At the beginning of each year we like to take a moment to discuss the topic of studio backup. Use this checklist as a comparision for your own studio’s backup strategy.

Happy New Year! May all your data be safe in 2007.

Protection #1: Keep all Work Files on a redundant RAID.

Too many creative teams store their vital client projects on a single large hard drive, or spread them across a chain of external FireWire drives.

For the most basic level of security, your studio’s work files should be stored on a redundant RAID volume. A RAID combines two or more individual hard drives into a single volume. When properly configured, if a single drive fails, the RAID (and your studio) can continue working until the problem drive is replaced. This type of zero-downtime protection is crucial for creative teams that rely on a server-based workflow.

We like the speed and stability of hardware RAIDs such as Apple’s Xserve RAID. We’ve been relieved recently to find more studios choosing to invest in secure server storage for their work files.

Cost conscious teams can still get a level of protection by mirroring two drives using RAID software (Mac OS X provides built-in support for drive mirroring).

Costs: $1,500 – $10,000 for a hardware RAID depending on size and features.

Protection #2: Weekly rotating offsite backup.

While a RAID protects your studio against individual drive failure, you still need an offsite backup. What if something happens to your building — fire, flood, or theft? Or when a tired designer accidentally deletes the wrong folder of work?

To protect against these problems, our best strategy is building rotating backups with 3 or 4 separate sets (1TB or 2TB drives in most cases). Typically we schedule a backup routine that provides a full backup once a week, with incremental backups every night. At least one backup set should be cycled offsite each week to protect against building-wide damage such as fire.

For backing up a creative team, we recommend EMC’s Retrospect. Its not perfect (the interface isn’t intuitive, and it take some finesse to maintain) however over the years Retrospect remains one of the most reliable tools for backing up larger studios.

Costs: $800 – $3,000 depending on size of drives needed.

Protection #3: Nightly clone to a FireWire drive.

Note: This third level of protection is optional. Although for fast-moving teams we consider it an important investment.

This recommendation comes from painful experience: Several years ago a key server died at an ad agency we support. The server contained about 300GB of current work (a huge amount at that time). The backup systems worked. No data was lost. However the server died in the middle of crucial deadlines for several client projects. In the time it took to rebuild and restore the server, many panicked art directors had to explain to their upset clients why printing deadlines might not be met that day.

To get a team back up and running quickly after such a problem, we now recommend setting up a daily bootable clone of crucial servers.

This technique uses an inexpensive firewire drive that never leaves your studio. It requires little maintenance, and provides the fastest recovery in case of problems. (See our tip from last year: Plan an emergency Xserve replacement)

Costs: $200 – $1000 depending on size of drive needed.

Protection #4: Perform a monthly backup audit.

Finally, as servers and hard drives get larger, it has become increasingly clear that a creative team’s backup system requires ongoing maintenance.

Studios need a monthly backup audit to confirm important data is being properly backed up and that files can be restored when needed. It is easy for problems to creep into any backup system, and unless there is regular maintenance, any backup strategy will fail over time.

We recommend developing a standard weekly and monthly checklist for maintaining your studio’s backup. Deputize a reliable, technically savvy person in your studio to maintain the systems, or hire outside experts to help maintain this crucial system.

What About Apple’s upcoming Time Machine?

We’ve been testing beta versions of Time Machine which will be included in the new version of Mac OS X Leopard sometime in 2007. We will release a full tip and updated backup recommendation after Leopard ships. For now, the hardware recommendations above are compatible with future backup options added by Time Machine.

Source: For a photographer’s take on this subject, check out the excellent blog article by photographer Chase Jarvis: Important: Storage and Backup Solutions For Your Photography. Also, if you are curious, you can compare this year’s recommendations to our 2006 Backup Recommendations.