Back it up. - Digital Literacy Dover

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Back it up.

I often get asked what the best solution is for backing up your data - a question that is best asked BEFORE you lose all of your precious digital memories, but sadly is often asked afterwards.

These days it's not uncommon for a typical family with a couple of kids in Junior School or higher to easily have in excess of 20-30 hours of video footage (still waiting to be edited) and several 1000 images. By the time your kids are ready to graduate it's a safe bet that you can double that - and at that size, chances are it won't all fit on your computer/s hard drive/s - which means you need a way to back up those files AND get them off your computer hard drive.

But first things first.

For storage of images and video you need to use a local computer hard drive, most likely the hard drive of your Mac. And to back this up you should use an external hard drive with Dropbox or Google Drive for everyday files, and Time Machine for everything else.

The problem comes when your local Mac Hard Drive is FULL, and you need to move that media off your Mac, just dumping onto an external drive is not good enough, as if that drive fails, (quite likely in my experience) you lose everything.

You can buy ANY Hard drive, they can all be reformatted on a Mac, using the Disk Utility Application, which will erase the drive and make it Mac (Mac OS Journaled), if you want to use it with Time Machine, or FAT 32 if you don't want to use it with Time Machine, and want to be able to read and write to the drive from a Mac or PC.

If you plug a brand new drive into a Mac, you should get a prompt from Time Machine asking you to format the drive automatically, all you have to say is YES!

If you do use a separate hard drive, make sure that you always have the data in TWO locations, otherwise it's not backed up, just moved. So if your Mac is FULL and you need to make space, this is not a good solution.

The solution for moving data off your HDD completely is to use a 'Hard Drive Enclosure' With a couple of Hard Drives plugged in. This is a 'RAID' set up: a Redundant Array of Independent Disks (redundant meaning, you can afford to have one fail without it being a problem) a big black box ($200) with space for 4 drives to slot in, each drive can hold about 1 TB or more depending on what you buy...

Back in 2013 I bought the Probox 4 Bay for $195, at Sim Lim Square (Best Bargain and I bought two 1.5TB internal drives to slot into it ($100 each), so I still have two spare lots for later expansion...

I make one drive copy the other, so I don't have to keep it on my Mac - remember if the data is not in two places it's not backed up!

Mine looks like this:

And like this when it's open, you can see where the internal drives can be slotted in, just like Lego.
They come in all sorts of shaped and sizes, but they all work the same way, data on one of the drives is copied onto another drive in the same enclosure, so now it IS backed up, and you can free up that space on your Mac.

The process of copying that data from one drive to another can be done automatically (RAID), some of the more expensive solutions come with built in software that does this automatically, or you can just do it yourself, by copying data from one to the other manually, a bit tedious, but it gets the job done, this is known as JBOD.

Drobo is one well known brand, well known by geeks anyway, there are others.

If you're happy to spend a little more money (this media is priceless after all) Consider a hybrid solution like Amazon S3, mostly because the NAS has integration built in and can use an existing normal amazon store account to manage the storage as well. I'm sure there are others, ideally you want a local, cable connected (reliable) RAID backup, combined with a cloud back up, this might be integrated into the RAID box, or you might set this up separately, see below:

A cheap/easy option is to use Google Photos, unlimited backup is free, but resizes the media, or pay a reasonable amount to store all your media online, without resizing...

If you install the desktop and iOS apps, it will automatically upload ALL your media to your Google account.


If you're confused about sizes of hard-drives, see my other post here. But a guide would be that each internal drive needs to be at least 1 Terabyte, so if you buy 2 you effectively have one, as the second drive is just mirroring the first one.

Finally maybe there is stuff you can just remove?

For starters simply emptying the trash can make a big difference!

For example delete unused user accounts, sometimes there are several.


  1. Great question:

    Hi Sean, I wonder if you could help me? If one buys a really expensive RAID ($1035 Iomega from Parisilk, which is the only model they have) is it a complete waste of money? I normally think Parisilk stocks sensible products at sensible prices but since I know your Probox cost only $200 I am now confused. They argue that a 1TB external hard drive costs $180 (Buffalo make) thus a 4TB has to cost more than $200 or at least one that is reliable. I know you know what you are buying but the price difference is enormous is there a reason for this?

    Secondly, can I ask one further question, what is the best way to back up home videos? At the moment they are either in VCD or DVD form (having been burnt from the video camera cassette). When I try importing them into iMovie they won't import, can they be stored on my hard drive or is that impractical? And if I buy a RAID can they be backed up there and then burnt onto discs later if need be?

  2. All very good questions!

    I'll try and keep my answers short ...

    In a nutshell, while I use Parasilk myself, this sounds like a terrible deal. that, or it is is dong a load of stuff that you just don't need, all mod cons etc. Some of these solutions have all sorts of options and possibilities that most people just don't need.

    My solution is cheap because it is simple. But because it is simple, there is a lot less that can go wrong...

    Feel free to call the shop I used, to confirm prices/options - I used Best Bargain, Sim Lim, 6334 9143, #05-02

    I bought:

    One Probox HDD 4 bay enclosure $189
    Each 2TB internal HDD costs $173, but you need at least 2 of these for it to work.


    $189 + $346 = $535 but you have 2TB mirrored (really 4TB) with the option of expanding to another 2 slots when/if you need it.

    But this is NOT a RAID set up, it's one where I just manually copy data onto both drives myself. I don't trust 'automated' systems with my precious memories/music.

    They sell a RAID version, which automates the process, but then it costs for $279 instead of $189.

    All prices are inclusive.

    Someone I spoke to today bought a 2 bay solution at Challenger for $89???

    Back up video:

    This is he main reason I need the back up solution we've discussed, I have at least 1 TB of video we've recorded over the last 10 years.

    The video on CDs and DVDs is compressed, so not great for editing, it gets very pixelated, what is better is to capture the original footage from the DV cassettes (assuming you used those) as 'avi' using a computer, and backing that up instead... I think there are services in Singapore that will do this ... ?

    You CAN take the video off the discs, and store it on a hard drive, that's what I do. This should be as easy as open up the disc, copy all the contents, and copy to a folder on the computer.

    Definitely don't trust discs, they also corrupt over time, so you can get some nasty surprises ... there is often a disc, and the computer just can't read it...

    There is a program on the Mac called 'Handbrake' (free) which can do this for you, and convert it to a format that is easy to play/edit.

    There is a G11 student in the school, who will do all this kind of stuff FOR you (even buying the hardware), if you pay him, I think he charges about $75 an hour... let me know of you would like his details!


  3. The student who is keen to offer his services can be contacted via his website, here:

    Please let me know if you use his services, so I know whether I should recommend him, or not!