The Cheap & Easy Way to Backup Sound Libraries
Earlier in January I published an tantalizing find: a way for sound editors to archive their editing sessions to the cloud.
The Gobbler app was created specifically scan your hard drives for Pro Tools, Logic, and Garage Band sessions, then gather all related files and tuck them neatly away in the cloud. It works only when your bandwidth is idle. Restoring sessions is a snap. I’ve used it for about a month now, and I enjoy it. Read the mini-review to learn more.
While Gobbler is a great solution, it is limited for field recordists. It only backs up sessions and related files. They support many formats. However, it can’t be used to simply back up an entire sound library to the cloud. Also, it can become pricey.
So, while I still use Gobbler for my sessions, I have been exploring other ways to archive my sound libraries.
Today I’ll share the current method I use. It incorporates two technologies: Amazon Glacier, and an app called Arq. It allows me to back up drives in one step for less than a couple cups of coffee a month.
Not familiar with these names? I’ll explain them, and the cheap and easy way you too can archive your sound effects collections to the cloud.
An Overview of Backing Up
What’s the best way to backup your data?
Before we look at the solution I’ve found, let’s explore options for backing up data.
What questions should you ask when researching backup solutions?
- What devices are supported? Does the backup include only a computer’s data, or will an app detect and backup attached storage, such as external hard drives and USB sticks? Do these need to be defined, or will they be archived as soon as they are connected, and detected? Will it backup your PC at work, as well as your laptop at home?
- How is the data saved? Do you need to run an app to backup the data? Will this happen automatically? Is data backed up as soon as a change is detected, or on a schedule you define?
- Where is the data backed up? Is the backup made to an external drive on-site, or off-site (on a Internet Web server in the “cloud”). How secure is the backup? Do cloud backups have redundancy, or mirrored copies if the original server dies?
- How much data is backed up? Is all data backed up, or only what’s changed since the last backup (known as incremental backups)? Incremental backups are quicker, and save space.
- What is retained? Is only the most recent version of the data preserved? Or, can you access backups from months ago? This process is known as versioning.
- How are backups accessed? Will restoration overwrite existing data, or be placed beside it? Is it complicated to access your backups? Can they be browsed on the backup hard drive, or in a Web browser? Is the data shared? Are backups synchronized between your devices?
- How much space do you require? Do you need to backup your entire computer, or a portion? How much space is allotted to you by online services, and how much does it cost to add more?
Two Broad Approaches to Backing Up
As you can imagine, these options create dozens of ways to backup data. I’ll split them into two broad categories:
- Local backup
- Cloud backup.
Local Backup Solutions
These are backups to tangible storage in the same place as the computer being archived.
Local backups require an external hard drive. This is an easy way to backup. They typically include scheduling, versioning, and incremental backups. Purchasing the app and hard drive storage is a convenient one-time, upfront cost.
However, because the backup is at the same location as your computer, it shares the same risks. If your home goes up in flames, both the backup and original will be destroyed.
Cloud Backup Solutions
These backups are preserved off-site on Web servers on the Internet.
Cloud backup solutions include services such as Mozy, CrashPlan, and Carbonite. They back up your data to servers on the Web, known as “the cloud.” However, they don’t offer much space, especially for the gigabytes sound libraries require. Upgrading storage can become expensive. They also subscription-based. You’ll need to keep paying to ensure your backups are safe.
Dropbox is another lightweight, popular solution. It’s designed primarily to synchronize data between computers, but, with two free gigabytes of storage, it’s an appealing way to begin backing up to the cloud.
Unfortunately, none of those options are satisfying for sound libraries. Why?
Well, it’s best to store data securely off-site, in the cloud. This ensures it is safe in case anything happens to your hard drives at the studio.
However, this introduces a problem. Sound libraries are huge. They require a lot of space. This means that it will be expensive to store lots of data.
The cloud backup solutions above are good, but are expensive.
One idea is to use Amazon’s Simple Storage Solution (S3). Amazon S3 is a massive network of servers, launched in 2006. It offers an incredibly cheap way of storing data in the cloud. There’s even a free-usage tier that allows new customers five gigabytes of data for free, for the first year.
Thereafter, prices are as low as $0.48 for 10 gigabytes of data (calculator). However, S3 charges every time a file is uploaded, modified, or downloaded. So, while cheap, prices mount.
Also, the interface is hard to understand, and to access. It requires coding, or FTP apps. It’s not really meant to be used on its own, but with websites, or specialized apps. Because of this, it isn’t as useful for archiving sound libraries.
An alternative to Amazon S3 is Rackspace’s Cloud Files.
In August 2012, Amazon released a new service: Glacier. It was designed specifically for archiving data in the cloud.
Glacier is like S3, with a few changes. First, it is far cheaper. Prices begin at $0.01 per gigabyte. Finally! An affordable way to preserve even massive sound collections. An entire terabyte of data can be archived for just over $10 a month.
The drawback? You are charged an additional fee if you access the data any time before ninety days have elapsed. Since we’re archiving our data, this isn’t a concern. And the fees are only $0.03 per gigabyte, anyway.
Glacier is just as confusing as S3. However, apps have sprung up to work with Glacier. They use a clean and attractive interface to access it.
I paired Glacier with one of these apps: Arq.
Arq is a small app for Mac OS X 10.6 – 10.8. It’s free to try for 30 days, then costs $29. I’ve been using it for about a month.
It allows you to select internal or external hard drives, and archive them to the cloud. You can choose to backup only portions of these drives, such as a single folder, or file.
- Choose to backup to either S3, or Glacier.
- Set how much bandwidth Arq uses to backup. This ensures your backups don’t throttle your daily Web surfing.
- Schedule automatic backups.
- Backups are incremental. Arq archives only what has changed since the last backup.
- Arq supports versioning. You can browse and access older backups.
- Backups are transmitted securely.
- The archives are stored in an open-source protocol. You’ll still be able to access your files even if Arq goes out of business.
- Restoration is simple. Files and folders can be returned to their original location, or dragged out of the archive to wherever you wish. If you’re restoring from Glacier, you’re presented with options to reduce the fees for downloading archives early.
- Budgets. Set how much you’d like to spend on S3 or Glacier every month. Arq will ensure that you do not exceed that amount, and will tidy up your archives to accommodate your budget.
Here are screenshots of the app:
I found only a few small bugs when using Arq. It seemed to stall backing up my Mac’s Library folder, and one DMG installer file. Also, some backups wouldn’t finish, or would restart every time Arq was launched. I found the solution to this on the support forums: one needs to delete the “Cache.noindex” folder from ~/Library/Arq, and everything is fine. The developer is aware of both issues. He’s incredibly responsive, and posts often on the forums.
Alternative Amazon Glacier Apps
Other apps that access Amazon Glacier:
- JungleDisk, by Rackspace (Windows, Mac, Linux).
- Cloudberry (PC).
- Cloudgates (web browser interface).
Blending Glacier and Arq worked flawlessly over the past month. Arq does a good job of scheduling incremental, versioned backups, and archiving them to Glacier. It’s simple, and painless.
Combined with the low price of storage, and ease of use, I’ve found it a a perfect solution for archiving large sound effects libraries.
Questions? Please let me know in the comments below. I’m happy to answer your questions about Arq, Glacier, or backing up sound libraries.