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External Hard Drives

By Erica Robinson

External hard drives are often an afterthought. Sometimes, they’re only thought of once it’s too late and photos have been lost, unable to be retrieved. They become lost to the digital trashcan forever. “Why didn’t I back them up?!” The purpose of an external hard drive, is to allow for you to safely store your images, videos, music, Time Machine, etc., off of your laptop. And, is definitely something to consider in your armory that comes along with the photography territory. Me, I take it to the next level and back up my backup, with an external hard drive that doesn’t even live at the same address. I’d rather be prepared, then wait for the loss of images from a wedding or a trip that can’t be made again.

As far as what type of hard drives you use, just like any piece of your kit, you should use what appropriately works for your lifestyle. There are magnitudes of hard drive styles out there, ranging from desktop style to rugged for travel, from ones sized to fit in your pocket versus some meant to sit on your desk as few-pound hunk of steel and mechanics. External hard drives also range in reading and writing speeds. Some are preferred to be efficient as a drive you edit and work off of in real time, others take their time in preserving the file in more than one spot within the system. All have a reason behind their makeup and are built with a purpose.

More importantly you learn the RAID system and what this can provide for you, as someone looking for the maximum safety for your artwork. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks (formerly Inexpensive replaced the title Independent). A RAID is a numeric option from RAID 0 to RAID 6, as well as options for RAID 10, RAID 1+0, RAID 0+1, and JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks), providing different layers of storage based on transfer speeds, reliability, availability, capacity, and where in the actual drive you store your files. JBOD, being the simpler of these options, does not configure your drive in any RAID, which means it does not do any automatic backup for you. You pick and choose what goes where on this drive manually every time and the hard drive will stay as one large disk using a technique called concatenation. When a hard drive is put into for example RAID 1, the drive splits into dual drives making your storage amount seem lesser but backing up to a second disk. For example, if I have an 8 TB hard drive that I set up in RAID 1, this is a mirroring RAID. The drive will split into two disks, where 4 TB will be shown for me to upload as I please, and as I upload, the second disk will write simultaneously. RAID 2, RAID 3, and RAID 4, are not commonly used today as they deal with bit-level and byte-level stripping of disks. RAID 0, is an option you should be aware of, because it allows for maximum speed performance of your disk. RAID 0 strips the drive, keeping it one large open drive which would result in loss of all data if the drive were to fail, but is used for those looking for maximum speed. And RAID 10 combines RAID 1 and RAID 0, where it strips the disks but will separate into 4 disks and create pairs of 2, to mirror each other for backup.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to storage but should you do your research, you will be a pro in no time. When you take the time to understand storage, you put yourself at the advantage, especially when problems arise with loss of data. Not to mention the world of good it does for organization. When you are trying to find that family photo from 1999, you know will have it backup in multiple locations for safe keeping.