May 19, 2013

Photos, Music, And More: Why You Need A Tiered Data Backup Strategy

This post is aimed at home users, but the ideas are sound for business as well.

If you’re like me, you’ve reached a point where most of your must-have information and data is in digital form. Whether its photos, music (commercial or self-created), financial records or documents, all my important data is virtual. That is, it doesn’t exist in physical form. Some people have adopted a “cloud” strategy to make their data accessible from any computer or mobile device. I’m increasingly doing this with my photos (using Dropbox) and notes (using Evernote). However, do you trust Dropbox, Evernote or any other cloud-based company with safeguarding your data? What happens if that data is gone the next time you login? Do you trust these companies to restore it? I know I don’t.

Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ v2

Whether you have embraced cloud storage or you still have all your important data on your home computer or laptop, you need to devise a tiered data backup strategy that guards against catastrophic data loss. A tiered strategy could include a combination of internal and external hard drive storage, network attached storage (NAS), solid state flash drive storage (thumb drives), and online cloud based storage (Dropbox) or backup services (CrashPlan, Carbonite, Mozy).

I don’t intend to get into the weeds with this article. I’m not going to present scripts or commands. Instead, this article is designed to get you thinking about your current backup methodology and whether you need to add one or more tiers to enhance your protection against disaster. So for this article I will offer a high-level explanation of the current tiered backup strategy for my personal data.


One of the most critical things to keep safe are my photos. I have tens of thousands of photos in JPG and RAW formats and I typically add a couple hundred more after each photo outing.

Next on the list is my music. I’m not talking about commercial music, I mean music that I create. I like to dabble in Cakewalk SONAR Producer with my guitar and keyboard. I don’t produce nearly as much data as I do with photography, but making sure my music is backed up is just as important.

After photos and music comes the notes I take using Evernote. I take notes for work, for blog post material, for song ideas, and for photography ideas. These notes help me organize my thoughts and it’s vital that they are not lost.

The remaining data comes in the form of documents, spreadsheets, MP3s, and photos and videos I’ve collected over the years. All of this stuff is important. Maybe not as important as my photos and music, but I would still be bummed if this data was lost.


After a day of photography, my photos are downloaded from SD card to an internal “data” drive on my main home computer. After I’m done organizing these photos and deleting unwanted shots, I manually backup to a second internal “backup” drive in my main home computer using Microsoft’s SyncToy.

My music is created on this same home computer and exists on the same internal “data” drive. When I’m done a recording session, my music is also backed up to the same second internal “backup” drive using SyncToy.

My notes are stored in the cloud on Evernote servers. I also occasionally open the Evernote app on my laptop and my main home computer which syncs that data to the local hard drives in each of these computers.

All remaining data exists either on the “data” drive in my main home computer or on my Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ network attached storage (NAS) server.


My backup strategy is not unified across all of my data. The main reason for this is storage capacity and cost. That means some of my data exists in as many as 4 media locations and at least 2 physical locations and other data exists in as few as 2 media locations and at least 2 physical locations. Eventually I’d like to have all my data in at least 4 media locations and in at least 2 physical locations. When I say “media location” it could mean hard drive, flash drive or cloud storage. When I say “physical location” I mean the actual location of the data (i.e. building, home, or other locale).

CrashPlan mobile appAll data that exists on my main home computer’s internal “data” hard drive also exists in these backup locations: 1. Internal “backup” hard drive.  2. Netgear ReadyNAS network attached storage (NAS) server. 3. CrashPlan online “cloud” backup service. — That means this data exists in 4 separate media locations and in at least 2 physical locations.

All other data that is NOT on my main home computer is located on my Netgear ReadyNAS server and CrashPlan. — That means this data exists in 2 separate media locations and in at least 2 physical locations.

For the purpose of explaining backup tiers I will solely refer to my more comprehensive backup strategy that includes 4 media locations and at least 2 physical locations.


I think a good strategy for a first tier backup is either a second internal hard drive, an external hard drive or a flash drive (thumb drive). Which option you choose will depend on capacity, cost and convenience. For me, since I know my data will also exist on my ReadyNAS and CrashPlan, I feel convenience wins out for my first tier backup strategy, and therefore I’ve chosen to use a second internal hard drive. This offers me cheap high-capacity backup storage.

If you are not currently backing up your data, a first tier (and only tier) solution might be to backup to a cloud based service like CrashPlan. While this would be better than not backing up your data at all, and it’s good because it gives you an offsite backup, I really believe in a tiered backup solution. You simply should not trust a single backup solution with your important data.


Netgear ReadyNASFor my backup strategy I’ve selected network attached storage (NAS) as my second tier backup. My data is already backed up in my first tier solution, a local internal “backup” hard drive. I use the RSYNC protocol to backup from the backup drive on my main home computer (using DeltaCopy) and over my home network to my ReadyNAS storage. My second tier backup solution is semi-automatic. As long as I leave my home computer turned on, RSYNC backup jobs will start at certain times during the day. Otherwise I login to my ReadyNAS server and manually kick off these jobs.

If you don’t want to spend the money on a dedicated network storage solution you could instead use another home computer or laptop as your network backup destination. And while automation is a good idea, it’s not required as long as you are diligent about backing up your data. A second tier backup could be as simple as using Windows Explorer to copy your data to a second computer on your home network.


This is where I think cloud-based backup services should enter the picture. Now that you have 2 backups and 3 total copies of your important data, it’s now a good idea to get your data offsite. Since all of your first and second tier backups are likely at the same physical location, a cloud-based backup service makes for a perfect third tier backup solution.

I use CrashPlan and I liked the service so much I signed up for four years of service to get their best price. I wrote a detailed review of CrashPlan across several articles on my other blog. But I’m not here to tell you which cloud service to use, I’m just saying it’s a good idea to get your data offsite. If you think taking an external backup drive to work is a better option, then by all means do that.


If your data only exists in one place, you are at grave risk of losing that data. When it comes to hard drives it’s not “if” they will fail, it’s “when” they will fail. If precious photos of your children are stored on your laptop and only your laptop, you need to devise a backup strategy to safeguard those memories. There’s simply no excuse for not doing this. You can start with a first tier backup option as simple as a USB flash drive (thumb drive) and then expand your backup strategy to suit your needs. But do not delay. Start keeping your data safe today.

Please share your thoughts