Backing Up to the Future To Protect Assets

The title of this article may be reminiscent of a string of movies from the late 1980s, but this article has nothing to do with flux capacitors. I wish the subject was as intriguing as time travel, but unfortunately it’s considered by many to be, well, boring. Yes, I’m talking about data backups.

Your business probably has a process in place to back up critical IT data. Things like text documents, spreadsheets, and databases are probably copied off to tape or some other media on a daily basis.

Critical systems for sales orders, traffic management, billing, and financial reporting are protected. Even e-mail systems are backed up regularly. There may be regulatory requirements to back up some of this data data, but it just makes good sense right?

What about your video assets? Are they being backed up too? When most video assets were on tape, backups weren’t always considered a necessity. After all, how often do entire tapes fail?

However, as video assets have become file-based, it’s important to step back and think through how we protect those assets. Just because you didn’t back them up when they were on tape, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t back them up now.

One way to review the need for backups is to consider the scenarios that can cause assets to be lost, the impact of that loss, and the possible ways that the loss might be eliminated. Let’s start with some of the common ways that assets can be lost.

Equipment Failure: You might also call this media failure. If the asset is stored on hard drives, what happens if one of those drives should fail? Protecting against this type of failure typically involves some form of real-time mirroring like RAID 1,3, or 5.

Catastrophic Destruction: What would happen if the facility housing your video assets burned? Traditionally, the strategy for dealing with this scenario has been to create copies of the assets on tape or some other portable media and store the copies off-site.

Undocumented Feature Discovery: Lay folk refer to undocumented features by another name—bugs. What would happen if a software application in your workflow corrupted an asset? Real-time mirroring systems can’t tell the difference between useful data and corrupted data, so that approach alone won’t protect the assets.

Having a copy of the data will probably get you back in business. But what if several weeks, months or years pass before the corruption is noticed? Would you be able to recover a clean file from your backup copies? Conversely, what if the asset was still relatively new and had not yet been backed up by your normal scheduled methods? Could it be recovered?

Sudden Brain Dysfunction: In IT circles this is also known as PICNIC (Problem In Chair, Not In Computer). What would happen if a user accidentally deleted an asset or changed it in a way that needed to be undone? Could a previous version be recovered?


OK, so now you’re thinking about all the ways you can lose your assets. Before you rush out and build a multimillion dollar nuclear-hardened disaster-recovery site, ask yourself what the impact of losing those assets would be.

What will it cost your business in revenue or productivity if those assets vanished? The answers might be different depending on where that asset fits into your business processes.

For example, losing a single 30-second spot that can be refed or redubbed isn’t necessarily a big deal, but losing a 60-minute syndicated program that your production unit spent two weeks editing is going to hurt.

Similarly, you need to consider the scope of a potential loss. The previous example of losing a single spot isn’t too painful, but what about losing your entire spot library? I’m sure that would be exciting!

Another key factor is time. If an asset is lost, how long can you operate without it? Is there an associated cost for each hour that passes without the asset?

The answers to these questions will help you weigh the costs of losing assets against the costs of protecting them. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to spend more on a backup system than it would cost to replace the asset. If the value of an asset outweighs the cost of protecting it, then you have a good reason to back it up. Now you have to figure out how.

Now that you’re armed with all of this information about your assets, how might you go about protecting them? Like many things, backup strategies are a tradeoff between speed, flexibility, and cost. By trading these characteristics against each other you can develop several approaches, e.g.:

Do Nothing: If the asset can be easily replaced then why bother? For example, if the asset is recorded on tape and then ingested to a disk-based system, the original tape can serve as a backup.

Build in Redundancy: Use RAID systems or clustering to help protect against hardware failures—just be absolutely sure that you monitor those systems for failures. Many configurations will only tolerate a single drive failure before assets are lost.

Put Recovery Points In Your Workflows: This can be as simple as using autosave features to create a disk-based copy of an asset periodically. Creating sets of copies that allow assets to be restored from a selection of previous versions is even better.

Store Copies Offline and Off site: Traditionally this was done with data tape, but tape systems today generally are not fast enough to allow for rapid backups or restoration of video assets. Video files are just plain huge.

Copying files to separate disk systems (disk-to-disk backup) is a faster way. Implementing this approach can be as simple as using external USB hard drives in place of tape or as complex as block-level geo-mirroring over a high-speed wide area network. The value of your assets determines which end of that range is appropriate.


There isn’t enough space here to cover all of the details in setting up good backup plans for your assets, but whatever you do, test your plans. Sometimes simple steps in a backup process are overlooked that might prevent actually restoring data to a useable state when it’s needed.

Walk through the scenarios listed above as well as any others you can imagine and test your ability and the time required to recover assets in each one. Having confidence in your plan and understanding every step will make it much easier to recover critical assets when you really need them. Count on IT!