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July 26, 2012 / Randy Coppinger

The Right Tools for Backup

Part of the Right Tools for the Job series, comparing various platforms for better digital living.

BACKUP

Safeguarding your data isn’t sexy, but it’s critical. Professionals backup their recordings to help prevent losing them. It’s much easier to make a copy and use that in case of loss than trying to resurrect data from an inadvertent deletion or drive failure. It’s worth determining your own best practices for every platform you use.

I like to backup whenever there’s a recording break. Sometimes I have to wait for a meal break or until the end of the day, but the more frequent the better in my opinion. Desktops and laptops are relatively easy to connect to external storage and drag that data across. USB and Firewire drives are usually quick enough to backup multi-track recordings when there’s a break. Some of the more recent interconnect schemes like Thunderbolt and eSATA allow quicker transfers.

Everything But The Kitchen Sync
Wrangling files in iOS can be complicated, constraining backups in the studio and on the road. If you’re lucky you can pass your files simply by syncing with iTunes. But even then, it doesn’t just backup what you’re working on, it copies everything else that has changed (based on your sync preferences). It may be wise to sync your iPad/iPhone before you record, then incrementally re-sync as you go. Third party software like FileApp and DiskAid lets you more precisely move files off your iOS device.

If you’ve got a good wireless connection then backing up to remote storage seems like a reasonable option, though it may not be quick enough to backup a large project during a break. I found iCloud pretty slow. Because there’s no guarantee your favorite audio app supports iCloud sync you should verify that. Or the app needs to pass files to another app that does sync, such as iTunes. Apple wants you to use their iCloud rather than Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, FilesAnywhere, etc. so it will be interesting to see if these remote storage companies integrate with media production apps. SoundCloud is an interesting case because they offer storage, a social network for sharing audio, and their efforts to get “baked in” to other software seem very successful. They’re not only integrated into ProTools for desktop/laptop, they’re also in FL Studio Mobile for iOS, among others. They even have their own SoundCloud apps for iOS and Android that allow you to record to, post to, and listen from the cloud. They’re the ones to beat for cross platform audio file transit. But you’ll have to look to more traditional file storage services for multi-track session backups.

Android has fewer limitations than iOS. I’ve posted audio files from my handheld to Google Drive and SoundCloud via home WiFi. It wasn’t fast, but it was easy. The Astro explorer app (free) is the best way I’ve found to send files from my Android handheld.

As mobile devices get better at exchanging data with each other, another option is device to device wireless backup. For example, Samsung’s S Beam uses NFC to establish contact between two devices then switches to WiFi for quick wireless transfers. If you have two similarly equipped devices this might be the wireless backup scheme of choice.

Semper Fi
If you don’t have guarantee of WiFi where you’re recording, your phone company data plan may be your only wireless alternative. I hope you’ve got a good plan and time to kill. I’ve also tried moving files via Bluetooth but that was far too slow for audio. A lack of WiFi probably means it’s time to sync with a cable, in which case you need a desktop or laptop — so why not simply record using one of those? Regardless using iOS, Android, or another you still need a desktop or laptop to manage a wired transfer. If you’re trying to use a tablet or handheld only, WiFi seems like the only practical way to backup.

Hitachi G-Conect WiFi drive

Drive manufacturers have started making WiFi external drives for tablets and handhelds. The target market seems to be iPad users. The drive gets connected to a desktop/laptop via USB to load up with files that can later stream via WiFi to the tablet or handheld via a custom app by the drive manufacturer. You can only use file types supported by the app. Frustratingly, you can NOT move files from your iOS device memory to the external WiFi drive; no backups using this method. But I suspect this will be solved soon and may already work for some non-iOS devices. It’s a cool idea and in cases where you are working with more than one platform a WiFi drive could serve as cross-platform, networked, wireless storage. Transfer speed could be an issue for large projects.

For tablets and handhelds I’d like to see an external drive that emulates a computer, syncing to get the data transfered without requiring an actual computer. I would prefer it use USB, which would be cheaper and faster than WiFi. Alternatively tablet and handheld manufacturers could include OS drivers for external storage and make this whole nightmare go away. Or someone else could write an external drive app.

As previously suggested, you could double-up for recording and use more than one platform simultaneously. In that case when you’re done recording you’re also done backing up — very slick.

UPDATE: Dec 12
If you routinely work with a variety of file types from different devices — photo cameras, video cameras, audio recorders — you may want to consider the NextoDI NVS1501 Backup Device as an alternative to bringing a desktop/laptop for location work. Check out this review from Noise Jockey.

CONCLUSIONS

Tablets and handhelds currently have constrained backups. You either need WiFi or a desktop/laptop to backup. Simultaneously using a mobile device with a desktop/laptop seems like the best use of a tablet or handheld. Otherwise I lean toward recording with a desktop or laptop because they offer a more controlled and direct path for backup.

Read more from the Right Tools for the Job series.
See Also:
Media Storage
Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery
Media Storage Flavors

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