The problem with backing up is that it is boring and time-consuming, and as equipment has become more reliable over the years we have become complacent about taking the time and trouble to do it. Then it all goes wrong at the worst possible moment and you are left stranded. So instead of waiting for the big bang, why not put a backup strategy into place now? That way, when something goes wrong, which it inevitably will, it will only be a minor inconvenience rather than a catastrophic failure.
I want to stress here the difference between backing up your system drive — that is, the drive with your computer’s operating system and applications — and backing up your media drives, which you use for your Pro Tools Sessions and so on. The focus of this article is the backing up of your media drives.
Hopefully, we have all heard the mantra ‘You aren’t backed up unless you have your data in three locations, one of which is off-site.’ In other words, you need the original file and two copies, preferably on different types of media, with one of those copies stored at a different location to the other two. The point is that if there were a fire or worse at your main location, you would still have a copy of all your data safely stored somewhere else.
The format that is in common usage now is the LTO format, which offers a range of capacities, with LTO-1 providing up to 100GB through to LTO-6 able to handle up to 2.5TB. Tape drives need software to enable you to use them. This means that you lock yourself into a format that might die, or lose software support, so you risk ending up with a load of backup tapes that you can’t retrieve any data from. Another down side of tape-based backup systems is that it takes time to restore a Session back off the tape onto a drive before you can restart work.
This format of backup is becoming more and more popular as a valid and effective way of backing up data. As the cost of drives continues to fall, it is also becoming a very cost-effective way to back up and archive data in the capacities that we need. The only possible drawback to this technique is that there is some evidence that if you leave a drive on the shelf for a significant period of time, the lubricant in the bearings goes sticky and the drive may not spin up when you come to retrieve the data a couple of years later. To combat this, many people plug their backup drives in and run them once every six months, to help reduce the chance of sticky bearings. As with all types of backup media, you should always buy the best: there is no point in backing up and archiving your valuable Sessions only to store them on a cheap old drive you had lying around. Stick to top-grade brands that offer a five-year warranty, such as Seagate. However more and more people are putting together large active drive systems where the drives are online all the time and the data can be kept more safely, as drive storage space is getting cheaper and cheaper.
Backing up by hand
One nice way of creating a backup and pulling everything involved in a Session together is to use the ‘Save Copy In’ option from the File menu. Save Copy In is, more often than not, used for saving a copy of a Session in a format for an earlier version of Pro Tools. However, Avid also designed it to be able to save a complete backup copy of a Session, including all the media, video files, plug-in settings and everything.
The alternative to manual backup is to use some form of archiving or synchronising software that will make sure that the backup media and the source media have the same data on them. There is a range of software packages to choose from. On the Mac front I use Synchronise! X Plus, like its posher brother Synchronise! Pro X, they both come from a great little company called Qdea, but be aware that when you buy the software you only buy a time-limited licence, which will need renewing if you want to continue to use it after two years. Another program I use for fully automated backups of my office-related files is Chronosync from Econ Technologies, as it is fully scriptable — I even have it configured to send me emails so I know whether the overnight backups have been successful, or if there have been any errors.
On the PC front, Neil recommends Microsoft’s SyncToy which is free, where as for more conventional backup work he recommends the free version of Paragon’s Backup And Recovery (there’s a paid version too if you want more but the free one offers ample features).
What about off site storage?
Dropbox’s basic 2GB account is free, with 100Gb of storage costing $9.99 per month or $99 per year.
Copy offers a 15Gb basic free account or 250Gbs for $9.99 per month or $99 per year.
Amazon S3 works differently with you paying for what you use but you can get you can get started with Amazon S3 for free. You get 5 GBs of Amazon S3 standard storage, 20,000 Get Requests, 2,000 Put Requests, and 15GB of data transfer out each month for one year.
However, although these can be used for media projects, they have no specific features designed to make them work well with DAWs such as Pro Tools. They aren’t particularly ‘intelligent’, so you have to make sure you know what you want to back up, otherwise you could find you’re failing to back up vital parts of your projects, or wasting bandwidth repeatedly backing up the same files. What we really need is a service that recognises and reads a Pro Tools project and will back it up every time you make a change or record additional audio, can monitor all your drives, and will do it all automatically.
Gobbler can do this!
Gobbler has been around for a while now, having gone through an extensive beta stage. You can get a free 5Gb account.
Once you have confirmed your account, you will need to download the latest version of the Gobbler application, which is available for Mac or PC. There is a range of pricing plans starting at 20Gb at $4 per month or $40 per year up to 250Gb for $30 per month or $300 per year. I use Gobbler to provide off site backups or all my work in progress so that if there was a major issue at my premises my clients work is safe. Gobbler isn’t just an off site backup service that works with Pro Tools. It also enables you to share projects and files with other people. I use it to send mix files to clients and share Pro Tools projects with co-workers. Watch this video to see me about how Gobbler integrates with Pro Tools.
Until Oct 7th we are able to offer an amazing offer of 75% off on 50GB of storage on the Gobbler servers so you pay $19.99 instead of $80 for a year. Note that existing paying Gobbler users cannot use this offer to extend their storage, but existing free users can swap to this account. For more details and to sign up click here.
Backup tips and advice
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For example, when I am on location recording projects, I take the backup drive away with me at night and leave the work drive at the venue. That way, if something happens to me, the work drive will be OK, and if something happens at the venue, I have a copy with me. Also, I try to send one of the drives back from a remote job with someone else, just in case something happens to me while travelling. It may sound paranoid, but it usually isn’t that difficult to arrange, and with the value of the project getting greater and greater with each extra layer, it can be a very sensible move.
- Keep your media drive defragmented. Should the worst happen and you need to turn to drive recovery experts for help, they recommend that you keep your media drives defragmented, as it is much more difficult to recover and piece together all the fragments of each file than to recover a file that is already all in one piece.
- Be extra vigilant, if you are manually backing up files, that you don’t accidentally overwrite a newer file with an older version. It is surprisingly easy to do even with the computer warning you — you misread the warning message because you are in a hurry, and click, it’s gone!
- Some people get their clients to buy drives to put their project onto, just as we would have expected clients to pay for tape in the past. You could consider getting clients to buy two drives so that you keep one and they keep one, thus giving you instant off-site storage for them and you.
- Be wise with the way you name your files. Even in your Session, use sensible file-naming protocols, so that when you come back to this Session in five years you can make sense of the file names you used. Whatever you do, don’t leave Pro Tools to use generic file names such as Audio 1-03, and so on.