Scott Paul Lewis – Composer & Orchestrator

DAW Backup

DAW Backup

Oct 15, 2013

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Backup

Over the past few weeks in the Google hangouts I have been in, there have been some interesting discussions on what people are doing to backup their DAW and working files.

Being the geek that I am, I thought it would be a good idea to put out what I do for my backup solution. This is what works for me. Everyone will have different needs and budgets to work with. So, please keep that in mind as you read through this. There are thing that I use that don’t cost anything. Other times, there are things that cost a lot (relatively speaking). Remember, if you are making money writing music, . . . what is your data worth to you?

General Design

One thing that is very important to me when it comes to backup is flexibility. In everything I configure or build, I want to make sure I can make changes down the road if they are needed. I never want to be boxed into one solution. If I need growth or expansion, I do not want to have to rebuild everything I have each time.

Here is a diagram that I will reference through the rest of this write-up.

Daw Backup

Daw Backup diagram

Internet and ISP Router

These are the items that give you access to the internet. Pretty self-explanatory. There are some that believe that your DAW should never touch the internet. Everything should be done offline. Reasons for this vary; anti-virus, internet browsing, security, etc. These are all valid points. In best case scenarios this is probably preferred. However, most of us do not have the cash to have multiple DAWs and workstations sitting around that are purpose built. So, we need to connect them up.


Ok, some of you may ask “Why does he have a separate firewall?”. There are a few answers to this:

  1. I do not trust my ISP with the configuration of it. If I do not know everything going on in it, I will worry about it.
  2. 2.I can configure it to do what I want it to do.
  3. I have the option to switch it out anytime I like.

There are a lot of reasons to have a “purpose built” appliance. For me it is a comfort level that I would not have otherwise.

1GB Switch

Ah, having a fast connection to your devices is a good thing.

DAW 1 and DAW 2

These are your music making machines.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

This is where you store all of you files. These are the files that you work with but are not essential to the music making process.

Ok, now the explanations.

My DAW and the information on my DAW IS important to me. Backup is essential in case of a failure anywhere in my setup. So, having a pretty good IT background, I am able to use some of that knowledge to create a backup system I can live with.

NAS is the heart of where everything happens. I own a QNAP. Why? Because today it supports all of the functions I look for in a storage solution. There are multiple levels of function that I look for in a device and this covers almost all of them.

The device I own has multiple drive bays available. This means that I can expand and grow into the solution. This means I can configure the disk based on its importance. If I am really concerned about my data, I can setup the disk in multiple different RAID configurations. I can also change these on-the-fly as my needs change.

I also create copies or auto-saves with my DAW software. Currently, I use Cubase. It can be configured to save files at regular intervals. So, I have it configured to do so. Most DAW software has this functionality. If not (I still believe Logic is this way), you can run scripts on the DAW to do this for you. On a Mac you can use one of the many command-line options. On Windows you can use something like Powershell. There is really no reason you cannot have a project saved at regular intervals. In most cases, you can schedule your regular auto-save to go to the NAS so you always have a copy.

So, I do a full backup of my DAW to the NAS as well. I do not use any special software on either my PC or Mac. Why? Because I don’t need to.

Windows 7 provides a more than adequate built-in backup solution. I schedule my backups to run at regular intervals. On some schedules I backup the entire system. Other schedules backup just my working files. Another great feature that I have used before is the network boot and restore. When my system crashes and I have to install a new hard drive, I boot from the DVD, point to the NAS, and recover the files necessary to bring my DAW back online.

My Mac, same thing, I use the built in backup utility and backup to the NAS. Again, the restore is very similar. If I have an issue, I put in the DVD, go through the recovery process, and pull my backup off the NAS.

My restore will take hours and not days or weeks. So, this is a very efficient process.

Encryption? No way. Here is why . . . Really now? Do you have information that needs to be encrypted at this level? Are you storing financial data or something like social security numbers? Probably not. So, is your current musical project need to be encrypted? Seriously, it is on your internal network and on your own devices. Another issue you will run into with encryption is . . . recovery. If anything ever happens to your keys for encryption, you are screwed. If there is ever an error in the process, you are screwed. To me, it just doesn’t make any sense at this level. It is not going anywhere. Leave it be. If there is a small portion I am concerned about (a folder or two), I will use something like TrueCrypt and save my keys and passwords elsewhere. I really want to be able to recover the most possible data. And remember, this is a DAW not a bank.

I also use the NAS as a file storage location. This means that I can mount the NAS in Windows or Mac and it looks like a drive on my computer. Why would I do this? Simple, as I finish up projects or just need a place to dump something, I will move the files over to the NAS.

Another option with the QNAP is to mount the drives as iSCSI target. This means it can be used as a backup destination without all of the overhead associated with a copy/move/paste operation. Based on your connectivity speeds, you can use this to run applications off of as well. Though, I would not recommend this for streaming samples.

So, you may be asking yourself, “Geez! Everything important is on that NAS. What happens if it dies?” Ok, again, it is all about what you want to spend on your backups. I have connected to my NAS, USB and/or SATA drives. Built into the NAS is a backup program you can schedule. Just like your DAW. I schedule a backup to the external drive of everything in the NAS. Then I can take the external drives off-site if necessary. I can rotate these out over time. One drive one week, another the next week. This just means that you have your data available in case of a total failure of both your DAW and you NAS.

You might also ask why I just don’t use a USB drive. I have a few answers to this. How many of you have a DEDICATED drive just for backups and nothing else? And then, how many of you take that drive off-site and replace it with another? Then, how many of you own a USB drive that provides disk redundancy? Let’s add those up. J Really though. A USB drive, to me, is good for carting around some files for use somewhere else. There is no safety in the disk. If you have multiple DAWs, can you use them on both? In my case (PC and Mac), there are issues with formatting that need to be addressed. And besides, the performance of USB drives is horrendous. I would rather have my backup running somewhere else that does not impact my ability to work in my DAW. Over time my thoughts on the use of a single USB/SATA drive may change. But for now, there are better solutions.

So, that is a basic solution to keeping my data safe.

There are a few other nice options that go along with this:

  1. You can configure the NAS to allow secure remote access. This can be done by a combination of editing the configuration in the NAS as well as the configuration on your firewall. If you collaborating on a project with people that are remote, they can have access to your files. Of course the connection speed to the internet will be a determining factor in the speed that people can get those files.
  2. There is never a time where all of your data isIf the DAW is out, you still have the NAS. If the NAS is out, you still have the DAW. If the DAW and NAS are out, you still have your USB/SATA drive.
  3. If you are totally paranoid, the NAS connects to the cloud and gives you options to backup to the cloud.
  4. You can change the drives in the NAS out dynamically for larger ones.
  5. The NAS can message you when there are issues.
  6. The NAS can provide additional functions (web, failover, load balancing, etc.)

That is why the NAS is the center of my backup solution. It does not have to be a QNAP. There are a lot of players out there. You just have to find one that fits your needs.

This is really just something to put a few ideas out there on what might make you DAW a little safer than it is today.

If you want any more detail on the setup or configurations, please e-mail me and let me know.

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