Simple Backup and Archiving Techniques for Video Editors

With the prolific rise of cheap USB drives, we can store more projects than ever before. You can carry terabytes of storage around for around $100. With digital real estate being so cheap, why is it so difficult to backup and archive projects and media on a regular basis?

The backup and archival process is a lot like going to the dentist — people know they have to go but somehow it always slips their mind or doesn’t fit into their busy schedule. But with the right hardware and methods in place, keeping projects and media safely stored can be done easily and with a lot less drilling.

Backup Protocols

USB drives can be your best friend if you cannot afford an expensive media server like an ISIS 5000. A quick web search will show results of 3TB USB3.0 external hard drives for about $130. There are a variety of drives available including highly-recommended RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) drives which provide redundancy to the data in case part of the drive fails.

There is a way to create a redundant backup system of media by rotating three non-RAID USB drives. Here’s how the system works:

  • Drive #1 is the master drive that you work off of.
  • Drive #2 is the first backup drive.
  • Drive #3 is the second backup drive.
  • On week 1, COPY Drive #1 to Drive #2.
  • On week 2, COPY Drive #1 to Drive #3.
  • On week 3, DELETE Drive #2’s contents then COPY Drive #1 to it.
  • On week 4, DELETE Drive #3’s contents then COPY Drive #1 to it.
  • Continue repeating the steps for weeks 3 and 4.

The benefit to this is that there is always at least two copies of the media. Some editors have several master drives. In that case, create folders inside the backup drives that label Master Drive #1 Backup, Master Drive #2 Backup, etc. Remember to physically label the drives. Some yellow gaffers tape and a sharpie work great. When using multiple master drives it is beneficial to tape a list of what projects’s media on is them.

A schedule is key to the backup system working. The media drive backup should take place at least every week. Elements should be backed up in a similar fashion at least every week if not daily. Most importantly, projects need to be backed up everyday. Since projects are generally small in size, get an extra 1TB USB drive solely for the daily backup of them.

One extra note to mention about USB drives is that they must be turned on at least once a month. If they sit on a shelf in a closet longer than that, bad things can happen to the motors and other internal parts. Pull them down every couple weeks and fire them up.

Archiving Protocols

Digital archiving is another vital routine editors need to practice. A simple digital archive is a full-resolution file, like a QuickTime movie or MXF file, backed up to a medium like XDCAM, Blu-Ray or a USB drive. Regardless of where the file is stored, it’s important to have it for two reasons.

  1. It’s a failsafe in case the hard drives containing the media and project die. This should never happen if they are properly backed up though.

  2. It is far simpler to throw a full-resolution QuickTime into encoding software like Sorenson Squeeze or Adobe Media Encoder and export a .mp4 file than to reload the media off a hard drive, open the non-linear editing (NLE) program, quality check the sequence then export a .mp4 (that’s even if the NLE exports .mp4!).

There is a case to be made against exporting a full-resolution QuickTime movie because it will take up drive space and a few hours to create. However digital real estate is cheap, so you don't have to be too stingy. Back in the analogue days, how long did it take to stripe a tape, set the bars and tone, print labels and record at real-time let along having to re-ingest or capture off the tape if it’s needed again?


Many future headaches will be saved with a small investment and a firm schedule of backing up and archiving projects and media. Do you have other methods? What works for you?