backed-up in one place, which means I’m more likely to perform the process regularly.

While the standard 3.5in hard disks employed in almost every PC represent the best combination of capacity, performance and value, I personally prefer to use smaller 2.5in laptop hard disks for backup purposes. They may be more expensive and have lower capacities, but they’re smaller, lighter, and once fitted into compact portable cases, can be powered by a USB port alone. One cable is therefore all you’ll need for power and data transfer. Standard 3.5in hard disks can also be fitted into portable enclosures, but their larger size and requirement of a mains power adapter makes them much less convenient.

LaCie Rugged All-Terrain portable hard disk

I ended up building my own portable backup solution by simply buying a 2.5in laptop disk and fitting it into a suitable USB 2 enclosure, but several companies now sell finished products which are ready to go. It was a natural step for hard disk manufacturer Seagate to start selling its 2.5in disks in this way, and it now offers a range of FreeAgent Go portable hard disks. LaCie has long carved itself a niche in portable hard disks, and has taken the concept one step further with its Rugged All-Terrain range which are both tough and look great.

Whichever backup solution you go for, portability is a crucial requirement. After all, while it’s also quick and easy to backup your data onto another PC over a network, if it’s located in the same room or building, it’s equally vulnerable to fire, flood or theft. And since it’s highly unlikely a thief or natural disaster will be considerate enough to leave one of your PCs intact, it’s imperative to keep your backup in a different physical location.

This is why I carry my portable hard disk pretty much everywhere I go, and copy new folders of photos onto it after every trip or shoot. As a belt and braces approach, I also often carry a handful of DVDs containing the most important parts of my collection. Again, you can never be fully protected, but it’s important to understand the vulnerability of your digital images and get into the habit of protecting them.

In part two of this series, we'll explain how the same technologies which protect against disk failure in the world’s most powerful servers can be equally applicable, and surprisingly affordable in the home. In the third and final part of this series, coming soon, we’ll look into how best to protect your images when you’re actually away on a trip or shoot.

Backing-up may not be the sexiest topic, but once you’ve lost some of your favourite photos forever, you’ll soon realise its importance. I certainly hope what I’ve learnt as a regular columnist and former Editor of Personal Computer World magazine will help ensure your photos are well-protected.

Gordon Laing

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