A cost-effective way to flexibly back up 200GB~ of photos online?
August 28, 2012 7:00 PM   Subscribe

A cost-effective way to flexibly back up 200GB~ of photos online?

I've got 200GB of photos I'd like to back up online somewhere. (I looked through past threads and the vast majority appear to focus on either general document backup, or involve backing up locally)

I've researched my options and come up with the following:
Picasa Web: $9.99/mo or $119.88/yr for $200GB of storage
Smugmug: $5/mo or $40/yr for unlimited storage
Flickr: $24.95/yr for unlimited storage
DropBox: $199/yr for 200GB of storage
Crashplan: $5/mo or $49.99/yr for unlimited storage

I'd also like to retain an element of flexibility. By flexibility I mean with Crashplan, I'm putting my files into a lockbox, and if something catastrophic happens I can grab a carbon copy of my files. Whereas with Smugmug, it appears I can upload everything into albums, which means I can access the photos themselves without having to "restore the backup" or go through any hoops. However a potential drawback I see with Smugmug is that it may not be as user-friendly/possible to back up 200GB.

So that being said... What's the best way for me to flexibly back up 200GB of photos? What's a nice mix of convenience and security? I'm not opposed to spending money, but I'm also not willing to spend $200/yr. I guess the real question is, what do other people here use with similar sized collections to back up their photos?

Thanks in advance!

P.S. I use Picasa and Lightroom to manage my photos, if that helps
posted by petah to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Amazon Glacier costs a penny per GB per month. Do their terms work for you?
posted by tantivy at 7:02 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What do you use for your normal online backup, if anything? Backblaze will back up external hard discs in addition to your main drive, all for about $60/year. I use that to take care of my main machine and my photos, which are stored externally. If you don't back up your main machine, my recommendation is to get Backblaze and back up two birds with one stone.

Smugmug is good, too. I use it as my main photo sharing site. Smugmug has a Lightroom plugin that makes it (somewhat) easy to upload directly from Lightroom. It gives you the flexibility you want, is still in active development (there are questions about how Flickr is being treated at Yahoo), and is cheap. It would serve as a good backup, too.

It'll take a while (likely months) to back up 200gb with any of these services. Crashplan will be the easiest, because it uploads in the background, but most of the others will be a pain.

Of note, here's a recent Macworld article about online photo backups that talks about some of these alternatives. The advice works for Macs and PCs.

Good decision to back this stuff up. Get it done!
posted by griseus at 7:21 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are your photos all jpegs? If so, then I think Flickr is your best option. They'll store your full-resolution jpegs and you can download them any time you want. Plus, you can organize them in albums, share them with others, etc. If you shoot raw, then you'll need a more general purpose backup system. I'm a new user of Crashplan and, so far, they seem great.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:24 PM on August 28, 2012

It'll take a while (likely months) to back up 200gb with any of these services

You can mail Amazon a hard disk. Seemingly low-tech, but very high bandwidth. I assume this works for Glacier.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:26 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh. And since you asked for examples of what people do:

I back up to an external hard drive that I keep at work (I keep my work backups at home). I back up all computers in our house to Crashplan including my RAW image files. I also save the best pictures to Flickr as both a tertiary backup and also to share some of them with friends.

That's me. But, then again, I'm crazy.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:34 PM on August 28, 2012

It'll take a while (likely months) to back up 200gb with any of these services

Well, here's a datapoint. I uploaded 41GB in about 6 days, so.. not that crazy.

Cable, uploading just under 1mbps.
posted by phaedon at 7:38 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been using Carbonite to back up roughly 200GB of files including 50GB of photos. It's $59/year for unlimited storage.

It basically works like Crashplan, but one of the nice features (I don't know if Crashplan does this) is that you can browse and access all the files online. Folders of pictures show up as thumbnails, and you can download individual files or folders without doing a full restore.
posted by gimletbiggles at 7:42 PM on August 28, 2012

I use Crashplan's free version to back up my photos to an external hard drive attached to my work computer. It took several weeks to back up about 30GB, but it was hampered by my work computer not being left on at night.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:49 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: RE photos vs general docs: I don't have much in the way of personal documents, which is why the question is photo-centric. For normal files I use Google Drive, which has enough space for everyday needs.

Locally I'm using Crashplan to backup to both an external hard drive I back up to periodically and a spare internal hard drive. The reason for online backups is obviously in case of robbery/fire/etc.

@griseus Great point on Smugmug vs Flickr. I saw the Smugmug plugin, but had the same concerns of it being (somewhat) easy to upload all my files.

@gimletbiggles Carbonite looks interesting, I like how you can browse the files. As far as I know, Crashplan is limited to backup and restore. We might have a winner here.
posted by petah at 8:12 PM on August 28, 2012

Response by poster: @tantivy Glacier looks interesting although I'm wondering if there are any applications that support it yet? I had actually been looking at OpenPhoto and their S3 support as a potential alternative..
posted by petah at 8:16 PM on August 28, 2012

Just want to throw my two cents in, since I asked a similar question recently and have similar concerns.

First of all, depending on the sensitivity of your files, I don't think online cloud storage should be your primary form of off-site backup. You should absolutely keep a copy on offsite hard drive(s) in case of robbery/fire/cloud failure.

Second of all, make sure to do a lot of research on cloud technology. It is an emerging field and if you are a photographer, I don't think even half of the details that would be relevant to you have been covered in this thread. For example, some services have filesize limitations. I'm not even sure SmugMug accepts RAW/CR2 uploads. Backblaze has had downtime in the past, Crashplan has lost files; backblaze offers only 4 weeks of revisions, I think Crashplan is forever. If you are backing up an external hard drive and that drive isn't connected in say, 30 days, some cloud services will interpret that as "deleted." And top it all off, these details seem to be constantly changing.

So the bottom line is read up before you put all your eggs in the wrong basket. And treat a $5/month service for what it is.
posted by phaedon at 8:36 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ok, there's two things here:

1. How to archive your photos (data) so you don't lose everything.
2. How to browse your photo collection

There are services optimized for both of these, but not for both.

1. As others have mentioned, Amazon's just announced Glacier service is the cheapest, at only $0.01/GB/Month. It would cost you $2.00 a month to archive everything, and you can (I think) mail them a copy of your HD to upload everything the quickest.

ALSO you will need to back up your data to 2 more HDs - one you keep at home in a fire-proof safe, the other you keep offsite (office drawer, safety deposit box, etc). Then keep everything up-to-date (monthly backups? how much are you willing to lose?) and practice restoring your data to make sure it's actually available. Anything less than this (3 backups - local, offsite, online) and you're just gambling with your data.

2. SmugMug or Flickr are my favorites for online photos, depending if you want a more private, classic "photo album" (SmugMug) or a social photo stream (Flickr). To upload the pics, I'd just start creating albums/sets by month, that requires the least amount of sorting for you.
posted by jpeacock at 9:39 PM on August 28, 2012

BTW, Amazon Glacier is very new but people are already rapidly building tools for it. You can google for "glacier uploader", here's one app that's simple but usable:


Glacier also has an online interface in the AWS Console:


(you'll need to log in with your AWS account to access it)
posted by jpeacock at 9:45 PM on August 28, 2012

David Rosenthal (developer of an open-source, library-led digital preservation system at Stanford U.): Amazon's Announcement of Glacier
posted by gen at 12:35 AM on August 29, 2012

Best answer: Crashplan is dead simple, cheap, and works beautifully. I have 2 TB of HD video backed up to Crashplan. As with all cloud backup, it can take a long time for the initial upload upload. That's what their free 30-day tall is for: to try out setting it and forgetting it. By the end of the trial you'll realize: hey, I have offsite backups now!
posted by Tehhund at 3:07 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have heard great things about CrashPlan lately, and I am investigating it for my own household's offsite backups.

Also, I just found this on their site: "...members of the US Armed Forces actively serving overseas get seeded drives [for submitting files via HD, not via upload] and Restore to Your Door [i.e., HD full of files, not via download] services for free." Which is pretty cool of them.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:43 AM on August 29, 2012

Dropbox is not a backup tool. It's a synchronization tool. This means that it will happy synchronize a virus, or an accidental deletion, or Corruption in your files die to a failing hard drive. Pick something else.
posted by gd779 at 8:58 AM on August 29, 2012

Folks--don't use Glacier for this. Really. At least, not unless you don't mind really expensive restores or really slow restores.

I was really excited, too, when I heard about Glacier, but it's really designed for stuff where you might, someday, need a small fraction of the data. See "How much data can I retrieve for free?" and "How will I be charged when retrieving large amounts of data from Amazon Glacier?"

It's not immediately obvious, but there's some discussion here, and here, and a employee post here.

If you backed up all 200 GB as one "archive" (their terminology), and that was everything you had stored with them, your cost for full retrieval would be:

Billable peak hourly retrieval = Peak hourly retrieval - Free retrieval hourly allowance

Peak hourly retrieval rate: 200 [GB stored] / 4 [hours avg. retrieval time] = 50 GB/hour

Free retrieval hourly allowance: 200 [GB stored] * 0.05 [free percentage per month] / 30 [days/month] / 4 [hours average retrieval time] = 0.0833

Billable peak = 200 - 0.0833 = 199.9167

That peak is then applied to the whole month:

Total retrieval fee = 199.9167 [billable hourly peak GB] * 30 [ nominal days/month] * 24 [hours/day] * 0.01 [$/GB] = $1439 and change, which may have been more than you were expecting.

It might make sense for some backup service to use this to spread the risk, and individuals might use if if they split the backups up and restore 5% of their data per month (that's almost 2 years to restore everything for free). But it's probably not for the average user.

In conclusion: I'd use Flickr for this if it was just photos. There are applications that will automatically back up a local photo folder to Flickr, and you can't beat the value for the price in my opinion.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:34 AM on August 29, 2012

My understanding of Amazon Glacier might be incomplete, but I think RikiTikiTavi's formula might be wrong, because billable peak is peak hourly minus free retrieval, so it should be 50 - 0.0833 instead of 200 - 0.0833. This brings the total cost in that example to about $359.75.

But even that is WAY more than what OP will pay because he/she likely won't need to have photos retrieved in only 4 hours(!). The point of Amazon Glacier is that it isn't fast (hehe Glacier). 4 hours to retrieve a 200 gig archive is fast, and if you need the backup to be that time-critical it'll cost you--apparently it'll cost you $359.75. For most people, however, they can wait a day or two or even ten to get their photos back after a catastrophic hard-drive failure. If you breakup your archive into smaller pieces and retrieve 200 gigs over the course of 200 hours (a little over a week), your formula becomes:

Billable peak = 1 [gb/hour] - 0.0833 = 0.9167
Total retrieval fee = 0.9167 * 30 * 24 * 0.01 = $6.60.

Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Just keep your photo archives in 1 gig chucks.
posted by reformedjerk at 7:41 PM on August 29, 2012

I personally prefer services which are not backup black boxes but services where I can quickly lookup my photos. So SmugMug is really an awesome option I feel and I have been a PRO member for a few years now.

Having said that I would recommend having a redundant online backup of all photos so a combination of 2 or more services might be the best. One option which may or may not be preferable is to store on Facebook (free and unlimited) as private photos.

PS: With full disclosure that I am the founder of PicBackMan, I would recommend you take a look at PicBackMan to do automatic redundant backups. It connects you all your accounts and helps backup in the background all the time without any overhead / effort on your part.
posted by picbackman at 10:11 PM on August 29, 2012

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