The clouds in my thinking over backups are clearing

Last year, 2013, I put together a presentation on how not to lose data, particularly for photographers. At that point I was advocating Amazon Glacier as an exceptionally inexpensive archival system in the cloud.

Nearly a year later I came to finally give this presentation. Before giving it I reviewed it to bring it up-to-date. In the intervening year Synology, the manufacturer of my NAS, has introduced Cloud Sync, allowing two way synchronisation between my local NAS storage and various cloud storage, including Google Drive. And Google dropped the price of their live cloud storage to almost the level of Amazon Glacier’s cold archival storage, $9.99 (£6) per month for  a terabyte.

Now Glacier is only costing me £2 per month. So paying three times more, £6 (!), might seem an indulgence. But whilst Glacier is inexpensive and does work it does have drawbacks. It is slow to update. It is slow to retrieve. Changing your mind is painful. As an example I archived my 75G of 2013 photographs in January. It took a few hours to zip up. It took a couple of days to upload.  And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But, any changes I have made to any of 2013’s photographs are not captured. In my live environment I’ve deleted a few photos and moved others between folders. None of this is captured in Glacier. One can do incremental backups, but they’re a bit slow and painful too. That’s not a show-stopper, but I can see it being a pain. For £4 per month to have comparable size but with direct access and near real time synchronisation seems a bargain – and I already use Google Drive anyway.

So, the aspiration is to dump Glacier.

My free GMail and Google Drive account more than comfortably holds all my email, documents and presentations. I’ve already set up Synology Cloud Sync so that my NAS contains a copy of those. If I purchase the extra Google storage I’ll simply have my raw photographs synchronised from the NAS to Google Drive. Lightroom will access the photographs on the NAS. I’ll also have a copy of my Lightroom catalog on the NAS – and thus on Google Drive.

So everything I care about is:

  • in the cloud on Google Drive – one copy
  • and on my Synology NAS, with redundant storage – two copies, making three so far
  • and the NAS incrementally backed up to a spare drive in a disk caddy every week – one more copy, making four all told
  • and both Google and NAS with the same folder structure, making life more obvious

321three copies, in two different formats, one of which is off-site – so I’ve over-achieved the accepted data centre criteria for sufficient backups.

I think I’d be more comfortable still by backing up my Google data to another cloud. I’d like to do that cloud-to-cloud, not through my NAS. There are many such providers – but most want me to upgrade to Google Apps. That upgrade doesn’t cost all that much. And isn’t all that painful. But the upgrade doesn’t buy me much either,  beyond enabling yet another backup. However, there does seem to be one provider, CloudAlly, who do backup simple Google accounts. I’ve started a free trial with them. For £2 per month, it it works, it might be worth it.

I think I’ve mastered offline access in Google now. Indeed I gave the somewhat updated presentation offline a week ago.

Now I think I may need to understand managing versions in Google. That’s going to become more important to me as it becomes more critical.

And my PC? Well, it’ll just be an app engine holding only transient data. Indeed the only app I really really care about is Adobe Lightroom. Yes, I have a score of other “convenience” apps but none of them are critical to me, just Lightroom.

Oh, and a thank you is due to someone who gone before me and confirmed some of my thinking. Credit to the brave few.

Some notes so far, a few days later…

  • Google Drive on the web and my Nexus 5 phone both render photographs from raw (.RAF). Good.
  • syncing my photographs from my NAS up to Google Drive is about ten times faster than syncing up to Amazon Glacier. It will take about four days instead of forty. Good.
  • Gavin Meek has noted that you can actually physically send big data to Amazon Glacier for deep archiving as per Possibly useful.
  • I still have the Google Drive app running on my PC. That allows me some offline working with my Google stuff. Due to the sheer size of storage and bandwidth consumed I synchronise everything except my raw photographs – it all happens in a very few minutes. Good.
  • I have enabled Smart Previews within Lightroom. So I can edit photos on my laptop when travelling without being connected to my NAS. Good.
  • any Google documents (documents, spreadsheet, presentations) are not synchronised to the NAS. The little 100 or so byte container pointing back to Google is, but not the contents. Bugger. I could use Google Takeout to periodically take a copy of my Google Docs just in case I delete something. 
  • Cloudally is backing up my GMail account: mail, calendar, contacts and tasks, and all my photographs on Google Drive. Good. And it keeps all my backups forever, so I can go back a very long way if I’ve accidentally deleted something. I may well use this instead of my local disk caddy backup. And, unlike the NAS, it backs up the contents, not just the container, of Google documents, spreadsheets, presentations.

So, to recap:

  • Most of my stuff starts and stops in Google Drive.
  • I have installed the Google Drive app on my PC to allow offline working with Google material.
  • My photographs are on the NAS – syncing to Google Drive.
  • Native Google files do not sync their content back to the NAS. Sigh.
  • So I will use CloudAlly for cloud-to-cloud backup – all my photographs and all my content.

Were it not for my raw photographs I’m not sure I’d bother with a NAS.

This entry was posted in Photography, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The clouds in my thinking over backups are clearing

  1. jsam says:

    You know what, I’ve kept Amazon Glacier anyway. I archive annually. So I have a convenient point in time backup. I reasoned that if I deleted an older file on my NAS, the deletion would then be mirrored in Google Drive. The file should be somewhere on my disk caddy – but finding it might be brutal. For this scenario Glacier is perfect. And for a couple of dollars a month I stop worrying. Deal.


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