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Ben’s CGI Blog

Ben Margolis is the Chief Developer at Rocketship 3D. He has been a Poser user since 1996 (Version 2.0), a Renderosity Member since 1998,  and is the Project Leader for PzDB, a Microsoft Access database application designed for CGI illustrators. His blog is cross-posted on his personal website

A Belt, Suspenders, and Another Belt.

Sorry for not updating for a while, but this blog had become pretty much only R3D product updates, and I didn’t have any updates to share…  Which brings me to why I’m now expanding Ben’s CGI Blog to other topics of interest to CGI illustrators (beside just our products), this month: Let’s Talk About Backups.

I keep reading in the forums where artists are explaining why their projects will be on hold while they rebuild lost data after a massive hard drive failure.  It’s a common theme.  And I’m thinking, “Sure, hard drive failures happen.  But why are you guys losing data?”

We all work far too hard on all this stuff to sacrifice it to errant magnetic fields. 

There are three ways to lose data: equipment failure, (what people most worry about - but not the most common), equipment loss, (theft, leaving it on a bus, or a combination of the two) and the most common way to lose data; user error (accidental overwrite or deletion). But a decent backup strategy does not cost too much money and can totally protect you from of this.

First, let’s discuss common strategies that I believe are overrated and advise against. 

One, I’ve recently come to the opinion that RAID is obsolete.  I was reading a story the other day, given the size of modern hard drives, by the time you build that multi terabyte RAID stack it will almost certainly contain at least one magnetic defect.  Which means should one drive fail and you need to rebuild the stack, you’re now missing two pieces of information so the rebuild won’t work. 

When I say RAID is obsolete, I mean RAID the standard.  Specifically the method of striping and parity and rebuilding after a drive failure.  That’s what we no longer need.  The concept of drive mirroring however is still a really good idea.  Specifically if you use Windows built in drive mirroring.  That lets Windows prioritize that task along with the rest of what you’re doing.  A cheap RAID card on the other hand will eat processor cycles regardless. 

External hard drives for backup should also be avoided, especially the proprietary backup software that comes built into external hard drives.  Windows Backup will produce a bootable, restorable backup that contains all of your Windows settings. Windows Backup is also what enables that “Previous Versions” thingy in Windows.  And it’s free. 

Also, unplugging an external drive and “putting it away” means you probably aren’t doing regular backups, and they often lack the capacity for serious graphic artists, also USB is slow (although eSATA is better).

For my own graphic arts production computer I use the following backup strategy: Windows Backup to an internal hard drive, plus drive mirroring for my data drives.  So every file is actually being stored three times.  The main drive, the mirror copy, which is immediate, and a once a week Windows backup that enables Previous Versions and protects me against accidental overwrite or deletion.  But wait there is more! Because that still doesn’t protect against theft or you know, the building exploding.

For that we have offsite backup, and today that means cloud backup.  So that’s a fourth copy.  Safely encrypted on hard drives in another state. 

Is it overkill?  I don’t think so.  While it is a belt, suspenders, and another belt, each of the three backup solutions protects against a different problem. Mirrored drives protect against drive failure but not accidental deletion, Windows Backup does that but is not instantaneous.  And downloading the backups from the Internet will be slow and will only be used as a last resort.  So there is my advice, three backup systems.

Well, that is the longest Ben’s CGI blog I’ve ever written!  Hope you got something out of it, now get back to work.

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