Backup Strategies

This is a topic that may seem like it should be tagged “IT,” but in reality it falls under “Audio,” “Presentation” and “Lighting.” The reason is simple; now that we’re using computers to do our audio mixing, our lighting control and our graphics presentation, we need to develop strategies for backing up those show files. This post was inspired by a tweet I saw last week. Someone mentioned that their lighting console just crashed and they lost 2 hours worth of work (I should have saved it, but I did not, sorry I can’t give credit!). The fact of the matter is, computers crash. And when they do, we will loose data. How much data we loose will depend on how well we’re backed up. I really like the 3-2-1 backup strategy which has been greatly elaborated by Richard Anderson in his workflow for digital photography. Simply put, you need to have 3 copies of the file, on 2 different media, at least 1 of which is off-site.

Right now, I feel like we’re doing about 1/2 a good job at backup at Coast Hills. Our SD8 is well backed up, so I’ll use that as our example. The SD8 is basically a Windows computer (running XP Embedded) and as such, it’s networkable. So network we do. We have a Mac Mini running Win 7 at FOH that we use as remote control. When we mirror that computer to the SD8, the show file is transferred to the Mini. From that point forward, we have 2 copies of the show. At the end of a weekend, we sync our SD8 Projects folder with a DropBox account. We now essentially have 3 copies of the file locally (1 on the SD8, 1 in the Projects folder of the Win7 machine and 1 in the DropBox folder). It’s also synced up to DropBox in the cloud, and synched back down to my laptop, my ATD’s laptop and my Win7 virtual machine in Parallels. So that’s more like 7-2-3. If you're not familiar with DropBox, read this post, then go sign up. It's free.

With this system, our SD8 hard drive could completely crap out, and we won’t loose anything. We could also have an issue with the FOH remote machine and we’d still be OK. And even if a current show file became corrupted, we have multiple backup copies of our baseline and older shows on DropBox. So I feel like we’re pretty well covered.

Our Presentation system is not quite as well backed up, though we do have an internal drive running Time Machine, and we sync the ProPresenter library up to the server every weekend. That’s more of a 3-2-0. I really need to get a DropBox account for the Presentation MacPro.

Lighting is probably the least protected, with no real backup of our main show config or file. As I write this, I’m again thinking, “I really need to set DropBox up on that machine...”

In addition to DropBox, there are of course other options. Given that we really aren’t talking about huge file sizes here (an SD8 show file is just over a Meg, for example), Mozy would be a great choice. Mozy is an online backup solution that is free up to 2 Gigs. The software is automatic and runs in the background when the computer is idle. You can selectively pick folders to back up and the rest is taken care of for you. Mozy+DropBox would be a great belt and suspenders approach to backup. Carbonite is another option, though they don’t offer a low-volume free version.

Almost any digital sound board can be connected to a computer, and thus easily backed up. Most also come with a USB port on them for further backup (and show transfer). Same goes for lighting desks. Once the files are on the computer, it’s easy to back them up to the cloud.

Also, consider your system processors, lighting system controls and anything else that has a file to it. Whenever I tweak my UX8800 system processor settings, I save a backup to my laptop. My laptop is automatically backed up when at my desk via Time Machine, so I have multiple copies of that file. Same goes for my monitor processors. Think through each piece of equipment you have and see how you can get a copy or three backed up somewhere. What would happen in the event of a complete failure of that device? How easy would it be to get your file into a backup (rental or on-site backup, or new component)?

Remember, there are two types of people in this world; those who have had a hard drive crash on them, and those who will. What’s your plan for when it happens to you?