The present and future of post production business and technology

How disaster proof are you?

After perhaps one tsunami video too many, we got to talking seriously about backup and how “secure we were”. It was a disturbing revelation, particularly for people who live in an earthquake zone where the next “big one” is expected before I die!

Of course we both have dedicated drives for our Time Machine backups (being all OS X based here) but they’re in the same physical space as our computers, so if for some reason that was destroyed, we’d be no better off than having no backup.  Ditto the demonstration media and archives of projects. Locally they’re stored on a RAID 1 drive for redundancy.

Having started raising the question, what are the answers? And that leads to the examination of what it is that you would need to get your “life back”, at least close to where it is now. I thought I’d share our thinking to stimulate your thinking, not only about a total disaster, but an immediate smaller one.

For example, we’re heading to NAB shortly and I am doing two presentations. Because I had a nightmare about having my computer stolen at NAB, I realized that if it was stolen I’d be in trouble giving the presentations. And yet, I generally carry a USB memory stick in my pocket, so why would I not take three minutes to copy my presentations there before leaving? Overkill? Not really, as the only other alternative would be a 10 hour round trip back to LA to recover the presentation files I need. I’m sure my computer won’t be stolen, and if it is it is covered by our insurance, but that wouldn’t help a presentation on Tuesday and Wednesday at NAB!

If I lost my computer, I have the time machine backup. I don’t travel with that, so its at least geographically segmented from any loss of the actual computer. But what if something destroyed our office/apartment while we were out (say a huge earthquake while we were walking down to Keycode for a food truck)? It’s highly, highly unlikely, but so are all the things you insure against.

At this point, a disaster that collapsed our building so we couldn’t re-enter would be a very major setback as little data exists outside the building. Bad. Very bad.  At least programmer Greg has his Xcode projects for all our software stored on a backup area that Dreamhost provides free of charge (a generous 50GB).

But even Dreamhost isn’t that secure, given that it’s still within the Los Angeles region so it could be as clobbered as we are.

So, here’s our plan:


  • Local Time machine backup and redundant copies
  • Important files* to Dreamhost’s backup
  • Those same important files to Amazon S3 storage, choosing an East Coast location for geographic redundancy. (For 100 GB stored we’d pay 10c GB per month for 99.99% security or 14.3c GB per month for super redundancy, or $120-180 a year.)
  • Large Media files that aren’t urgent but I’d hate to go without, on DVD or Blu-ray to Australia with my mother, or possibly on a hard drive or two.

What will I be backing up?


  • My iPhoto (or Aperture as I migrate) library without the proxies created for Apple TV and iPhone synchronization. That saves 10 GB but it’s still a 30 GB upload!
  • All my presentations past and current.
  • All writing – articles, books, etc – with an initial backup followed by work in progress
  • Selected email boxes, particularly related to customer service and purchases.
  • My DEVONthink database where I keep several thousand references.

As well, our accounting files, Xcode projects for software and no doubt one or two more pieces of data that we’d need to get back to a “normal” life moving forward.  The apartment contents can mostly be replaced (with a few sentimental items that I could probably live without); computers can be replaced – and we insure against both possibilities – but the data can’t be replaced if it’s lost permanently.

This has been a wakeup call for us, and we’re changing behavior immediately.  I thought I’d learnt my lesson after losing my iPhoto library’s metadata two years back, but that provided nothing out of the home office location.

What’s your backup strategy and what is important to you? How do you manage redundancy/security for media on a project, and for the project files of work in progress? Comments are open as usual.



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7 responses to “How disaster proof are you?”

  1. I had the same epiphany last week. I keep set of all data at my office, and the other I manually backup and take the drive home with me. But if California were to get “the big one,” both of those locations could get destroyed. Have you researched online remote/cloud backup plans? Some of them are not cheap, but a friend of mine has me very interested in CrashPlan [], a cross-platform app that lets you use your (or your friend’s/colleague’s/etc.) computers — remotely — for backup.

    1. Because we have some programming chops in house we’re going to use Amazon’s S3 storage solution. I’ve heard of the solution and it seems like a reasonable one, but I think imposing my 50+ GB of “Must have” (not counting media) would be quite an imposition on most people (it would on my laptop which is my primary computer).

    2. Thanks for the heads up. Crashplan in the cloud is definitely looking attractive

  2. Greg

    Here’s a handy comparison of various online “cloud” backup solutions:

  3. Scott Simmons

    I use Crashplan. love it so far. I accidentally deleted an entire train ride with the family and since I backup all my Canon 7D originals there I recovered it without a hitch.

  4. If you only have 2-3 computers, you’ll save a lot of money by going with Carbonite when buying their 3-year plan for each machine ($129.95), but you then get a small multi-computer discount as well. Their backup utility is dead-simple, and they have an iphone/Android app, too.