Is RAID the best method for protecting digital photos?

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September 15, 2015 at 10:30 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  0 Comments

Recently while shopping, I noticed that several of the external hard drives for sale are the RAID (redundant array of independent disks) type with mirrored data protection, and a sales associate explained its benefits in backing up images. The concept makes a lot of sense, but is this the best method for protecting digital photos?
—Lydia T.

Any brand of external hard drive that offers RAID consists of two separate removable disks in a metal case. When you set it to RAID 1 or Mirrored mode, all of the data you copy to this drive will be saved on both disks, adding redundancy that’s useful in the event that one of the disks should fail. Courtesy of Western Digital Corporation

Adding an external hard drive with a RAID disk array feature is one useful method for backing up your images, Lydia, especially if you also save them on your computer’s hard drive. When set for the RAID 1 (or Mirrored) mode, an external drive will write the same data simultaneously to two disks inside the single drive case. Should one of the disks fail, your images will still be available on the other disk. You would then remove the damaged disk and replace it with a new one; the data from the operational older disk would be written to it, again providing the dual data storage feature. Granted, data transfer to two disks in a RAID 1 array can be a bit slow unless you have a fast computer with USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt connectivity to the external drive.

The RAID 1 (mirroring) array reduces actual capacity by 50%, but the drives are not terribly expensive in USB 3.0 versions. For example, you can find a 4 terabyte Western Digital USB 3.0 My Book Duo for $340, although the Thunderbolt version sells for about $605. Like some other brands of RAID drives, WD’s My Book Duo also provides software with cloud integration for offsite cloud storage of your most important files (as discussed shortly). This requires you to have a Dropbox account.

In addition to the redundant drive storage tactic, it's worth archiving your most important images off-site to a cloud service. While this solution can be expensive in the long run, it provides the greatest security for your irreplaceable images. Courtesy of Google Inc.

In addition to the redundant drive storage tactic, it’s worth archiving your most important images off-site to a cloud service. While this solution can be expensive in the long run, it provides the greatest security for your irreplaceable images. Courtesy of Google Inc.

Saving photos to your computer’s hard drive and to a RAID 1 drive for redundancy provides effective protection from data loss due to disk failure, but it won’t save your files in the event of a fire, flood or serious power surge, for example. For greater security, you’ll want to upload copies of the image files to a cloud service for off-site archival storage. (Check out reviews of various cloud providers at http://www.reviews.com/cloud-storage/.) Simply subscribe to a backup service from a provider such as Google Drive or Dropbox. You’ll pay a monthly or annual fee to store images and other files; the cost depends on the amount of space you require.

Aside from the expense, it can take hours to upload many high-resolution files to a cloud service. The solution is to simply allow your computer handle the backup task overnight when it’s not in use. Even if you decide not to use the cloud for all of your images because of the cost of storing massive amounts of data, this is the best solution for archiving your most important files for great peace of mind.

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