Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, Amazon Web Services – cloud backup is mass-market and readily available. However, due to the file sizes of content, none of them necessarily correspond to our needs and requirements. We then decided to test  Backblaze, which promises to save everything for $50 a year. So does it tick all the boxes?

 

Backup is a major challenge for the business of many freelancers, particularly as we take up dozens of GB per hour of shooting, and in some cases even TB. If you lose your data, you lose everything – the dailies, the customer and your own reputation. Having a suitable storage strategy is therefore crucial, but is not necessarily an easy thing to do. When you’re a large post-production facility, more often than not you would have access to your own network infrastructure. But when you’re smaller, everything is supported by external hard drives or NAS (Network Attached Storage). Infrastructial changes in fibre and 5G connectivity will only enhance cloud-based storage solutions. This brings us onto Backblaze which, for the moment, is the most affordable solution when you have to manage so much data. We tested it in real conditions, and wanted to share our experiences.

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The backup workflow

  • Our main assembly station receives the shooting memory cards
  • The cards are copied to the dedicated SSD for the project. The project folder contains the footage, the Premiere/After Effects Projects and all the necessary elements (graphic elements, fonts, scenario etc.)
  • Thanks to the Syncback software, this SSD is automatically copied every 10 minutes to an external box of 4 hard disks at 8TB each.
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    Our local backup software, Syncback

    All data is constantly updated to this USB 3.1 box. If the SSD fails, the box can take over with all installation data. If it’s the machine that fails, then the box can be connected to another station. You can also opt for a NAS that can be shared by several machines.

  • The entire station is backed up (the internal SSD, external SSD, backup SSD, and HDD) to a Cloud service
  • In the event of a failure, data erasure, or even fire, there are two ways to recover the data: the external box and the cloud. The Cloud also allows us to find old versions of files

This simple solution guarantees the safety of your content at a lower cost whilst also shortening manual handling. It also saves important transfer times since we handle TB files.

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an overview of everything connected to our machine: working SSD and backup storage

Backblaze: the promise

The challenge of this backup strategy is to find the right service in the Cloud according to the following criteria:

  • The price of online storage is expensive, so you need to find an affordable offer to store our 25TB total.
  • Many services do not accept the size of our video files, as they are limited to 2 or 4GB per file.
  • Some suppliers who say they are “unlimited” are no longer unlimited after one year,  or the bandwidth is limited
  • Data encryption must be ensured
  • Many services do not accept external disks

With these requirements in mind, we turned to Backblaze because its offer is incredibly simple and clear:

  • $5 per month, or $50 per year, or $99 for two years for a machine, regardless of its size.
  • Unlimited storage space/encryption/support for all external disks.
  • To recover the data, either you download from a web interface (so also to any machine), or Backblaze also offers to send you a HHD for $189. If you return the HDD (at your own expense), Backblaze will refund you.

So on paper, it’s very, very, very desirable. So how does it work when we put it to the test?

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Backblaze – very convincing!

To summarize, we have 25TB to back-up via fiber connection. In other words, forget all cloud solutions for video with a simple ADSL as the upload rate is far too low. After registering on the site, we downloaded a small homemade software that manages the disk be backed up, the files excluded, the upload speeds and the encryption key. This initial backup took almost a month as it works in the background and favours other connections whilst you’re working, and runs at speed of 40/50 Mbps at night. We suggest checking the software over the period as it can crash once or twice. Once this step is completed, everything runs much faster – we promise! To illustrate this operation, here are some data:

  • On a shoot, we unloaded our cards (360GB). The data was uploaded in about 40 hours.
  • We simulated a loss of data and chose to restore it by download. Backblaze took 5 hours to create a large .zip file and it took us 6 hours to download it. We could also have decided to download the files one by one to avoid the time of the.zip
  • We also tested the versioning, which means finding a file that has been deleted or modified on the source computer. Backblaze keeps the files 30 days after they disappear. Simply select the desired date to see the files reappear online. Better still, for 2 days, the service keeps a copy every hour: very useful in case of loss/corruption of a project file we were working on.

The solution therefore works perfectly. However, it is more suited for “cold” storage and there is no hope of recovering the data in an emergency, given their weight.

 

The limitations

The main limitation of the service is the infamous 30 days. If an external disk is disconnected from the machine for 30 days, it will be deleted for the cloud. This is a real limitation for us as we have 8 external SSDs being used consecutively, and are connected only when needed. This means connecting the disks regularly and letting Backblaze run for a few hours. You are notified regularly by email that a disk is missing, but this mode of operation is not ergonomic.

On the other hand, the same applies if you go on holiday or on location without turning on your machine for a month. You can tinker with this by connecting all the disks and switching off the machine, and you are then entitled to 90 days before deletion. Again, not very helpful!

Backblaze will also not back up the disk dedicated to Time Machine for Mac users, nor the network disks, which would be logical considering the price of the offer!

Some tips and tricks

  • By default, Backblaze does not backup.exe or.iso files (disk image). Remember to properly manage the “exclusions” in the software to decide what needs to be saved. In our case, we added the.exe and removed all the video/audio preview files (.prv,.cfa…) from Premiere Pro, which occupy a considerable space, and don’t necessarily add anything of value.

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    Manage exclusions well

  • By default, Backblaze uses only one thread for backup. Despite the warning, don’t hesitate to go up to 8 or 10 threads to save much faster.

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    Also manage the number of threats

  • Check the Backblaze web interface regularly. If you notice that your disks have not been examined for several days, it is because the software has crashed. Make sure you restart your machine.
  • Be careful with your encryption key. If you forget it, no one will be able to make your data readable – not even Backblaze.

What about the results?

Our fears have always been that our storage box would be lost in a fire or stolen during a shoot. Since content is irreplaceable, the only solution was to leave with hard disks or store them somewhere safe. Neither of these options are very practical nor reassuring.

Since using Backblaze and despite its limitations, we have found a form of serenity – especially as the price is affordable, including for a private individual. Over the years on the other hand, we have seen many solutions like Backblaze close or change their pricing policies. We hope that Backblaze don’t follow this path, because for now this is a service that is a must-have for professionals like ourselves, as it guarantees your customers that you will never lose their precious footage, and the fruits of your work.