“What is Cloud Storage?” is a series of posts for business leaders and entrepreneurs interested in using the cloud to scale their business without wasting millions of capital on infrastructure. Despite being relatively simple, information about “the Cloud” is overrun with frustratingly unclear jargon. These guides aim to cut through the hype and give you the information you need to convince stakeholders that scaling your business in the cloud is an essential next step. We hope you find them useful, and will let us know what additional insight you might need.” –The Editors
The words “testing and development” bring to mind engineers in white lab coats marking clipboards as they hover over a buzzing, whirring machine. The reality in app development is more often a DevOps team in a rented room virtually poking and prodding at something living on a server somewhere. But how does that really work?
Think of testing in the cloud like taking your app or software program to train at an Olympic-sized facility instead of your neighbor’s pool. In app development, building the infrastructure for testing in a local environment can be costly and time-consuming. Cloud-based software development, on the other hand, gives you the ability to scale up resources when needed without investing in the infrastructure to, say, simulate thousands of users.
But first things first…
What Is Cloud Software Testing?
Cloud software testing uses cloud environments and infrastructure to simulate realistic user traffic scenarios to measure software performance, functionality, and security. In cloud testing, someone else owns the hardware, runs the test, and delivers the test results. On-premise testing is limited by budgets, deadlines, and capacity, especially when that capacity may not be needed in the future.
Types of Software Testing
Any software testing done in a local test environment can be done in the cloud, some much more efficiently. The cloud is a big sandbox, and software testing tools are the shovels and rakes and little toy dump trucks you need to create a well-functioning app. Here are a few examples of how to test software. Keep in mind, this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Stress tests measure how software responds under heavy traffic. They show what happens when traffic spikes (a spike test) or when high traffic lasts a long time (a soak test). Imagine putting your app on a treadmill to run a marathon with no training, then forcing it to sprint for the finish. Stress testing software in an on-premise environment involves a significant amount of capital build-out—servers, software, dedicated networks. Cloud testing is a cost-effective and scalable way to truly push your app to the limit. Companies that deal with big spikes in traffic find stress testing particularly useful. After experiencing ticketing issues, the Royal Opera House in London turned to cloud stress testing to prepare for ticket releases when traffic can spike to 3,000 concurrent users. Stress testing in the cloud enables them to make sure their website and ticketing app can handle the traffic on sales days.
If stress testing is a treadmill, load testing is a bench press. Like stress testing, load testing measures performance. Unlike stress testing, where the software is tested beyond the breaking point, load testing finds that breaking point by steadily increasing demands on the system until it reaches a limit. You keep adding weight until your app can’t possibly do another rep. Blue Ridge Networks, a cybersecurity solutions provider based in Virginia, needed a way to test one of their products against traffic in the millions. They could already load test in the hundreds of thousands but looked to the cloud to scale up. With cloud testing, they found that their product could handle up to 25 million new users and up to 80 million updates per hour.
Stress and load tests are subsets of software performance testing—the physical fitness of the testing world. The goal of performance testing is not to find bugs or defects, but rather to set benchmarks for functionality (i.e., load speed, response time, data throughput, and breaking points). Cloud testing is particularly well-suited to software performance testing because it allows testers to create high-traffic simulations without building the infrastructure to do so from scratch. Piksel, a video asset management company serving the broadcast media industry, runs performance tests each night and for every new release of their software. By testing in the cloud, they can simulate higher loads and more concurrent users than they could on-premise to ensure stability.
If stress testing is like training on a treadmill, latency testing is race day. It measures the time it takes an app to perform specific functions under different operating conditions. For example, how long it takes to load a page under different connection speeds. You want your app to be first across the finish line, even under less than ideal conditions. The American Red Cross relies on its websites to get critical information to relief workers on the ground in emergencies. They need to know those sites are responsive, especially in places where connection speeds may not be very fast. They employ a cloud-based monitoring system to notify them when latency lags.
If performance testing is like physical training, functional testing is like a routine physical. It checks to see if things are working as expected. When a user logs in, functional testing makes sure their account is displayed correctly, for example. It focuses on user experience and business requirements. Healthcare software provider Care Logistics employs automated functional testing to test the functionality of their software whenever updates are rolled out. By moving to the cloud and automating their testing, they reduced their testing time by 50 percent. Functional testing in the cloud is especially useful when business requirements change frequently because the resources to run new tests are instantly available.
Compatibility testing checks to see if software works across different operating systems and browsers. In cloud testing, as opposed to on-premise testing, you can simulate more browsers and operating systems to ensure your app works no matter who uses it. Mobile meeting provider LogMeIn uses the cloud to test it’s GoToMeeting app on 60 different kinds of mobile devices and test their web-based apps daily across multiple browsers.
In the early days of technology development, a piece of hardware passed the smoke test if it didn’t catch on fire (hence, smoke). Today, smoke testing in software testing makes sure the most critical functions of an app work before moving on to more specific testing. The grocery chain Supervalu turned to cloud testing to reduce the time they spent smoke testing by 93 percent. And event management platform Eventbrite uses the cloud to run 20 smoke tests on every software build before running an additional 700 automated tests.
Advantages of Cloud Development vs. Traditional Software Development (and Some Drawbacks)
Savings – Only pay for the resources you need rather than investing in infrastructure build-out and maintenance, saving money and time spent developing a local test environment.
Scope – Broaden the number of different scenarios you can test — more browsers, more operating systems — to make sure your software works for as many users as possible.
Scalability – Effortlessly scale your resources up or down based on testing needs from initial smoke testing to enterprise software development in the cloud.
Speed – Test software on different operating systems, platforms, browsers, and devices simultaneously, reducing testing time.
Automation – Easily employ automated software testing tools rather than dedicating an employee or team to test software manually.
Collaboration – As more and more companies abandon waterfall in favor of agile software development, the role of development, operations, and QA continues to blend. In the cloud, developers can push out new configurations or features, and QA can run tests against them right away, making agile development more manageable. For example, cloud testing allowed the Georgia Lottery System to transition from releasing one to two software updates per year with waterfall development to 10+ releases each quarter with agile.
Moving your testing to the cloud is not without some drawbacks. Before you make the move, consider the following:
Outages – In March of 2019, Amazon Web Services (AWS) suffered an outage at one of their data centers in Virginia. The blackout affected major companies like Slack, Atlassian, and Capital One. For a few hours, not only were their services affected, those companies couldn’t test any web properties or apps running on AWS.
Access – The nature of cloud services means that companies pay for the access they need. It’s an advantage to building infrastructure on-site, but it puts the onus on companies to determine who needs access to the testing environments housed on the cloud and what level of access they need to keep cloud testing affordable.
Lack of universal processes – Because each cloud provider develops its own infrastructure and systems (and most are very hush-hush about it), companies who want to switch providers face the burden of reconfiguring their internal systems and data to meet new provider requirements.
What Does Cloud Testing Cost?
Most cloud service providers offer a tiered pricing structure. Providers might charge per device minute (in mobile testing) or a flat fee for unlimited testing. Flat fees start around $100 per month up to $500 per month or more. Many also offer private testing at a higher rate. Start by determining what kind of testing you need and what tier makes the most sense for you.
Who Uses the Cloud for Software Testing?
As shown in the examples above, organizations that use the cloud for testing are as varied as they come. From nonprofits to grocery chains to state lottery systems, any company that wants to provide a software application to improve customer service or user experience can benefit from testing in the cloud.
No longer limited to tech start-ups and industry insiders, testing in the cloud makes good business sense for more and more companies working to bring their apps and software solutions to the world.
For those who follow Backblaze, you’ll know that QNAP was an early integrator for our B2 Cloud Storage service. The popular storage company sells solutions for almost any use case where local storage is needed, and with their Hybrid Backup Sync software, you can easily sync that data to the cloud. For years, we’ve helped QNAP users like Yoga International and SoCo Systems back up and archive their data to B2. But QNAP never stops innovating, so we wanted to share some recent updates that will have both current and potential users excited about the future of our integrations.
Hybrid Backup Sync 3.0
Current QNAP and B2 users are used to having Hybrid Backup Sync (HBS) quickly and reliably sync their data to the cloud. With the HBS 3.0 update, the feature has become far more powerful. The latest update adds true backup capability for B2 users with features like version control, client-side encryption, and block-level deduplication. QNAP’s operating system, QTS, continues to deliver innovation and add thrilling new features. In the QTS 4.4.1 update, you also have the ability to preview backed up files using the QuDedup Extract Tool, allowing QNAP users to save on bandwidth costs.
The QTS 4.4.1 update is now available (you can download it here) and the HBS 3.0 update is currently available in the App Center on your QNAP device.
Hybrid Mount and VJBOD Cloud
The new Hybrid Mount and VJBOD Cloud apps will allow QNAP users to designate a drive in their system to function as a cache while accessing their B2 Cloud Storage. This allows users to interact with B2 just like you would a folder on your QNAP device while using B2 as an active storage location.
Hybrid Mount and VJBOD Cloud are both included in the QTS 4.4.1 update and function as a storage gateway on a file-based or block-based level, respectively. Hybrid Mount enables B2 to be used as a file server and is ideal for online collaboration and file-level data analysis. VJBOD Cloud is ideal for a large number of small files or singular massively large files (think databases!) since it’s able to update and change files on a block-level basis. Both apps offer the ability to connect to B2 via popular protocols to fit any environment, including SMB, AFP, NFS, FTP and WebDAV.
QuDedup introduces client-side deduplication to the QNAP ecosystem. This helps users at all levels to save on space on their NAS by avoiding redundant copies in storage. B2 users have something to look forward to as well since these savings carry over to cloud storage via the HBS 3.0 update.
QNAP continues to innovate and unlock the potential of B2 in the NAS ecosystem. We’re huge fans of these new updates and whatever else may come down the pipeline in the future. We’ll be sure to highlight any other exciting updates as they become available.
“New Year, New Me”—or so we like to think around this time. When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, it feels like a fresh start to achieve something great in the next 366 days you’ve been given (Happy Leap Year!). Whether it’s working out, eating healthy, or going on vacation more often, most everyone’s made a list and aimed to fulfill it at some point in their lives.
This year, we propose keeping your data in mind when considering any new year’s resolutions. Your data is filled with important memories from years past, treasured pictures, essential documents, and personal projects that you do not want to lose. With ransomware affecting increasing numbers of people, there are more reasons than ever before to write “protecting my data” on the top of your list for 2020.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a selection of best practices to get you started. Whether you do one of these or all, you will be taking great steps to protect your data!
Set Up Two Factor Authentication for Your Accounts
Two Factor Authentication (2FA) provides an extra layer of protection against being hacked by adding a second step to verify users. 2FA notifies you whenever someone tries to log in to your account and will not give them access until you enter the second identification code. You can choose from many different delivery options to receive the code, like an SMS text, voicemail, or using an application like Google Authenticator (we recommend the latter as it’s the most secure).
Have a 3, 2, 1 Backup Plan
A 3-2-1 backup strategy means having at least three total copies of your data, two of which are located locally but on different types of media (like an external hard drive), and at least one copy that is offsite. You can store your data offsite with Backblaze’s personal backup or B2 cloud storage options. This will protect you from accidental data loss as a result of natural disasters, malware, or plain old personal error.
Practice Restoring Your Data
We all dread it: a catastrophic drive failure or computer crash. At that moment, you are going to be stressed out and on edge. Preparing ahead of time for the disaster by practicing restores will keep you calm and confident during the crisis. Backblaze has 3 different options for when you need to restore your data: downloading a zip file, ordering a USB drive, or ordering a hard drive. You can also download individual files either at home, or on the go using Backblaze Mobile Apps. Knowing how the restore process works means that should disaster strike, you’ll be cool, calm, and collected.
Protect Your Passwords
Yes, we used the plural version of “password.” Reusing the same password for every account can cause all of them to be vulnerable. Malicious actors will take previously leaked account credentials and try them on different sites, hoping that they have been reused. And they’re often successful. You can use websites like Have I Been Pwned to keep an eye on whether your email addresses and the passwords associated with them have been compromised in the past. Going forward, we recommend using password managers like 1Password or DashLane to aid your use of multiple, different, complex passwords.
Anti-theft your device
Backblaze has a way to track your computer if it is lost or stolen. Our Locate My Computer feature has helped many of our customers out of sticky situations. By allowing users with this feature enabled to see a rough representation of where their computer was last located and the IP address associated with its last known transmission, we’ve helped them to find their beloved machines and recover them safely.
Report Any Suspicious (Phishing) Messages
We’ve all received too many spam calls, texts, and emails at this point. One of the ways we can stop them from happening is reporting unwanted and suspicious emails, texts, and voicemails to the correct sites. The Federal Trade Commission is a great resource to find where to report these attempts and prevent future incidents from happening.
These are some of the things we recommend you do this year to protect your accounts. Do you have a specific way that you protect your data? Let us know in the comments below!
2019 was a great year at Backblaze and we want to thank all of our friends, family, customers, and blog readers (why aren’t you customers yet?) for making it one to remember! If you’re worried you missed anything good or you’re just looking for some reading material over your break, we’ve got your back: read below to catch up on the good, the better, and the ridiculous here at Backblaze.
We were hard at work and thrilled to get a lot of interesting updates and features out the door this year, including:
Backblaze Version 6.0: Our “Larger Longer Faster Better” release saw the introduction of larger recovery hard drives, the ability to save backed up data directly to B2 Cloud Storage, a “keep restores longer” functionality that allowed already created restores to be archived into B2, network management and speed improvements for the Backblaze App for Mac and PC, a mobile app overhaul for iOS and Android, and the introduction of SSO with Google. Phew!
The Blog Itself: We’d been hard at work on a blog redesign through the beginning of the year, and were ready to unveil the final product in April. This post covered everything that was new (faster load times, archives, post suggestions, better tagging, etc…) and gave a nice breakdown of all the changes.
B2 Copy File APIs: One of the more requested features for B2 Cloud Storage launched in May of this year. This new API allowed people to copy files, which unlocked the ability to rename and re-organize those files inside of their B2 buckets.
EU Data Center: We launched our first data center outside of the United States, firing up an EU Region based out of Amsterdam.
Backblaze Version 7.0: Version history and beyond! One of our most anticipated releases, extended Version History allowed computer backup users to upgrade the retention period of their backups and alleviated the need to continuously plug in external drives—a pain point we heard about a lot before this release!
Behind The Scenes
Taking a page from last year’s post, we wanted to highlight some of the articles where we took a look at ourselves in the mirror and dove deep into some of the internal goings on at Backblaze:
Storage Pod Museum: One of the things we’re most proud of is our storage pods, which enable us to store your data affordably, and pass the savings on. This post looks back at all of our different designs throughout the years.
Reddit AmA: Fielding questions from strangers can be pretty nerve-wracking, but we embraced the chaos and took some questions on Reddit. We highlight some of the questions that were asked and go over how we found ourselves on reddit to begin with.
Who We Are & What We Do: A short post highlighting a video we made to help us continue hiring some of the best minds in their fields.
Raising Prices Is Hard: Not all news is good, and in this post we discuss how we approached our first-ever price increase, and why we had to put it off for over a year at the last minute.
Last year we hired 34 people, and this year we’ve outdone ourselves and hired 48! Please help us welcome: Amanda, Brad, Crystal, Shaneika, Mark, Dan, Keith, Nirmal, Malay, Toren, Robert, Zach, Allen, Vincent, Michael H., Julie, Anu, Kim, Nicole, Christine, Queenie, Alex G., Art, Lisa, Cody, Patrick, Fabian, Elton, Matthew, Gloria, Dash, Griffin, Udara, Pavi, Sutton, Jeremy, Michael F., Jordan, Robert, Madeline, Eric, Kerry, Judith, Jonathan, John, Alex Z., Angelica, Foone, and Anna!
If you want to join our team, don’t worry — we still have a lot of openings, and more on the horizon! Keep up to date on our careers page!
Not everything has to be serious—we know how to have a good time!
No, Thank You!: We take a look at some of the nice notes that we’ve received from satisfied customers over the years.
Interview From Storage Pod Pickup Day: While the actual giveaway process turned out to be much more complicated than expected, the pickup day itself went well, and we got to meet lots of fans—one even brought us cookies!
Backing Up The Death Star: We take a look at the back up philosophies of the Jedi Counsel, Empire, and First Order and what might have been…(minor spoilers for the films leading up to Rise of Skywalker).
There’s always a ton of numbers swirling around and here’s a few that we thought were interesting!
9% — The number of people who were backing up their files at least once a day according to our annual backup survey. In 2018, that number was 6%—we love seeing that trending upwards!
48,300,000,000+ — The number of files that Backblaze has recovered for our customers (both Personal Backup and Business Backup) since we started counting in 2011 (we only started keeping track 3 years after launching the service).
1,038,333,133 — The number of files that Backblaze restored in November of 2019 for our Personal and Business Backup customers. And that’s not including the amount of files that were transacted in B2 Cloud Storage. That’s purely the number of files that we’ve recovered on the back up side of our business. And that number makes us feel good!
115,151 — Spinning hard drives in our data center (boot drives included).
It’s come to our attention here at Backblaze that there’s a movie coming out later this week that some of you are excited about. A few of us around the office might be looking forward to it, too, and it just so happens that we have some special insight into key plot elements.
For instance, did you know that George Lucas was actually a data backup and cloud storage enthusiast? It’s true, and once you start to look, you can see it everywhere in the Star Wars storyline. If you aren’t yet aware of this deeper narrative thread, we’d encourage you to consider the following lessons to ensure you don’t suffer the same disruptions that Darth Sidious (AKA the Emperor, AKA Sheev Palpatine) and the Skywalkers have struggled with over the past 60 years of their adventures.
Because, whether you run a small business, an enterprise, the First Order, or the Rebel Alliance, your data—how you work with it, secure it, and back it up—can be the difference between galactic domination and having your precious battle station scattered into a million pieces across the cold, dark void of space.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen any of the movies we’ll reference below, well, you’ve got some work to do: about 22 hours and 30 minutes of movies, somewhere around 75 hours of animated and live action series, a few video games, and more novels than we can list here (don’t even start with the Canon and Legends division)… If you’d like to try, however, now is the time to close this tab.
Though we all know the old adage about “trying”…
Any good backup strategy begins with a solid approach to data security. If you have that in place, you significantly lower your chance of ever having to rely on your backups. Unfortunately, the simplest forms of security were often overlooked during the first eight installments of the Star Wars story…
“Lost a planet, Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing!” –Master Yoda
The history of the Jedi Council is rife with infosec issues, but possibly the most egregious is called out when Obi-Wan looks into the origins of a Kamino Saberdart. Looking for the location of the planet Kamino itself within the Jedi Archives, he finds nothing but empty space. Having evidently failed out of physics at the Jedi Academy, Master Kenobi needs Yoda to point out that, if there’s a gravity well suggesting the presence of a planet—the planet has likely been improperly deleted from the archives. And indeed that seems to have been the case.
How does the galactic peacekeeping force stand a chance against the Sith when they can’t even keep their own library safe?
Some might argue that, since the Force is required to manipulate the Jedi Archives, then Jedi training was a certain type of password protection. But there were thousands of trained Jedi in the galaxy at that time, not to mention the fact that their sworn enemies were force users. This would be like Google and Amazon corporate offices sharing the same keycards—not exactly secure! So, at their most powerful, the Jedi had weak password protection with no permissions management. And what happened to them? Well, as we now know, even the Younglings didn’t make it… That’s on the Jedi Archivists, who evidently thought they were too good for IT.
“Most unfortunate about the security breach on Jedha, Director Krennic.” —Grand Moff Tarkin
Of course, while the Jedi may have stumbled, the Empire certainly didn’t seem to learn from their mistakes. At first glance, the Imperial databank on Scarif was head-and-shoulders above the Jedi Archives. As we’ve noted before, that Shield Gate was one heck of a firewall! But Jyn Urso and Cassian Andor exploited a consistent issue in the Empire’s systems: Imperial Clearance Codes. I mean, did anyone in the galaxy not have a set of Clearance Codes on hand? It seems like every rebel ship had a few lying around. If only they had better password management, all of those contractors working on Death Star II might still be pulling in a solid paycheck.
To avoid bad actors poking around your archives or databanks, you should conduct regular reviews of your data security strategies to make sure you’re not leaving any glaring holes open for someone else to take advantage of. Regularly change passwords. Use two factor authentication. Use encryption. Here’s more on how we use encryption, and a little advice about ransomware.
But of course, we’ve seen that data security can fail, in huge ways. By our count, insufficient security management on both sides of this conflict has led to the destruction of 6 planets, the pretty brutal maiming of 2 others, a couple stars being sucked dry (which surely led to other planets’ destruction), and the obliteration of a handful of super weapons. There is a right way folks, and what we’re learning here is, they didn’t know it a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But even when your security is set up perfectly, disaster can strike. That’s why backups are an essential accompaniment to any security.
The best approach is a 3-2-1 backup strategy: For every piece of data, you have the data itself (typically on your computer), a backup copy on site (in a NAS or simply an external hard drive), and you keep one copy in the cloud. It’s the most reasonable approach for most average use cases. Lets see how the Empire managed their use case, when the stakes (the fate of much of existence) couldn’t have been higher:
“I will take the designs with me to Coruscant. They will be much safer there with my master.”—Count Dooku
We first see the plans for the “super weapon based on Geonosian designs” when Count Dooku, before departing Geonosis, decides that they would be safer housed on Coruscant with Darth Sidious. How wrong he was! He was thinking about securing his files, but it seems he stumbled en route to actually doing so.
By the time Jynn Erso learns of the “Stardust” version of the plans for the Death Star, it seems that Scarif is the only place in the Galaxy, other than on the Death Star itself, presumably, that a person could find a copy of the plans… Seriously? Technically, the copy on Scarif functioned as the Empire’s “copy in the cloud,” but it’s not like the Death Star had an external hard drive trailing it through space with another copy of the plans.
If you only have one backup, it’s better than nothing—but not by much. When your use case involves even a remote chance that Grand Moff Tarkin might use your data center for target practice, you probably need to be extra careful about redundancy in your approach. If the Rebel Alliance, or just extremely competitive corporate leaders, are a potential threat to your business, definitely ensure that you follow 3-2-1, but also consider a multi-cloud approach with backups distributed in different geographic regions. (For the Empire, we’d recommend different planets…)
There’s being backed up, and then there’s being sure you have the right thing backed up. One thing we learn from the plans used to defeat the first Death Star is that the Empire didn’t manage version control very well. Take a close look at the Death Star schematic that Jyn and Cassian absconded with. Notice anything…off?
Yeah, that’s right. The focus lens for the superlaser is equatorial. Now, everyone knows that the Death Star’s superlaser is actually on the northern hemisphere. Which goes to show you that this backup was not even up to date! A good backup solution will run on a daily basis, or even more frequently depending on use cases. It’s clear that whatever backup strategy the Death Star team had, it had gone awry some time ago.
“The rebels managed to destroy the first Death Star. By rebuilding the Death Star, and using it as many times as necessary to restore order, we prove that their luck only goes so far. We prove that we are the only galactic authority and always will be.”―Lieutenant Nash Windrider
We can only imagine that the architects who were tasked with quickly recreating the Death Star immediately contacted the Records Department to obtain the most recent version of the original plans. Imagine their surprise when they learned that Tarkin had destroyed the databank and they needed to work from memory. Given the Empire’s legendarily bad personnel management strategies—force-choking is a rough approach to motivation, after all—it’s easy to assume that there were corners cut to get the job done on the Emperor’s schedule.
Of course, it’s not always the case that the most recent version of a file will be the most useful. This is where Version History comes into the picture. Version History allows users to maintain multiple versions of a file over extended periods of time (including forever). If the design team from the Empire had set up Version History before bringing Galen Erso back on board, they could have reverted to the pre-final plans that didn’t have a “Insert Proton Torpedo Here To Destroy” sign on them.
To their credit, the Death Star II designers did avoid the two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port exploited by Luke Skywalker at the Battle of Yavin. Instead, they incorporated millions of millimeter-sized heat-dispersion tubes. Great idea! And yet, someone seemed to think it was okay to incorporate Millenium Falcon-sized access tunnels to their shockingly fragile reactor core? This shocking oversight seems to be either a sign of an architectural team clearly stressed by the lack of reliable planning materials, or possibly it was their quiet protest at the number of their coworkers who Darth Vader tossed around during one of his emotional outbursts.
Cloud Storage Among the Power (Force) Users
At this point it is more than clear that the rank-and-file of pretty much every major power during this era of galactic strife was terrible at data security and backup. What about the authorities, though? How do they rank? And how does their approach to backup potentially affect what we’ll learn about the future of the Galaxy in the concluding chapter of the Star Wars saga, “The Rise of Skywalker”?
There are plenty of moderately talented Jedi out there, but only a few with the kind of power marshaled by Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Luke. Just so, there are some of us for whom computer backup is about the deepest we’ll ever dive into the technology that Backblaze offers. For the more ambitious, however, there’s B2 Cloud Storage. Bear with us here, but, is it possible that these Master Jedis could be similar to the sysadmins and developers who so masterfully manipulate B2 to create archives, backup, compute projects, and more, in the cloud? Have the Master Jedis manipulated the force in a similar way to use it as a sort of cloud storage for their consciousness?
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”—Obi-Wan Kenobi
Over many years, we’ve watched as force ghosts accumulate on the sidelines: First Obi-Wan, then Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, and, presumably, Luke Skywalker himself at the end of “The Last Jedi.” (Even Qui-Gon Jinn evidently figured it out after some post-mortem education.) If our base level theory that Star Wars is actually an extended metaphor for the importance of a good backup strategy, then who better to redeem the atrocious backup track record so far than the strongest Jedi the galaxy has ever known? In backing themselves up to the cloud, does “Team Force Ghost” actually present a viable recovery strategy from Darth Sidious’ unbalancing of the force? If so, we could be witnessing one of the greatest arguments for cloud storage and computing ever imagined!
“Long have I waited…”—Darth Sidious
Of course, there’s a flip-side to this argument. If our favorite Jedi Masters were expert practitioners of cloud storage solutions, then how the heck did someone as evil as Darth Sidious find himself alive after falling to his death in the second Death Star’s reactor core? Well, there is precedent for Sith Masters’ improbable survival after falling down lengthy access shafts. Darth Maul survived being tossed down a well and being cut in half by Obi-Wan when Darth Vader was just a glimmer in Anakin Skywalker’s eye. But that was clearly a case of conveniently cauterized wounds and some amazing triage work. No, given the Imperial Fleet’s response to Darth Sidious’ death, the man was not alive at the end of the Battle of Endor by any conventional definition.
One thing we do know, thanks to Qui-Gon’s conversations with Yoda after his death, is that Dark Siders can’t become force ghosts. In short, to make the transition, one has to give in to the will of the Force—something that practitioners of the Dark Side just can’t abide.
Most theories point to the idea that the Sith can bind themselves to objects or even people during death as a means of lingering among the living. And of course there is the scene in “Revenge of the Sith” wherein Darth Sidious (disguised as Sheev Palpatine) explains how Darth Plagueis the Wise learned to cheat death. How, exactly, this was achieved is unclear, but it’s possible that his method was similar to other Sith. This is why, many speculate, we see our intrepid heroes gathering at the wreckage of the second Death Star: Because Darth Sidious’ body is tied, somehow, to the wreckage. Classic! Leave it up to old Sidious to count on a simple physical backup, in the belief that he can’t trust the cloud…
You Are One With The Force, And The Force Is With You
Are we certain how the final battle of the Star Wars story will shape up? Will Light Side force wielders using Cloud Storage to restore their former power, aid Rey and the rest of our intrepid heroes, and defeat the Sith, who have foolishly relied on on-prem storage? No, we’re not, but from our perspective it seems likely that, when the torch was passed, George Lucas sat J.J. Abrams down and said, “J.J., let me tell you what Star Wars is really all about… data storage.”
We are certain, however, that data security and backup doesn’t need to be a battle. Develop a strategy that works for you, make sure your data is safe and sound, and check it once in awhile to make sure it’s up to date and complete. That way, just like the Force, your data will be with you, always.
Backblaze’s data centers may not be the biggest in the world of data storage, but thanks to some chutzpah, transparency, and wily employees, we’re able to punch well above our weight when it comes to purchasing hard drives. No one knows this better than our Director of Supply Chain, Ariel Ellis.
As the person on staff ultimately responsible for sourcing the drives our data centers need to run—some 117,658 by his last count—Ariel knows a thing or two about purchasing petabytes-worth of storage. So we asked him to share his insights on the evaluation and purchasing process here at Backblaze. While we’re buying at a slightly larger volume than some of you might be, we hope you find Ariel’s approach useful and that you’ll share your own drive purchasing philosophies in the comments below.
An Interview with Ariel Ellis, Director of Supply Chain at Backblaze
Sourcing and Purchasing Drives
Backblaze: Thanks for making time, Ariel—we know staying ahead of the burn rate always keeps you busy. Let’s start with the basics: What kinds of hard drives do we use in our data centers, and where do we buy them?
Ariel: In the past, we purchased both consumer and enterprise hard drives. We bought the drives that gave us the best performance and longevity for the price, and we discovered that, in many cases, those were consumer drives.
Today, our purchasing volume is large enough that consumer drives are no longer an option. We simply can’t get enough. High capacity drives in high volume are only available to us in enterprise models. But, by sourcing large volume and negotiating prices directly with each manufacturer, we are able to achieve lower costs and better performance than we could when we were only buying in the consumer channel. Additionally, buying directly gives us five year warranties on the drives, which is essential for our use case.
We began to purchase direct around the launch of our Vault architecture, in 2015. Each Vault contains 1,200 drives and we have been deploying two to four, or more, Vaults each month. 4,800 drives are just not available through consumer distribution. So we now purchase drives from all three hard drive manufacturers: Western Digital, Toshiba, and Seagate.
Backblaze: Of the drives we’re purchasing, are they all 7200 RPM and 3.5” form factor? Is there any reason we’d consider slower drives or 2.5” drives?
Ariel: We use drives with varying speeds, though some power-conserving drives don’t disclose their drive speed. Power draw is a very important metric for us and the high speed enterprise drives are expensive in terms of power cost. We now total around 1.5 megawatts in power consumption in our centers, and I can tell you that every watt matters for reducing costs.
As far as 2.5″ drives, I’ve run the math and they’re not more cost effective than 3.5″ drives, so there’s no incentive for us to use them.
Backblaze: What about other drive types and modifications, like SSD, or helium enclosures, or SMR drives? What are we using and what have we tried beyond the old standards?
Ariel: When I started at Backblaze, SSDs were more than ten times the cost of conventional hard drives. Now they’re about three times the cost. But for Backblaze’s business, three times the cost is not viable for the pricing targets we have to meet. We do use some SSDs as boot drives, as well as in our backend systems, where they are used to speed up caching and boot times, but there are currently no flash drives in our Storage Pods—not in HDD or M.2 formats. We’ve looked at flash as a way to manage higher densities of drives in the future and we’ll continue to evaluate their usefulness to us.
Helium has its benefits, primarily lower power draw, but it makes drive service difficult when that’s necessary. That said, all the drives we have purchased that are larger than 8 TB have been helium—they’re just part of the picture for us. Higher capacity drives, sealed helium drives, and other new technologies that increase the density of the drives are essential to work with as we grow our data centers, but they also increase drive fragility, which is something we have to manage.
SMR would give us a 10-15% capacity-to-dollar boost, but it also requires host-level management of sequential data writing. Additionally, the new archive type of drives require a flash-based caching layer. Both of these requirements would mean significant increases in engineering resources to support and thereby even more investment. So all-in-all, SMR isn’t cost-effective in our system.
Soon we’ll be dealing with MAMR and HAMR drives as well. We plan to test both technologies in 2020. We’re also testing interesting new tech like Seagate’s MACH.2 Multi Actuator, which allows the host to request and receive data simultaneously from two areas of the drive in parallel, potentially doubling the input/output operations per second (IOPS) performance of each individual hard drive. This offsets issues of reduced data availability that would otherwise arise with higher drive capacities. The drive also can present itself as two independent drives. For example, a 16 TB drive can appear as two independent 8 TB drives. A Vault using 60 drives per pod could present as 120 drives per pod. That offers some interesting possibilities.
Backblaze: What does it take to deploy a full vault, financially speaking? Can you share the cost?
Ariel: The cost to deploy a single vault varies between $350,000 to $500,000, depending on the drive capacities being used. This is just the purchase price though. There is also the cost of data center space, power to house and run the hardware, the staff time to install everything, and the bandwidth used to fill it. All of that should be included in the total cost of filling a vault.
Evaluating and Testing New Drive Models
Backblaze: Okay, so when you get to the point where the tech seems like it will work in the data center, how do you evaluate new drive models to include in the Vaults?
Ariel: First, we select drives that fit our cost targets. These are usually high capacity drives being produced in large volumes for the cloud market. We always start with test batches that are separate from our production data storage. We don’t put customers’ data on the test drives. We evaluate read/write performance, power draw, and generally try to understand how the drives will behave in our application. Once we are comfortable with the drive’s performance, we start adding small amounts to production vaults, spread across tomes in a way that does not sacrifice parity. As drive capacities increase, we are putting more and more effort into this qualification process.
We used to be able to qualify new drive models in thirty days. Now we typically take several months. On one hand, this is because we’ve added more steps to pre- and post-production testing. As we scale up, we need to scale up our care, because the effect of any issues with drives increases in line with bigger and bigger implementations. Additionally, from a simple physics perspective, a vault that uses high capacity drives takes longer to fill and we want to monitor the new drive’s performance throughout the entire fill period.
Backblaze: When it comes to the evaluation of the cost, is there a formula for $/terabyte that you follow?
Ariel: My goal is to reduce cost per terabyte on a quarterly basis—in fact, it’s a part of how my job performance is evaluated. Ideally, I can achieve a 5-10% cost reduction per terabyte per quarter, which is a number based on historical price trends and our performance for the past 10 years. That savings is achieved in three primary ways: 1) lowering the actual cost of drives by negotiating with vendors, 2) occasionally moving to higher drive densities, and 3) increasing the slot density of pod chassis. (We moved from 45 drives to 60 drives in 2016, and as we look toward our next Storage Pod version we’ll consider adding more slots per chassis).
Meeting Storage Demand
Backblaze: When it comes to how this actually works in our operating environment, how do you stay ahead of the demand for storage capacity?
Ariel: We maintain several months of the drive space that we would need to meet capacity based on predicted demand from current customers as well as projected new customers. Those buffers are tied to what we expect will be the fill-time of our Vaults. As conditions change, we could decide to extend those buffers. Demand could increase unexpectedly, of course, so our goal is to reduce the fill-time for Vaults so we can bring more storage online as quickly as possible, if it’s needed.
Backblaze: Obviously we don’t operate in a vacuum, so do you worry about how trade challenges, weather, and other factors might affect your ability to obtain drives?
Ariel: (Laughs) Sure, I’ve got plenty to worry about. But we’ve proved to be pretty resourceful in the past when we’re challenged. For example: During the worldwide drive shortage, due to flooding in Southeast Asia, we recruited an army of family and friends to buy drives all over and send them to us. That kept us going during the shortage.
We are vulnerable, of course, if there’s a drive production shortage. Some data center hardware is manufactured in China, and I know that some of those prices have gone up. That said, all of our drives are manufactured in Thailand or Taiwan. Our Storage Pod chassis are made in the U.S.A. Big picture, we try to anticipate any shortages and plan accordingly if we can.
Backblaze: Time for a personal question… What does data durability mean to you? What do you do to help boost data durability, and spread drive hardware risk and exposure?
Ariel: That is personal. (Laughs). But also a good question, and not really personal at all: Everyone at Backblaze contributes to our data durability in different ways.
My role in maintaining eleven nines of durability is, first and foremost: Never running out of space. I achieve this by maintaining close relationships with manufacturers to ensure production supply isn’t interrupted; by improving our testing and qualification processes to catch problems before drives ever enter production; and finally by monitoring performance and replacing drives before they fail. Otherwise it’s just monitoring the company’s burn rates and managing the buffer between our drive capacity and our data under management.
When we are in a good state for space considerations, then I need to look to the future to ensure I’m providing for more long-term issues. This is where iterating on and improving our Storage Pod design comes in. I don’t think that gets factored into our durability calculus, but designing for the future is as important as anything else. We need to be prepared with hardware that can support ever-increasing hard drive capacities—and the fill- and rebuild times that come with those increases—effectively.
Backblaze: That begs the next question: As drive sizes get larger, rebuild times get longer when it’s necessary to recover data on a drive. Is that still a factor, given Backblaze’s durability architecture?
Ariel: We attempt to identify and replace problematic drives before they actually fail. When a drive starts failing, or is identified for replacement, the team always attempts to restore as much data as possible off of it because that ensures we have the most options for maintaining data durability. The rebuild times for larger drives are challenging, especially as we move to 16TB and beyond. We are looking to improve the throughput of our Pods before making the move to 20TB in order to maintain fast enough rebuild times.
And then, supporting all of this is our Vault architecture, which ensures that data will be intact even if individual drives fail. That’s the value of the architecture.
Longer term, one thing we’re looking toward is phasing out SATA controller/port multiplier combo. This might be more technical than some of our readers want to go, but: SAS controllers are a more commonly used method in dense storage servers. Using SATA drives with SAS controllers can provide as much as a 2x improvement in system throughput vs SATA, which is important to me, even though serial ATA (SATA) port multipliers are slightly less expensive. When we started our Storage Pod construction, using SATA controller/port multiplier combo was a great way to keep costs down. But since then, the cost for using SAS controllers and backplanes has come down significantly.
But now we’re preparing for how we’ll handle 18 and 20 TB drives, and improving system throughput will be extremely important to manage that density. We may even consider using SAS drives even though they are slightly more expensive. We need to consider all options in order to meet our scaling, durability and cost targets.
Backblaze’s Relationship with Drive Manufacturers
Backblaze: So, there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to Backblaze and hard drives: Our quarterly Hard Drive Stats reports. We’re the only company sharing that kind of data openly. How have the Drive Stats blog posts affected your purchasing relationship with the drive manufacturers?
Ariel: Due to the quantities we need and the visibility of the posts, drive manufacturers are motivated to give us their best possible product. We have a great purchasing relationship with all three companies and they update us on their plans and new drive models coming down the road.
Backblaze: Do you have any sense for what the hard drive manufacturers think of our Drive Stats blog posts?
Ariel: I know that every drive manufacturer reads our Drive Stats reports, including very senior management. I’ve heard stories of company management learning of the release of a new Drive Stats post and gathering together in a conference room to read it. I think that’s great.
Ultimately, we believe that Drive Stats is good for consumers. We wish more companies with large data centers did this. We believe it helps keep everyone open and honest. The adage is that competition is ultimately good for everyone, right?
It’s true that Western Digital, at one time, was put off by the visibility Drive Stats gave into how their models performed in our data centers (which we’ve always said is a lot different from how drives are used in homes and most businesses). Then they realized the marketing value for them—they get a lot of exposure in the blog posts—and they came around.
Backblaze: So, do you believe that the Drive Stats posts give Backblaze more influence with drive manufacturers?
Ariel: The truth is that most hard drives go directly into tier-one and -two data centers, and not into smaller data centers, homes, or businesses. The manufacturers are stamping out drives in exabyte chunks. A single tier-one data center consumes maybe 500,000 times what Backblaze does in drives. We can’t compare in purchasing power to those guys, but Drive Stats does give us visibility and some influence with the manufacturers. We have close communications with the manufacturers and we get early versions of new drives to evaluate and test. We’re on their radar and I believe they value their relationship with us, as we do with them.
Backblaze: A final question. In your opinion, are hard drives getting better?
Ariel: Yes. Drives are amazingly durable for how hard they’re used. Just think of the forces inside a hard drive, how hard they spin, and how much engineering it takes to write and read the data on the platters. I came from a background in precision optics, which requires incredibly precise tolerances, and was shocked to learn that hard drives are designed in an equally precise tolerance range, yet are made in the millions and sold as a commodity. Despite all that, they have only about a 2% annual failure rate in our centers. That’s pretty good, I think.
Thanks, Ariel. Here’s hoping the way we source petabytes of storage has been useful for your own terabyte, petabyte, or… exabyte storage needs? If you’re working on the latter, or anything between, we’d love to hear about what you’re up to in the comments.
In this blog series, we explore how you can master the nomadic life—whether for a long weekend, an extended working vacation, or maybe even the rest of your career. We profile professionals we’ve met who are stretching the boundaries of what (and where) an office can be, and glean lessons along the way to help you to follow in their footsteps. In our first post in the series, we provided practical tips for working on the road. In this edition, we profile Chris Aguilar, Amphibious Filmmaker.
There are people who do remote filming assignments, and then there’s Chris, the Producer/Director of Fin Films. For him, a normal day might begin with gathering all the equipment he’ll need—camera, lenses, gear, cases, batteries, digital storage—and securing it in a waterproof Pelican case which he’ll then strap to a paddleboard for a long swim to a race boat far out on the open ocean.
This is because Chris, a one-man team, is the preeminent cinematographer of professional paddleboard racing. When your work day involves operating from a beachside hotel, and being on location means bouncing up and down in a dinghy some 16 miles from shore, how do you succeed? We interviewed Chris to figure out.
Getting Ready for a Long Shoot
To save time in the field, Chris does as much prep work as he can. Knowing that he needs to be completely self-sufficient all day—he can’t connect to power or get additional equipment—he gathers and tests all of the cameras he’ll need for all the possible shots that might come up, packs enough SD camera cards, and grabs an SSD external drive large enough to store an entire day’s footage.
Chris edits in Adobe Premiere, so he preloads a template on his MacBook Pro to hold the day’s shots and orders everything by event so that he can drop his content in and start editing it down as quickly as possible. Typically, he chooses a compatible format that can hold all of the different content he’ll shoot. He builds a 4K timeline at 60 frames per second that can take clips from multiple cameras yet can export to other sizes and speeds as needed for delivery.
Days in the Life
Despite being in one of the most exotic and glamorous locations in the world (Hawaii), covering a 32-mile open-ocean race is grueling. Chris’s days start as early as 5AM with him grabbing shots as contestants gather, then filming as many as 35 interviews on race-day eve. He does quick edits of these to push content out as quickly as possible for avid fans all over the world.
The next morning, before race time, he double-checks all the equipment in his Pelican case, and, when there’s no dock, he swims out to the race- or camera boat. After that, Chris shoots as the race unfolds, constantly swapping out SD cards. When he’s back on dry land his first order of business is copying over all of the content to his external SSD drive.
Even after filming the race’s finish, awards ceremonies, and wrap-up interviews, he’s still not done: By 10PM he’s back at the hotel to cut a highlight reel of the day’s events and put together packages that sports press can use, including the Australian press that needs content for their morning sports shows.
For streaming content in the field, Chris relies on Google Fi through his phone because it can piggyback off of a diverse range of carriers. His backup network solution is a Verizon hotspot that usually covers him where Google Fi cannot. For editing and uploading, he’s found that he can usually rely on his hotel’s network. When that doesn’t work, he defaults to his hotspot, or a coffee shop. (His pro tip is that, for whatever reason, the Starbucks in Hawaii typically have great internet.)
Building a Case
After years of shooting open-ocean events, Chris has settled on a tried and true combination of gear—and it all fits in a single, waterproof Pelican 1510 case. His kit has evolved to be as simple and flexible as possible, allowing him to cover multiple shooting roles in a hostile environment including sand, extreme sun-glare on the water, haze, fog, and of course, the ever-present ocean water.
At the same time, his gear needs to accommodate widely varied shooting styles: Chris needs to be ready to capture up close and personal interviews; wide, dramatic shots of the pre-race ceremonies; as well as a combination of medium shots of several racers on the ocean and long, telephoto shots of individuals—all from a moving boat bobbing on the ocean. Here’s his “Waterproof Kit List”:
The Case Pelican 1510
Chris likes compact, rugged camcorders from Panasonic. They have extremely long battery life, and the latest generation have large sensor sizes, wide dynamic range and even built-in ND filter wheels to compensate for the glare on the water. He’ll also bring other cameras for special shots, like an 8mm film camera for artistic shots, or a GoPro for the classic ‘from under the sea to the waterline’ shots.
Primary Interview Camera
Panasonic EVA1 5.7K Compact Cinema Camcorder 4K 10b 4:2:2 with EF lens-mount (with rotating lens kit depending on the event)
Action Camera and B-Roll
Panasonic AG-CX350 (or EVA1 kitted out similarly if the CX350 isn’t available)
Stills and Video
Panasonic GH5 20.3MP and 4K 60fps 4:2:2 10-b Mirrorless ILC camera
Special Purpose and B-Roll Shots
Eumig Nautica Super 8 film self-sealed waterproof camera
4K GoPro in a waterproof dome housing
As a one-person show, Chris invests in enough SD cards for his cameras that can cover the entire day’s shooting without having to reuse cards. Chris will then copy all of those card’s content to a bus-powered SSD drive.
8-12 64GB or 128GB SD cards
1 TB SSD Glyph or G-Tech SSD drive
Multiple Neutral Density filters. These filters reduce the intensity of all wavelengths without affecting color. With ND filters the operator can dial in combinations of aperture, exposure time and sensor sensitivity without being overexposed, and delivers more ‘filmic’ looks, setting the aperture to a low value for sharper images, or wide open for a shallow depth-of-field
Extra batteries. Needless to say having extra batteries for his cameras and his phone is critical when he may not be able to recharge for 12 hours or more.
Now, The Real Work Begins
When wrapping up an event’s coverage, all of the content captured needs to be stored and managed. Chris’s previous workflow required transferring the raw and finished files to external drives for storage. That added up to a lot of drives. Chris estimates that over the years he had stored about 20 terabytes of footage on paddleboarding alone.
Managing all those drives proved to be too big of a task for someone who is rarely in his production office. Chris needed access to his files from wherever he was, and a way to view, catalog, and share the content with collaborators.
As he got his approach dialed to accommodate remote broadband speed, storage drive wrangling, inexpensive cloud storage, and cloud-based digital asset management systems, putting all his content into the cloud became an option for Chris. Using Backblaze’s B2 Cloud Storage along with iconik content management software, what used to take several days in the office searching through hard drives for specific footage to edit or share with a collaborator now involves just a few keyword searches and a matter of minutes to share via iconik.
For a digital media nomad like Chris, digitally native solutions based in the cloud make a lot of sense. Plus, Chris knows that the content is safely and securely stored, and not exposed to transport challenges, accidents (including those involving water), and other difficulties that could spoil both his day and that of his clients.
Learn More About How Chris Works Remotely
You can learn more about Chris, Fin Film Company, and how he works from the road in our case study on Fin Films. We’ve also linked to Chris’s Kit Page for those of you who just can’t get enough of this gear…
We’d Love to Hear Your Digital Nomad Stories
If you consider yourself a digital nomad and have an interesting story about using Backblaze Cloud Backup or B2 Cloud Storage from the road (or wherever), we’d love to hear about it, and perhaps feature your story on the blog. Tell us what you’ve been doing on the road at email@example.com.
You can view all the posts in this series on the Digital Nomads page in our Blog Archives.
Gift giving time is rapidly approaching and we at Backblaze are always interested to see what cool new things we can give our loved ones. This year we’ve rounded up a ton of games, watches, and streaming devices. Whether you’re planning for countless family gatherings over the coming months, or are just participating in the Reddit Gift exchange—these are sure to delight!
HDD Watch (A blast from the past…) This was in our 2014 holiday gift guide, but we wanted to revisit it because it’s left the crowd-funding space and is now readily available for purchase. We love this watch for obvious reasons.
Garmin Venu We have a lot of athletes at the Backblaze office and this watch is becoming a favorite of theirs. If you want smart-watch capabilities, but with a fitness-first approach, this is a great watch to get started with. It’s ambidextrous, so both iOS and Android users can enjoy it.
Apple Watch 5 It’s hard to mention watches without talking about the Apple Watch 5. The latest version of the Apple Watch is feature-rich and the go-to for Apple fans. It’s faster, it has more storage space, but the most revolutionary improvement from this version? It actually functions as a watch with the new always-on display. Crazy.
Fossil Hybrid This is the watch for everyone out there who misses their Pebble. I had each iteration of the Pebble and this looks like something that could have been the “next step”—but with analog watch hands. The cool thing is, they move away when you’re reading messages, which is pretty slick!
Aero Plant If you don’t have a backyard but want to flex your green thumb, this is a great way to start your own indoor garden. This is perfect for folks in dense urban areas (like the Bay) with tiny apartments!
Scooter Luggage Do you travel a lot? Need to zip through airports quickly? This luggage-scooter combo has you covered. We can’t speak for the quality, but the idea of watching someone zip along on their luggage makes us giggle.
Scooting too much work? Ride it! If you can’t be bothered to scoot yourself forward, you can even get a riding piece of luggage. Granted this is still being crowd-funded so your mileage may vary, but this luggage can also follow you around like a well-known bassinet in a popular Disney+ show!
Smarten Up Your TV
Chromecast Ultra The Chromecast Ultra is a great way to get 4K content from your phone, tablet, or computer onto your TV. All you need is the Chrome browser and this dongle, and you’re good to go. A side-benefit of this is that you can have party guests queue up their own favorite music. Though, that might be a downside as well…
Roku Ultra 4K A great benefit of the Roku is that you can plug your headphones (3.5mm) into the remote and watch TV all night long without bothering your partner.
Fire Stick 4K This is the easiest way to bring Smart TV capabilities with you when you’re on the go. A few years ago when I traveled more often, I would toss one of these into my suitcase to make hotel-room viewing less of a drag.
Board Games (bored games) Tip: Go to your local game store for these!
Terraforming Mars The Backblaze folks play this game at least once a week in the office. It’s one of the better designed games we’ve had a chance to play in recent memory—we highly recommend it! Don’t miss the expansions offered, they add a lot to the game. We highly recommend playing with the Prelude and Colonies expansions!
Dune We haven’t had a chance to dive into this game as frequently as we’d like, but we have it in the office and it’s on standby for when we’re done Terraforming Mars. Early indicators are that it’s a very well designed game and we are excited to dive deeper into it. The spice must flow!
Dutch Blitz Family trips are made better by having a deck of cards or an easily transportable card game in your suitcase. Dutch Blitz is easy to learn and fun to play, though it does require some lightning quick reflexes from time to time!
Firefly Fluxx Fluxx is a game that’s been around for a while, and we have both Math Fluxx and Firefly Fluxx in the office, both of which we enjoy playing from time to time. The rules are simple, but ever-changing, which makes for some dynamic game-play that can range from 5 to 25 minutes!
Monopoly Deal Similar to Dutch Blitz, this is a great card game to bring with you when you’re traveling. It’s simple, has the same elements of Monopoly that you know and love, but only takes about 20 minutes instead of the table-flipping 4-hour Monopoly marathons that you grew up with.
Dungeons and Dragons We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention D&D! It’s never too early to start or teach your children how to play. D&D is having a bit of a resurgence and it’s an incredible way to teach creativity, problem solving, math, and interpersonal skills. If you’re just starting out and the thought of creating your own adventure is too daunting, check out Dungeon Masters Guild for some smaller modules that you can use to dip your toes in! If you do buy the handbooks, we recommend showing your local game store some love and purchasing it there!
For That One Friend
What do you get the person who has everything? The ability to make their own stuff! The Prusa Mini should keep them occupied for a while—and might result in them making some gifts for you as a thanks!
And, of course… Backblaze You know it. You love it. Now gift it!
We hope that some of these ideas spark a little joy or creativity in your gift buying this season. We wish you the best! What are you most looking forward to your loved ones (or enemies?) unwrapping this year?
Everything that makes working at a creative agency exciting also makes it challenging. With each new client, creative teams are working on something different. One day they’re on site, shooting a video for a local business, the next they’re sifting through last year’s concert footage for highlights to promote this year’s event. When their juices are flowing, it’s as easy for them to lose track of the files they need as it is for them to lose track of time.
If you’re tasked with making sure a team’s content is protected every day, as well as ensuring that it’s organized and saved for the future, we have some tips to make your job easier. Because we know you’d rather be working on your own projects, not babysitting backups or fetching years-old content from a dusty archive closet.
Since we’re sure you’re not making obvious mistakes—like expecting creatives to manually archive their own content, or not having a 3-2-1 backup strategy—we’ll focus on the not-so-obvious tips. Many of these come straight from our own creative agency customers who learned the hard way, before they rolled out a cloud-based backup and archive solution.
Tip #1—Save everything when a client’s project is completed
For successful creative agencies, there’s no such thing as “former” clients, only clients that you haven’t worked with lately. That means your job managing client data isn’t over when the project is delivered. You need to properly archive everything: not just the finished videos, images or layouts, but all the individual assets created for the project and all the raw footage.
It’s not unusual for clients to request raw footage, even years after the project is complete. If you only saved master copies and can’t send them all of their source footage, your client may question how you manage their content, which could impact their trust in you for future projects.
The good news is that if you have an organized, accessible content archive, it’s easy to send a drive or even a download link to a client. It may even be possible for you to charge clients to retrieve and deliver their content to them.
Tip #2—Stop using external drives for backup or archive
If your agency uses external disk drives to back up or archive your projects, you’re not alone. Creative teams do it because it’s dead simple: you plug the drive in, copy project files to it, unplug the drive, and put it on a shelf or in a drawer. But there are some big problems with this.
First, since external drives are removable, they’re easily misplaced. It’s not unusual for someone to take a drive offsite to work on a project and forget to return it. Second, removable drives can fail over time after being damaged by physical impacts, water, magnetic fields, or even “bit rot” from just sitting on a shelf. Finally, locating client files in a stack of drives can be like finding a needle in a haystack, especially if the editor who worked on the project has left the agency.
Tip #3—Organize your archive for self-service access
Oh, the frustration of knowing you already have a clip that would be perfect for a new project, but… who knows where it is? With the right tools in place, a producer’s frustration doesn’t mean you’ll have to drop everything and join their search party. Even if you’re not sure you need a full-featured MAM, your time would be well-spent to find a solution that allows creatives to search and retrieve files from the archive on their own.
Look for software that lets them browse through thumbnails and proxies instead of file names, and allows them to search based on metadata. Your archive storage shouldn’t force you to be on site and instantly available to load LTO tapes and retrieve those clips the editor absolutely and positively has to have today.
Tip #4—Schedule regular tests for backup restores and archive retrievals
When you first set up your backup system, I’m sure you checked that the backups were firing off on schedule, and tested restoring files and folders. But have you done it lately? Since the last time you checked, any number of things could have changed that would break your backups.
Maybe you added another file share that wasn’t included in the initial set up. Perhaps your backup storage has reached capacity. Maybe an operating system upgrade on a workstation is incompatible with your backup software. Perhaps the automated bill payment for a backup vendor failed. Bad things can happen when you’re not looking, so it’s smart to schedule time at least once a month to test your backups and restores. Ditto for testing your archives.
Tip #5 – Plan for long-term archive media refresh
If your agency has been in business more than a handful of years, you probably have content stored on media that’s past its expiration date. (Raise your hand if you still have client content stored on Betacam.) Drive failures increase significantly after 4 years (see our data center’s latest hard drive stats), and tape starts to degrade around 15 years. Even if the media is intact, file formats and other technologies can become obsolete quicker than you can say LTO-8. The only way to ensure access to archived content is to migrate it to newer media and/or technologies. This unglamorous task sounds simple—reading the data off the old media and copying it to new media—but the devil is in the details.
Of course, if you backup or archive to Backblaze B2 cloud storage, we’ll migrate your data to newer disk drives for you as needed over time. It all happens behind the scenes so you don’t ever need to think about it. And it’s included free with our service.
Want to see how all these tips works together? Join our live webinar co-hosted with Archiware on Tuesday, December 10, and we’ll show you how Baron & Baron, the agency behind the world’s top luxury brands from Armani to Zara, solved their backup and archive challenges.
As of September 30, 2019, Backblaze had 115,151 spinning hard drives spread across four data centers on two continents. Of that number, there were 2,098 boot drives and 113,053 data drives. We’ll look at the lifetime hard drive failure rates of the data drive models currently in operation in our data centers, but first we’ll cover the events that occurred in Q3 that potentially affected the drive stats for that period. As always, we’ll publish the data we use in these reports on our Hard Drive Test Data web page and we look forward to your comments.
Hard Drive Stats for Q3 2019
At this point in prior hard drive stats reports we would reveal the quarterly hard drive stats table. This time we are only going to present the Lifetime Hard Drive Failure table, which you can see if you jump to the end of this report. For the Q3 table, the data which we typically use to create that report may have been indirectly affected by one of our utility programs which performs data integrity checks. While we don’t believe the long-term data is impacted, we felt you should know. Below, we will dig into the particulars in an attempt to explain what happened in Q3 and what we think it all means.
What is a Drive Failure?
Over the years we have stated that a drive failure occurs when a drive stops spinning, won’t stay as a member of a RAID array, or demonstrates continuous degradation over time as informed by SMART stats and other system checks. For example, a drive that reports a rapidly increasing or egregious number of media read errors is a candidate for being replaced as a failed drive. These types of errors are usually seen in the SMART stats we record as non-zero values for SMART 197 and 198 which log the discovery and correctability of bad disk sectors, typically due to media errors. We monitor other SMART stats as well, but these two are the most relevant to this discussion.
What might not be obvious is that changes in some SMART attributes only occur when specific actions occur. Using SMART 197 and 198 as examples again, these values are only affected when a read or write operation occurs on a disk sector whose media is damaged or otherwise won’t allow the operation. In short, SMART stats 197 and 198 that have a value of zero today will not change unless a bad sector is encountered during normal disk operations. These two SMART stats don’t cause read and writes to occur, they only log aberrant behavior from those operations.
Protecting Stored Data
When a file, or group of files, arrives at a Backblaze data center, the file is divided into pieces we call shards. For more information on how shards are created and used in the Backblaze architecture, please refer to Backblaze Vault and Backblaze Erasure Coding blog posts. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say a shard is a blob of data that resides on a disk in our system.
As each shard is stored on a hard drive, we create and store a one-way hash of the contents. For reasons ranging from media damage to bit rot to gamma rays, we check the integrity of these shards regularly by recomputing the hash and comparing it to the stored value. To recompute the shard hash value, a utility known as a shard integrity check reads the data in the shard. If there is an inconsistency between the newly computed and the stored hash values, we rebuild the shard using the other shards as described in the Backblaze Vault blog post.
Shard Integrity Checks
The shard integrity check utility runs as a utility task on each Storage Pod. In late June, we decided to increase the rate of the shard integrity checks across the data farm to cause the checks to run as often as possible on a given drive while still maintaining the drive’s performance. We increased the frequency of the shard integrity checks to account for the growing number of larger-capacity drives that had been deployed recently.
The Consequences for Drive Stats
Once we write data to a disk, that section of disk remains untouched until the data is read by the user, the data is read by the shard integrity check process to recompute the hash, or the data is deleted and written over. As a consequence, there are no updates regarding that section of disk sent to SMART stats until one of those three actions occur. By speeding up the frequency of the shard integrity checks on a disk, the disk is read more often. Errors discovered during the read operation of the shard integrity check utility are captured by the appropriate SMART attributes. Putting together the pieces, a problem that would have been discovered in the future—under our previous shard integrity check cadence—would now be captured by the SMART stats when the process reads that section of disk today.
By increasing the shard integrity check rate, we potentially moved failures that were going to be found in the future into Q3. While discovering potential problems earlier is a good thing, it is possible that the hard drive failures recorded in Q3 could then be artificially high as future failures were dragged forward into the quarter. Given that our Annualized Failure Rate calculation is based on Drive Days and Drive Failures, potentially moving up some number of failures into Q3 could cause an artificial spike in the Q3 Annualized Failure Rates. This is what we will be monitoring over the coming quarters.
There are a couple of things to note as we consider the effect of the accelerated shard integrity checks on the Q3 data for Drive Stats:
The number of drive failures over the lifetime of a given drive model should not increase. At best we just moved the failures around a bit.
It is possible that the shard integrity checks did nothing to increase the number of drive failures that occurred in Q3. The quarterly failure rates didn’t vary wildly from previous quarters, but we didn’t feel comfortable publishing them at this time given the discussion above.
Lifetime Hard Drive Stats through Q3 2019
Below are the lifetime failure rates for all of our drive models in service as of September 30, 2019.
The lifetime failure rate for the drive models in production rose slightly, from 1.70% at the end of Q2 to 1.73% at the end of Q3. This trivial increase would seem to indicate that the effect of the potential Q3 data issue noted above is minimal and well within a normal variation. However, we’re not satisfied that is true yet and we have a plan for making sure as we’ll see in the next section.
What’s Next for Drive Stats?
We will continue to publish our Hard Drive Stats each quarter, and next quarter we expect to include the quarterly (Q4) chart as well. For the foreseeable future, we will have a little extra work to do internally as we will be tracking two different groups of drives. One group will be the drives that “went through the wormhole,” so to speak, as they were present during the accelerated shard integrity checks. The other group will be those drives that were placed into production after the shard integrity check setting was reduced. We’ll compare these two datasets to see if there was indeed any effect of the increased shard integrity checks on the Q3 hard drive failure rates. We’ll let you know what we find in subsequent drive stats reports.
The Hard Drive Stats Data
The complete data set used to create the information used in this review is available on our Hard Drive Test Data web page. You can download and use this data for free for your own purpose. All we ask are three things: 1) You cite Backblaze as the source if you use the data, 2) You accept that you are solely responsible for how you use the data, and, 3) You do not sell this data to anyone; it is free. Good luck and let us know what you find.
As always, we look forward to your thoughts and questions in the comments.
November 8th marks the celebration of National STEM day, calling attention to the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in young peoples’ education. Without these programs encouraging young minds to enter STEM fields, we would be hard-pressed to find the Backblaze staffers of the future. As such, a day like this is something we have to celebrate here in our office.
Many of our teammates missed out on the educational initiatives around tech that exist today, but they did not let age, gender, or socioeconomic status stop them from reaching the top of their respective fields. So in honor of the day, we decided to share some of their STEM-related stories with an eye toward inspiring you. Whether they rouse you to dig into your own mid-career shift, or to encourage your kids to consider STEM, or to send an application our way, we hope these stories add to your understanding of how helpful STEM can be in any life.
The STEMs of Backblaze
From Crash Bandicoot to Front End Developer
Steven, a front end developer at Backblaze, started out as a bellman at the Greenwich Hotel in New York City, but his love for digital media—beginning with games like Naughty Dog’s work of art, “Crash Bandicoot”—encouraged him to sign up for a boot camp for web development called Bloc. After 6 months, Steven launched into the work force with one mission: To make the world a better place, one product at a time.
“That love for video games became a love for technology and software,” said Steven, reflecting on his early years in tech. “As I grew older, played more games, discovered the joys of dial-up internet and witnessed cable TV move into the high definition era, my interest for what powered all of these sources of entertainment peaked.”
Taking the Leap to Director of Engineering
Not everyone is as confident as Steven, though. Would you just walk into a coding bootcamp with no experience? Intimidation can be a big reason why someone shies away from working in a STEM related field. Our Vice President of Engineering, Tina, believes that you should not shy away from intimidation. She believes that embracing your jump into the unknown will help you find the fun in your field of work.
“Never think that you are not good enough or smart enough to learn anything,” said Tina, when asked what advice she would give to young engineers. “I feel like there is a misconception that engineering is boring or for geeks or whatever and that’s not true at all. And also, just because it is a male dominated industry doesn’t mean other women shouldn’t just go for it. It’s actually really fun once you start doing it. Essentially, just don’t let the intimidation get to you. Anyone can learn it.”
And she speaks from experience: Tina was the only woman in her Electronic and Computer Engineering classes at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, but now she’s running Backblaze’s engineering efforts. Without her, our engineering team would not run as smoothly and efficiently or have projects like extending your version history release on time!
From Microbiology to Backblaze Sales Operations and Enablement Manager
Tina makes a good point that most people tend to miss: the difference between the impossible and something that just makes you uncomfortable. Sona, our Sales Operations and Enablement Manager, spent her undergrad years preparing to attend med school. But when it came around to applying for post-grad programs or applying for jobs, she realized that her biological sciences degree qualified her for a range of different positions beyond the medical field.
“Do something that makes you uncomfortable,” said Sona, reflecting on what she would tell her younger self when starting out. “Because if you fail you fail, but if you don’t fail you might be opening up a door to something that you didn’t even know you wanted to do.” Embracing her discomfort allowed Sona to explore other careers, like working as a microbiologist at Shasta Beverages, Inc. and, now, being our go-to person for implementing software to supercharge our sales efforts here at Backblaze.
Experimenting with Technical Operations
This is true for our Director of Technical Operations, Chris, who started as a system administrator after stepping away from the college path because he felt more comfortable with a hands-on learning experience. Chris had always tinkered with computers and software during his summer breaks from school so he felt confident that this field was the right place for him.
“Try things. Experiment. The sooner you get plugged into a social network of some kind in your field, like a group or a club or an open-source project, the sooner the world will open up for you,” said Chris. “Because the people you meet will come from all different walks of life you will see all the different things they do and some of them might be interesting and different than what you initially thought of doing.”
Whether it’s toying with computer motherboards like Chris did, stargazing, app building, or even setting up your shot in basketball, chances are that your hobbies have roots in STEM. The average person indulges in these related activities without even knowing it.
Art, Dance, and Programming Sequences
Amanda is our Senior Accountant and her father, Brian, is our Distinguished Engineer. When she was younger her hobbies were art, dance, and… learning about programming sequences.
“I feel like [doing math] came very naturally,” said Amanda. “I grew up in a very math-friendly household. My dad started teaching me algebra really early. They were excited about it so they both did software engineering and programming. They would, ‘just for fun,’ teach me programming problems and I would be asking them about matrices and things like that.”
Of course, we don’t all have brilliant engineers for parents, but that doesn’t mean that Amanda’s experience isn’t useful. STEM programming is all about giving young people exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math in ways they can relate to. With Amanda, that was programming problems. But school systems all over have adapted STEM programs to their curriculum to build enthusiasm for kids who like to tinker with robots or treat math problems like a competition. You can even bring it home for your own family. The trick is to find fun, science-related activities that help kids continue to expand their excitement for these fields.
It might seem hokey, but it can be fun. For instance, at Backblaze, we still do STEM style experiments, like the day we used bubbles and a fog machine to test the air flow in the office (as seen in the video below).
Do you have an interesting story of how you came to be in the STEM field of work? Or resources for how you passed your enthusiasm on? Share them in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: At Backblaze, the entrepreneurial spirit is in our DNA: Our founders started out in a cramped Palo Alto apartment, worked two years without pay, and bootstrapped their way to the stable, thriving startup we are today. We’ve even written a series about some of the lessons we learned along the way.
But Backblaze is a sample size of one, so we periodically reach out to other experts to expand our startup test cases and offer more insights for you. In that regard, we’re happy to invite Lars Lofgren to the blog.
As the CEO of Quick Sprout—a business focused on helping founders launch and optimize their businesses—Lars is a wellspring of case studies on how businesses both do and do not succeed. We asked Lars for advice on one subject near and dear to our hearts: Business Backup. He’s boiled down his learnings into a quick guide for backing up your business today. We hope you find Lars’ guidance and stories useful—if you have any tips or experience with business backup please share them in the comments below.
How to Make Your Business Unbreakable
by Lars Lofgren, CEO, Quick Sprout
Launching a new business is thrilling. As someone who has been in on the ground floor of several startups, there’s nothing else like it: You’re eager to get started and growth seemingly can’t come soon enough.
But in the midst of all of this excitement, there’s a to-do list that’s one-thousand tasks deep. You’ve already gone through the tedious process of registering your business, applying for an EIN, opening new bank accounts, and launching your website. So many entrepreneurs want to dive right into generating revenue, but there’s still a ton to do.
Backing anything up is usually the last thing anyone wants to think about. But backups need to be a priority for every new business owner, because losing precious data or records could be beyond detrimental to your success. A computer accident, office fire, flood, ransomware attack, or some other unforeseen calamity could set you back months, years, or in many cases, end your business entirely. Earlier this week, I watched a fire in my neighborhood completely engulf a building. Three businesses went up in smoke and the fire department declared a total loss for all three. I hope they had backups.
Spending a little time on backups in the early stages of your launch won’t just save your company from disaster, it will make your business unbreakable.
Even if your company has been in business for a while, there’s still time for you to implement a data backup plan before it’s too late. And knowing what to back up will save you time, money, and countless headaches. Here are six simple steps to guide you:
Backing Up Hard Drives
Hard drives are like lightbulbs. It’s not a matter of if they will go out, it’s a matter of when.
As more time passes, there becomes a greater chance that your hard drives will fail. For those of you who are interested in learning more about hard drive failures, Andy Klein, Backblaze’s Director of Compliance, recently published the most recent hard drive statistics here.
Take a moment to think about all of the crucial information that’s been compiled on your hard drive over the last few months. Now, imagine that information getting wiped clean. One morning you wake up and it’s just gone without a trace. In the blink of an eye, you’re starting from nothing. It’s a scary thought and I’ve seen it happen to too many people. Losing files at the wrong moment could cause you to miss out on a critical deal or delay major projects indefinitely. Timing is everything.
So when it comes to your hard drives, you need to set up some type of daily backups as soon as possible. Whatever backup tool you decide to go with, just make sure you’re fully covered and prepared for the worst. The goal is to be able to fully recover a hard drive at a moment’s notice.
Once you’ve covered that first step, consider adding a cloud backup solution. Cloud storage is much more reliable than a series of physical backup drives.
Backing Up Email
I would be lost without email.
For me, this might actually be the most important part of my business to back up. My email includes all of my contacts, my entire work history, and the logins for all of my accounts. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis stems from my email. You might not rely on it as heavily as I do, but I’m sure that email still plays a crucial role in your business.
Today, most of us are already using cloud services, like G Suite, so we rarely think about backing up our email. And it’s true that your email won’t be lost if your computer gets damaged or your hard drive fails. But if you lost access to your login or your email account was corrupted, it would be devastating.
And it does happen. I’ve come across a few folks who were locked out of their email accounts by Google with no explanation. I’m sure there are bad actors out there abusing Google’s tools, but it’s also very possible for accounts to be accidentally shut down, too.
Even normal business operations result in lost email and documents. If your business has employees, put this at the top of your priority list. Any turnover usually results in losing that employee’s email history. For the most part, their emails will be deleted when the user is removed from your system, but there’s a good chance that you’re going to need access to those emails. Just because that employee is gone, it doesn’t mean that their responsibilities disappear.
While it’s possible to export your G Suite data, you’d then be on the hook for doing this regularly and storing your exports securely. In my opinion, this requires too much manual work and leaves room for error.
I’d recommend going through the G Suite Marketplace to find an app that can handle all of your backups automatically in the cloud. (Editor’s note: For the easiest, most reliable solution, we recommend Google Vault.) Once you set this up, you’ll never have to worry about your G Suite data again. Even if it somehow gets corrupted, you’ll always be able to restore it quickly.
What about Office 365 and Outlook? It’s easy to backup Outlook manually by exporting your entire inbox. There are also ways to back up your company’s email with Exchange Online. The best method will depend on your exact implementation of Outlook at your company.
For those of you managing email on your own network who don’t plan to move to a cloud-based email service, just ensure your existing backups cover your email or find a way to ensure they do as soon as possible.
Backing Up Your Website
If your website goes down, or, even worse, you become a victim of malware, you’ll lose the lifeblood of your business: new customers.
People hack websites all the time in order to spread viruses and malware. Small businesses and startups are an easy target for cybercriminals because their sites often aren’t protected as well as those of larger companies. If something horrible like this happens, you’ll need to reset your entire site to protect your business, customers, and website visitors.
This process is a whole lot easier when you have website backups. So, when you create your website, make daily backups a priority from the outset. Start with your web host. Contact them to see what kind of backups they offer. Their answer could ultimately sway you to use one web host over another. For those of you who are using WordPress, there are lots of different plugins that offer regular backups. I’ve reviewed the best options and covered this topic more extensively here.
Generally speaking, website backups will not be free. But paying for a high-quality backup solution is well worth the cost, and far less expensive than the price of recovering from a total loss without backups.
This will also protect you and your employees from the fallout of launching a bug that accidentally brings the whole website down. Unfortunately, this happens more often than any of us would like to admit. Backups make this an embarrassing error, rather than a fatal one.
Backing Up Paperwork
Being 100% paper-free isn’t always an option. Even though the vast majority of documentation has transitioned to digital, there are still some forms that stubbornly remain in paper. No matter how hard I try, I still get stuck with paper documents for physical receipts, some tax filings, and some government paperwork.
When you launch your business, you will generate a batch of paper records that will slowly grow over time. Keeping these papers neatly organized in a filing cabinet is important, but this only helps with storage. Paper documents are still vulnerable to theft, flooding, fire, and other physical damage. So why not just digitize them quickly and be done with it? Not only will this free up extra space around the office, but it will also give you peace of mind about losing your files in a catastrophe.
The easiest way to back up your paperwork is to get a scanner, scan your documents, and then upload them to the cloud with the rest of your files. You can forget about them until they’re necessary.
It’s in your best interest to do this with your existing paper files immediately. Then make it part of your process whenever you get physical paperwork. If you wait too long, not only are you susceptible to losing important files, but the task will only grow more tedious and time-consuming.
Backing Up Processes
Not many companies think about it, but not backing up processes has easily caused me the most grief out of any other item in this post. In a perfect world, all of your staff will give you plenty of notice before they leave. This will give you time to fill the position and have that employee train the next person in their remaining weeks. But you and I both know that the world isn’t perfect.
Things happen. Employees leave on the spot or do something egregious that results in an immediate firing. Not everyone leaving your business will end on good terms, so you can’t bank on them being helpful during a transitional period. And when people leave your company, their knowledge is lost forever.
If those processes aren’t written down, training someone else can be extremely difficult, and nearly impossible if a top-tier employee leaves. The only way to prevent this is by turning all processes into standard operating procedures, better known as SOPs. Then you just need to store these SOPs somewhere that is also backed up, whether that is your hard drive (as mentioned above) or in a project management tool like Confluence, Notion, or even a folder in your Google Drive. As long as you have your SOPs saved on some sort of cloud backup solution, they’ll always be there when you need to access them.
Backing Up Software Databases
If you run a software business or use software for any internal tools, you need to get backups set up for all of your databases. Similar to your hard drives, sooner or later one of them will go down.
When I was at KISSmetrics, we had an engineer shut down our core database for the entire product by accident. When someone makes a mistake like that they don’t always act rationally. Instead of notifying management immediately, this engineer walked away and went to bed. The database was down overnight until the following morning. While we had some backups, we still lost about twelve hours worth of customer data. Without those backups, it would have been even worse.
The more critical the database, the more robust the backup solution needs to be. As I said before, you need to plan for the worst. Sometimes a daily backup might not be good enough if the database is super critical. If you can’t afford to lose 24 hours worth of information, then you’ll need a solution that backs up at the frequency your business requires.
Work with your engineering team to make sure all core functionality is completely redundant. Customers can tolerate their login page being down for a short period, but they won’t tolerate permanent data loss.
Final Thoughts on Business Backup
I know, your list of things to do when you start a new business just got longer! But backing up your data, files, and other important information is crucial for every business across all industries. You can’t operate under the assumption that you’re immune from these pitfalls. Sooner or later, they happen to all of us. Whether it be physical damage to a hard drive, theft to a computer, human error, or a malicious attack against your website, you must limit your exposure.
But good news: Once your backups are in place, your business will be unbreakable.
Editor’s Note: If you’ve read this far, you’re likely very serious about backing up your business—or maybe you’re just passionate about the process? Either way, Lars has outlined a lot of the “whys” and plenty of good “hows” for you here, but we’d love to help you tick a few things off of your list. Here are a few notes for how you can implement Lars’ advice using Backblaze:
Backing up your…
This is an easy one: backup is the core of what we do, and backing up your computers, and your hard drives are the easiest first step you’ll take. And now, if you opt for Forever Version History, you only need to hook up your older drives once.
…Email… and Paperwork, Process, and Database:
If your email is already with a cloud service, you’ve got one backup, but if you are using Outlook, Apple Mail, or other applications storing email locally on your computer, Backblaze will automatically back those up.
As Lars mentioned, a lot of hosting services offer backup options. But especially if you’re looking for WordPress backups, we have you covered.
Another option to consider is using Cloudflare or other caching services to prevent “soft downtime.” If you’ve engaged with Backblaze, we have a partnership with Cloudflare to make this solution easier.
Now that you’re all backed up and have some extra time and peace of mind, we’d love to hear more about your business: How does your infrastructure help you succeed?
Editor’s Note: Since 2013, Backblaze has published statistics and insights based on the hard drives in our data centers. Why? Well, we like to be helpful, and we thought sharing would help others who rely on hard drives but don’t have reliable data on performance to make informed purchasing decisions. We also hoped the data might aid manufacturers in improving their products. Given the millions of people who’ve read our Hard Drive Stats posts and the increasingly collaborative relationships we have with manufacturers, it seems we might have been right.
But we don’t only share our take on the numbers, we also provide the raw data underlying our reports so that anyone who wants to can reproduce them or draw their own conclusions, and many have. We love it when people reframe our reports, question our logic (maybe even our sanity?), and provide their own take on what we should do next. That’s why we’re featuring Ryan Smith today.
Ryan has held a lot of different roles in tech, but lately he’s been dwelling in the world of storage as a product strategist for Hitachi. On a personal level, he explains that he has, “passion for data, finding insights from data, and helping others see how easy and rewarding it can be to look under the covers.” It shows.
A few months ago we happened on a post by Ryan with an appealing header featuring our logo with an EXPOSED stamp superimposed in red over our humble name. It looked like we had been caught in a sting operation. As a company that loves transparency, we were delighted. Reading on we found a lot to love and plenty to argue over, but more than anything, we appreciated how Ryan took data we use to analyze hard drive failure rates and extrapolated out all sorts of other gleanings about our business. As he puts it, “it’s not the value at the surface but the story that can be told by tying data together.” So, we thought we’d share his original post with you to (hopefully) incite some more arguments and some more tying together of data.
While we think his conclusions are reasonable based on the data available to him, the views and analysis below are entirely Ryan’s. We appreciate how he flagged some areas of uncertainty, but thought it most interesting to share his thoughts without rebuttal. If you’re curious about how he reached them, you can find his notes on process here. He doesn’t have the full story, but we think he did amazing work with the public data.
Our 2019 Q3 Hard Drive Stats post will be out in a few weeks, and we hope some of you will take Ryan’s lead and do your own deep dive into the reporting when it’s public. For those of you who can’t wait, we’re hoping this will tide you over for a little while.
If you’re interested in taking a look at the data yourselves, here’s our Hard Drive Data and Stats webpage that has links to all our past Hard Drive Stats posts and zip files of the raw data.
Ryan Smith Uses Backblaze’s SMART Stats to Illustrate the Power of Data
It is now common practice for end-customers to share telemetry (call home) data with their vendors. My analysis below shares some insights about your business that vendors might gain from seemingly innocent data that you are sending them every day.
On a daily basis, Backblaze (a cloud backup and storage provider) logs all its drive health data (aka SMART data) for over 100,000 of its hard drives. With 100K+ records a day, each year can produce over 30 million records. They share this raw data on their website, but most people probably don’t really dig into it much. I decided to see what this data could tell me and what I found was fascinating.
Rather than looking at nearly 100 million records, I decided to only look at just over one million which consisted of the last day of every quarter from Q1’16 to Q1’19. This would give me enough granularity to see what is happening inside Backblaze’s cloud backup storage business. For those interested, I used MySQL to import and transform the data into something easy to work with (see more details on my SQL query); I then imported the data into Excel where I could easily pivot the data and look for insights. Below are the results of this effort.
User Data vs Physical Capacity
I grabbed the publicly posted “Petabytes stored” that BackBlaze claims on their website (“User Petabytes”) and compared that to the total capacity from the SMART data they log (“Physical Petabytes”) and then compared them against each other to see how much overhead or unused capacity they have. The Theoretical Max (green line) is based on their ECC protection scheme (13+2 and/or 17+3) that they use to protect user data. If the “% User Petabytes” is below that max then this means Backblaze either has unused capacity or they didn’t update their website with the actual data stored.
Data Read/Written vs Capacity Growth
Looking at the last two years, by quarter, you can see a healthy amount of year-over-year growth in their write workload; roughly 80% over the last four quarters! This is good since writes likely correlate with new user data, which means broader adoption of their offering. For some reason their read workloads spiked in Q2’17 and have maintained a higher read workload since then (as indicated by the YoY spikes from Q2’17 to Q1’18, and then settling back to less than 50% YoY since); my guess is this was likely driven by a change to their internal workload rather than a migration because I didn’t see subsequent negative YoY reads.
Now let’s look at some performance insights. A quick note: Only Seagate hard drives track the needed information in their SMART data in order to get insights about performance. Fortunately, roughly 80% of Backblaze’s drive population (both capacity and units) are Seagate so it’s a large enough population to represent the overall drive population. Going forward, it does look like the new 12 TB WD HGST drive is starting to track bytes read/written.
Pod (Storage Enclosure) Performance
Looking at Power-on-hours of each drive, I was able to calculate the vintage of each drive and the number of drives in each “pod” (this is the terminology that Backblaze gives to its storage enclosures). This lets me calculate the number of pods that Backblaze has in its data centers. Their original pods stored 45 drives and this improved to 60 drives in ~Q2’16 (according to past blog posts by Backblaze). The power-on-date allowed me to place the drive into the appropriate enclosure type and provide you with pod statistics like the Mbps per pod. This is definitely an educated guess as some newer vintage drives are replacement drives into older enclosures but the overall percentage of drives that fail is low enough to where these figures should be pretty accurate.
Overall, Backblaze’s data centers are handling over 100 GB/s of throughput across all their pods which is quite an impressive figure. This number keeps climbing and is a result of new pods as well as overall higher performance per pod. From quick research, this is across three different data centers (Sacramento x 2, Phoenix x 1) and maybe a fourth on its way in Europe.
Hard Drive Performance
Since each pod holds between 45 and 60 drives, with an overall max pod performance of 1 Gbps, I wasn’t surprised to see such average low drive performance. You can see that Backblaze’s workload is read heavy with less than 1 MB/s and writes only a third of that. Just to put that in perspective, these drives can deliver over 100 MB/s, so Backblaze is not pushing the limits of these hard drives.
As discussed earlier, you can also see how the read workload changed significantly in Q2’17 and has not reverted back since.
As I expected, the read and write performance is highly correlated to the drive capacity point. So, it appears that most of the growth in read/write performance per drive is really driven by the adoption of higher density drives. This is very typical of public storage-as-a-service (STaaS) offerings where it’s really about $/GB, IOPS/GB, MBs/GB, etc.
As a side note, the black dashed lines (average between all densities) should correlate with the previous chart showing overall read/write performance per drive.
Switching gears, let’s look at Backblaze’s purchasing history. This will help suppliers look at trends within Backblaze to predict future purchasing activities. I used power-on-hours to calculate when a drive entered the drive population.
Hard Drives Purchased by Density, by Year
This chart helps you see how Backblaze normalized on 4 TB, 8 TB, and now 12 TB densities. The number of drives that Backblaze purchases every year has been climbing until 2018 where it saw its first decline in units. However, this is mainly due to the efficiencies of the capacity per drive.
A question to ponder: Did 2018 reach a point where capacity growth per HDD surpassed the actual demand required to maintain unit growth of HDDs? Or is this trend limited to Backblaze?
Petabytes Purchased by Quarter
This looks at the number of drives purchased over the last five years, along with the amount of capacity added. It’s not quite regular enough to spot a trend, but you can quickly spot that the amount of capacity purchased over the last two years has grown dramatically compared to previous years.
HDD Vendor Market Share
Western Digital/WDC, Toshiba/TOSYY, Seagate/STX
Seagate is definitely the preferred vendor, capturing almost 100% of the market share save for a few quarters where WD HGST wins 50% of the business. This information could be used by Seagate or its competitors to understand where it stands within the account for future bids. However, the industry is monopolistic so it’s not hard to guess who won the business if a given HDD vendor didn’t.
Drive Population by Quarter
This shows the total drive population over the past three years. Even though the number of drives being purchased has been falling lately, the overall drive population is still growing.
You can quickly see that 4 TB drives saw its peak population in Q1’17 and has rapidly declined. In fact, let’s look at the same data but with a different type of chart.
That’s better. We can see that 12 TBs really had a dramatic effect on both 4 TB and 8 TB adoption. In fact, Backblaze has been proactively retiring 4 TB drives. This is likely due to the desire to slow the growth of their data center footprint which comes with costs (more on this later).
As a drive vendor, I could use this data to use the 4 TB trend to calculate how much drive replacement will be occurring next quarter, along with natural PB growth. I will look more into Backblaze’s drive/pod retirement later.
Current Drive Population, by Deployed Date
Be careful when interpreting this graph. What we are looking at here is the Q1’19 drive population where the date on the x-axis is the date the drive entered the population. This helps you see of all the drives in Backblaze’s population today, in which the oldest drives are from 2015 (with the exception of a few stragglers).
This indicates that the useful life of drives within Backblaze’s data centers are ~4 years. In fact, a later chart will look at how drives/pods are phased out, by year.
Along the top of the chart, I noted when the 60-drive pods started entering into the mix. The rack density is much more efficient with this design (rather than the 45-drive pod). Combine this, along with the 4 TB to 12 TB efficiency, Backblaze has aggressively been retiring its 4 TB/45-drive enclosures. There is still a large population of these remaining so expect some further migration to occur.
Boot Drive Population
This is the overall boot drive population over time. You can see that it is currently dominated by the 500 GB with only a few remaining smaller densities in the population today. For some reason, Toshiba has been the preferred vendor with Seagate only recently gaining some new business.
The boot drive population is also an interesting data point to use for verifying the number of pods in the population. For example, there were 1,909 boot drives in Q1’19 and my calculation of pods based on the 45/60-drive pod mix was 1,905. I was able to use the total boot drives each quarter to double check my mix of pods.
Pods (Drive Enclosures)
As discussed earlier, pods are the drive enclosures that house all of Backblaze’s hard drives. Let’s take a look at a few more trends that show what’s going on within the walls of their data center.
Pods Population by Deployment Date
This one is interesting. Each line in the graph indicates a particular snapshot in time of the total population. And the x-axis represents the vintage of the pods for that snapshot. By comparing snapshots, this allows you to see changes over time to the population. Namely, new pods being deployed and old pods being retired. To capture this, I looked at the last day of Q1 data for the last four years and calculated the date the drives entered the population. Using the “Power On Date” I was able to deduce the type of pod (45 or 60 drive) it was deployed in.
Some insights from this chart:
From Q2’16 to Q1’17, they retired some pods from 2010-11
From Q2’17 to Q1’18, they retired a significant number of pods from 2011-14
From Q2’18 to Q1’19, they retired pods from 2013-2015
Pods that were deployed since late 2015 have been untouched (you can tell this by seeing the lines overlap with each other)
The most pods deployed in a quarter was 185 in Q2’16
Since Q2’16, the number of pods deployed has been declining, on average; this is due to the increase in # of drives per pod and density of each drive
There are still a significant number of 45-drive pods to retire
Totaling up all the new pods being deployed and retired, it is easier to see the yearly changes happening within Backblaze’s operation. Keep in mind that these are all calculations and may erroneously include drive replacements as new pods; but I don’t expect it to vary significantly from what is shown here.
The data shows that any new pods that have been deployed in the past few years have mainly been driven by replacing older, less dense pods. In fact, the pod population has plateaued at around 1,900 pods.
Based on blog posts, Backblaze’s pods are all designed at 4U (4 rack units) and pictures on their site indicate 10 pods fit in a rack; this equates to 40U racks. Using this information, along with the drive population and the power-on-date, I was able to calculate the number of pods on any given date as well as the total number of racks. I did not include their networking racks in which I believe they have two of these racks per row in their data center.
You can quickly see that Backblaze has done a great job at slowing the growth of the racks in their data center. This all results in lower costs for their customers.
What interested me when looking at Backblaze’s SMART data was the fact that drives were being retired more than they were failing. This means the cost of failures is fairly insignificant in the scheme of things. It is actually efficiencies driven by technology improvements such as drive and enclosure densities that drove most of the costs. However, the benefits must outweigh the costs. Being that Backblaze uses Sungard AS for its data centers, let’s try to visualize the benefit of retiring drives/pods.
Colocation Costs, Assuming a Given Density
This shows the total capacity over time in Backblaze’s data centers, along with the colocation costs assuming all the drives were a given density. As you can see, in Q1’19 it would take $7.7M a year to pay for colocating costs of 861 PB if all the drives were 4 TB in size. By moving the entire population to 12 TB this can be reduced to $2.6M. So, just changing the drive density can have significant impacts on Backblaze’s operational costs. I did assume $45/RU costs in the analysis which their costs may be as low as $15/RU based on the scale of their operation.
I threw in 32 TB densities to illustrate a hypothetical SSD-type density so you can see the colocation cost savings by moving to SSDs. Although lower, the acquisition costs are far too high at the moment to justify a move to SSDs.
Break-Even Analysis of Retiring Pods
This chart helps illustrate the math behind deciding to retire older drives/pods based on the break-even point.
Let’s break down how to read this chart:
This chart is looking at whether Backblaze should replace older drives with the newer 12 TB drives
Assuming a cost of $0.02/GB for a 12 TB drive, that is a $20/TB acquisition cost you see on the far left
Each line represents the cumulative cost over time (acquisition + operational costs)
The grey lines (4 TB and 8 TB) all assume they were already acquired so they only represent operational costs ($0 acquisition cost) since we are deciding on replacement costs
The operational costs (incremental yearly increase shown) is calculated off of the $45 per RU colocation cost and how many of this drive/enclosure density fits per rack unit. The more TBs you can cram into a rack unit, the lower your colocation costs are
Assuming you are still with me, this shows that the break-even point for retiring 4 TB 4U45 pods is just over two years! And 4 TB 4U60 pods at 3 years! It’s a no brainer to kill the 4 TB enclosures and replace them with 12 TB drives. Remember that this assumes a $45RU colocation cost so the break-even point will shift to the right if the colocation costs are lower (which they surely are). You can see that the math to replace 8 TB drives with 12 TB doesn’t make as much sense so we may see Backblaze’s retirement strategy slow down dramatically after it retires the 4 TB capacity points.
As hard drive densities get larger and $/GB decreases, I expect the cumulative costs to start lower (less acquisition cost) and rise slower (less RU operational costs) making future drive retirements more attractive. Eyeballing it, it would be once $/GB approaches $0.01/GB to $0.015/GB.
Things Backblaze Should Look Into
Top of mind, Backblaze should look into these areas:
The architecture around performance is not balanced; investigate having a caching tier to handle bursts and put more drives behind each storage node to reduce “enclosure/slot tax” costs.
Look into designs like 5U84 from Seagate/Xyratex providing 16.8 drives per RU versus the 15 being achieved on Backblaze’s own 4U60 design; Another 12% efficiency!
5U allows for 8 pods to fit per rack versus the 10.
Look at when SSDs will be attractive to replace HDDs at a given $/GB, density, idle costs, # of drives that fit per RU (using 2.5” drives instead of 3.5”) so that they can stay on top of this trend [there is no rush on this one].
Performance and endurance of SSDs is irrelevant since the performance requirements are so low and the WPD is almost non-existence, making QLC and beyond a great candidate.
Look at allowing pods to be more flexible in handling different capacity drives to handle drive failures more cost efficiently without having to retire pods. Having concepts of “virtual pods” that don’t have physical limits will better accommodate the future that Backblaze has where it won’t be retiring pods as aggressively, yet still let them grow their pod densities seamlessly.
It is kind of ironic that the reason Backblaze posted all their SMART data is to share insights around failures when I didn’t even analyze failures once! There is much more analysis that could be done around this data set which I may revisit as time permits.
As you can see, even simple health data from drives, along with a little help from other data sources, can help expose a lot more than you would initially think. I have long felt that people have yet to understand the full power of giving data freely to businesses (e.g. Facebook, Google Maps, LinkedIn, Mint, Personal Capital, News Feeds, Amazon). I often hear things like, “I have nothing to hide,” which indicates the lack of value they assign to their data. It’s not the value at its surface but the story that can be told by tying data together.
Until next time, Ryan Smith.
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Ryan Smith is currently a product strategist at Hitachi Vantara. Previously, he served as the director of NAND product marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, Inc. He is extremely passionate about uncovering insights from just about any data set. He just likes to have fun by making a notable difference, influencing others, and working with smart people.
Announcing Backblaze Cloud Backup 7.0: The Version History and Beyond Release!
This release for consumers and businesses adds one of our most requested enhancements for our Backblaze Cloud Backup service: the ability to keep updated, changed, and even deleted files in your backups forever by extending version history. In addition, we’ve made our Windows and Mac apps even better, updated our Single Sign-on (SSO) support, added more account security options, became Catalina-ready, and increased the functionality of our iOS and Android mobile apps. These changes are awesome and we’re sure you’ll love them!
Extended Version History
Have you ever deleted a file by mistake or accidentally saved over an important bit of work? Backblaze has always kept a 30-day version history of your backed up files to help in situations like these, but today we’re giving you the option to extend your version history to one year or forever. This new functionality is available on the Overview page for Computer Backup, and the Groups Management page if you are using Backblaze Groups! Backblaze v7.0 is required to use Version History. Learn more about versions and extending Version History.
30-Day Version History
All Backblaze computer backup accounts have 30-Day Version History included with their backup license. That means you can go back in time for 30 days and retrieve old versions of your files or even files that you’ve deleted.
1-Year Version History
Extending your Version History from 30 days to one year means that all versions of your files that are backed up — whether you’ve updated, changed, or fully deleted them from your computer — will remain in your Backblaze backup for one year after being modified or deleted from your device. Extending your Version History to one year is an additional $2 per month and is charged based on your license type (monthly, yearly, or 2-year). As always, any charges will be prorated to match up with your license renewal date.
Forever Version History
Extending your Version History from 30 days or one year to forever means that Backblaze will never remove files from your Backblaze backup whether you’ve updated, changed, or fully deleted them from your computer, or not. Extending Version History to forever is similar to one year, at an additional $2 per month (prorated to your license plan type) plus $0.005/GB/month for versions modified on your computer more than one year ago.
This is a great new feature for people who want increased peace of mind. To learn more about Version History, pricing, and examples of how to restore, please visit the Version History FAQ.
MacOS and Windows Application Updates
More Efficient Performance For Uploads
We’ve changed the way that Backblaze transmits large files on your machine by reworking how we group and break apart files for upload. The maximum packet size has increased from 30 MB to 100 MB. This allows the app to transmit data more efficiently by better leveraging threading, which also smoothes out upload performance, reduces sensitivity to latency, and leads to smaller data structures.
Single Sign-On Updates for Backblaze Groups
We added support for Microsoft’s Office 365 in Backblaze Groups, and have made SSO updates to the Inherit Backup State feature so that it supports SSO-enabled accounts. This means that you can now sign into Backblaze using your Office 365 credentials, similar to using Google’s SSO.
Higher Resolution For Easier Viewing of Information
We updated the way our installers and applications looked on higher-resolution displays, making for a more delightful viewer experience!
An OpenSSL issue was causing problems on Intel’s Apollo Lake chipset, but we’ve developed a workaround. Apollo Lake is a lower-end chipset, so not many customers were seeing issues, but now computers using Apollo Lake will work as intended.
We’ve added support for MacOS Catalina and improved some MacOS system messages. MacOS provides some great new features for the Mac and we’ve changed some of our apps’ behavior to better fit Catalina. In Catalina, Apple is now requiring apps to ask for permission more frequently, and since Backblaze is a backup application, we require a lot of permissions. Thus you may notice more system messages when installing Backblaze on the new OS.
Of Note: Backblaze Restores
In order to implement the Version History features, we had to change the way our restore page handled dates. This may not seem like a big deal, but we had a date drop-down menu where you could select the time frames you wanted to restore from. Well, if you have 1-Year or Forever Version History, you can’t have an infinitely scrolling drop-down menu, so we implemented a datepicker to help with selection. You can now more easily choose the dates and times that you’d like to restore your files from.
Backblaze 7.0 Available: October 8th, 2019
We will be slowly auto updating all users in the coming weeks. To update now:
Perform a Check for Updates (right-click on the Backblaze icon)
Want to Learn More? Join Us on October 15th, 2019 at 11 a.m. PT
Want to learn more? Join Yev on a webinar where he’ll go over version 7.0 features and answer viewer questions. The webinar will be available on BrightTalk (registration is required) and you can sign up by visiting the Backblaze BrightTALK channel.
The only problem: both hosted storage (through existing cloud services) and purchased hardware (buying servers from Dell or Microsoft) were too expensive to hit this price point. Enter Tim Nufire, aka: The Podfather.
Tim led the effort to build what we at Backblaze call the Storage Pod: The physical hardware our company has relied on for data storage for more than a decade. On the occasion of the decade anniversary of the open sourcing of our Storage Pod 1.0 design, we sat down with Tim to relive the twists and turns that led from a crew of backup enthusiasts in an apartment in Palo Alto to a company with four data centers spread across the world holding 2100 storage pods and closing in on an exabyte of storage.
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Editors: So Tim, it all started with the $5 price point. I know we did market research and that was the price at which most people shrugged and said they’d pay for backup. But it was so audacious! The tech didn’t exist to offer that price. Why do you start there?
Tim Nufire: It was the pricing given to us by the competitors, they didn’t give us a lot of choice. But it was never a challenge of if we should do it, but how we would do it. I had been managing my own backups for my entire career; I cared about backups. So it’s not like backup was new, or particularly hard. I mean, I firmly believe Brian Wilson’s (Backblaze’s Chief Technical Officer) top line: You read a byte, you write a byte. You can read the byte more gently than other services so as to not impact the system someone is working on. You might be able to read a byte a little faster. But at the end of the day, it’s an execution game not a technology game. We simply had to out execute the competition.
E: Easy to say now, with a company of 113 employees and more than a decade of success behind us. But at that time, you were five guys crammed into a Palo Alto apartment with no funding and barely any budget and the competition — Dell, HP, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft — they were huge! How do you approach that?
TN: We always knew we could do it for less. We knew that the math worked. We knew what the cost of a 1 TB hard drive was, so we knew how much it should cost to store data. We knew what those markups were. We knew, looking at a Dell 2900, how much the margin was in that box. We knew they were overcharging. At that time, I could not build a desktop computer for less than Dell could build it. But I could build a server at half their cost.
I don’t think Dell or anyone else was being irrational. As long as they have customers willing to pay their hard margins, they can’t adjust for the potential market. They have to get to the point where they have no choice. We didn’t have that luxury.
So, at the beginning, we were reluctant hardware manufacturers. We were manufacturing because we couldn’t afford to pay what people were charging, not because we had any passion for hardware design.
E: Okay, so you came on at that point to build a cloud. Is that where your title comes from? Chief Cloud Officer? The pods were a little ways down the road, so Podfather couldn’t have been your name yet. …
TN: This was something like December, 2007. Gleb (Budman, the Chief Executive Officer of Backblaze) and I went snowboarding up in Tahoe, and he talked me into joining the team. … My title at first was all wrong, I never became the VP of Engineering, in any sense of the word. That was never who I was. I held the title for maybe five years, six years before we finally changed it. Chief Cloud Officer means nothing, but it fits better than anything else.
E: It does! You built the cloud for Backblaze with the Storage Pod as your water molecule (if we’re going to beat the cloud metaphor to death). But how does it all begin? Take us back to that moment: the podception.
TN: Well, the first pod, per se, was just a bunch of USB drives strapped to a shelf in the data center attached to two Dell 2900 towers. It didn’t last more than an hour in production. As soon as it got hit with load, it just collapsed. Seriously! We went live on this and it lasted an hour. It was a complete meltdown.
Two things happened: The bus was completely unstable, so the USB drives were unstable. Second, the DRDB (Distributed Replicated Block Device) — which is designed to protect your data by live mirroring it between the two towers — immediately fell apart. You implement a DRDB not because it works in a well-running situation, but because it covers you in the failure mode. And in failure mode it just unraveled — in an hour. It went into a split-brain mode under the hardware failures that the USB drives were causing. A well-running DRDB is fully mirrored, and split-brained mode is when the two sides simply give up and start acting autonomously because they don’t know what the other side is doing and they’re not sure who is boss. The data is essentially inconsistent at that point because you can choose A or B but the two sides are not in agreement.
While the USB specs say you can connect something like 256 or 128 drives to a hub, we were never able to do more than like, five. After something like five or six, the drives just start dropping out. We never really figured it out because we abandoned the approach. I just took the drives out and shoved them inside of the Dells, and those two became pods number 0 and 1. The Dells had room for 10 or 8 drives apiece, and so we brought that system live.
That was what the first six years of this company was like, just a never-ending stream of those kind of moments — mostly not panic inducing, mostly just: you put your head down and you start working through the problems. There’s a little bit of adrenaline, that feeling before a big race of an impending moment. But you have to just keep going.
E: Wait, so this wasn’t in testing? You were running this live?
TN: Totally! We were in friends-and-family beta at the time. But the software was all written. We didn’t have a lot of customers, but we had launched, and we managed to recover the files: whatever was backed up. The system has always had self healing built into the client.
E: So where do you go from there? What’s the next step?
TN: These were the early days. We were terrified of any commitments. So I think we had leased a half cabinet at the 365 Main facility in San Francisco, because that was the most we could imagine committing to in a contract: We committed to a year’s worth of this tiny little space.
We had those first two pods — the two Dell Towers (0 and 1) — which we eventually built out using external exclosures. So those guys had 40 or 45 drives by the end, with these little black boxes attached to them.
Pod number 2 was the plywood pod, which was another moment of sitting in the data center with a piece of hardware that just didn’t work out of the gate. This was Chris Robertson’s prototype. I credit him with the shape of the basic pod design, because he’s the one that came up with the top loaded 45 drives design. He mocked it up in his home woodshop (also known as a garage).
E: Wood in a data center? Come on, that’s crazy, right?
TN: It was what we had! We didn’t have a metal shop in our garage, we had a woodshop in our garage, so we built a prototype out of plywood, painted it white, and brought it to the data center. But when I went to deploy the system, I ended up having to recable and rewire and reconfigure it on the fly, sitting there on the floor of the data center, kinda similar to the first day.
The plywood pod was originally designed to be 45 drives, top loaded with port multipliers — we didn’t have backplanes. The port multipliers were these little cards that took one set of cables in and five cables out. They were cabled from the top. That design never worked. So what actually got launched was a fifteen drive system that had these little five drive enclosures that we shoved into the face of the plywood pod. It came up as a 15 drive, traditionally front-mounted design with no port multipliers. Nothing fancy there. Those boxes literally have five SATA connections on the back, just a one-to-one cabling.
E: What happened to the plywood pod? Clearly it’s cast in bronze somewhere, right?
TN: That got thrown out in the trash in Palo Alto. I still defend the decision. We were in a small one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto and all this was cruft.
E: Brutal! But I feel like this is indicative of how you were working. There was no looking back.
TN: We didn’t have time to ask the question of whether this was going to work. We just stayed ahead of the problems: Pods 0 and 1 continued to run, pod 2 came up as a 15 drive chassis, and runs.
The next three pods are the first where we worked with Protocase. These are the first run of metal — the ones where we forgot a hole for the power button, so you’ll see the pried open spots where we forced the button in. These are also the first three with the port-multiplier backplane. So we built a chassis around that, and we had horrible drive instability.
We were using the Western Digital Green, 1 TB drives. But we couldn’t keep them in the RAID. We wrote these little scripts so that in the middle of the night, every time a drive dropped out of the array, the script would put it back in. It was this constant motion and churn creating a very unstable system.
We suspected the problem was with power. So we made the octopus pod. We drilled holes in the bottom, and ran it off of three PSUs beneath it. We thought: “If we don’t have enough power, we’ll just hit it with a hammer.” Same thing on cooling: “What if it’s getting too hot?” So we put a box fan on top and blew a lot of air into it. We were just trying to figure out what it was that was causing trouble and grief. Interestingly, the array in the plywood pod was stable, but when we replaced the enclosure with steel, it became unstable as well!
We slowly circled in on vibration as the problem. That plywood pod had actual disk enclosure with caddies and good locking mechanisms, so we thought the lack of caddies and locking mechanisms could be the issue. I was working with Western Digital at the time, too, and they were telling me that they also suspected vibration as the culprit. And I kept telling them, ‘They are hard drives! They should work!’
At the time, Western Digital was pushing me to buy enterprise drives, and they finally just gave me a round of enterprise drives. They were worse than the consumer drives! So they came over to the office to pick up the drives because they had accelerometers and lot of other stuff to give us data on what was wrong, and we never heard from them again.
We learned later that, when they showed up in an office in a one bedroom apartment in Palo Alto with five guys and a dog, they decided that we weren’t serious. It was hard to get a call back from them after that … I’ll admit, I was probably very hard to deal with at the time. I was this ignorant wannabe hardware engineer on the phone yelling at them about their hard drives. In hindsight, they were right; the chassis needed work.
But I just didn’t believe that vibration was the problem. It’s just 45 drives in a chassis. I mean, I have a vibration app on my phone, and I stuck the phone on the chassis and there’s vibration, but it’s not like we’re trying to run this inside a race car doing multiple Gs around corners, it was a metal box on a desk with hard drives spinning at 5400 or 7200 rpm. This was not a seismic shake table!
The early hard drives were secured with EPDM rubber bands. It turns out that real rubber (latex) turns into powder in about two months in a chassis, probably from the heat. We discovered this very quickly after buying rubber bands at Staples that just completely disintegrated. We eventually got better bands, but they never really worked. The hope was that they would secure a hard drive so it couldn’t vibrate its neighbors, and yet we were still seeing drives dropping out.
At some point we started using clamp down lids. We came to understand that we weren’t trying to isolate vibration between the drives, but we were actually trying to mechanically hold the drives in place. It was less about vibration isolation, which is what I thought the rubber was going to do, and more about stabilizing the SATA connector on the backend, as in: You don’t want the drive moving around in the SATA connector. We were also getting early reports from Seagate at the time. They took our chassis and did vibration analysis and, over time, we got better and better at stabilizing the drives.
We started to notice something else at this time: The Western Digital drives had these model numbers followed by extension numbers. We realized that drives that stayed in the array tended to have the same set of extensions. We began to suspect that those extensions were manufacturing codes, something to do with which backend factory they were built in. So there were subtle differences in manufacturing processes that dictated whether the drives were tolerant of vibration or not. Central Computer was our dominant source of hard drives at the time, and so we were very aggressively trying to get specific runs of hard drives. We only wanted drives with a certain extension. This was before the Thailand drive crisis, before we had a real sense of what the supply chain looked like. At that point we just knew some drives were better than others.
E: So you were iterating with inconsistent drives? Wasn’t that insanely frustrating?
TN: No, just gave me a few more gray hairs. I didn’t really have time to dwell on it. We didn’t have a choice of whether or not to grow the storage pod. The only path was forward. There was no plan B. Our data was growing and we needed the pods to hold it. There was never a moment where everything was solved, it was a constant stream of working on whatever the problem was. It was just a string of problems to be solved, just “wheels on the bus.” If the wheels fall off, put them back on and keep driving.
E: So what did the next set of wheels look like then?
TN: We went ahead with a second small run of steel pods. These had a single Zippy power supply, with the boot drive hanging over the motherboard. This design worked until we went to 1.5TB drives and the chassis would not boot. Clearly a power issue, so Brian Wilson and I sat there and stared at the non-functioning chassis trying to figure out how to get more power in.
The issue with power was not that we were running out of power on the 12V rail. The 5V rail was the issue. All the high end, high-power PSUs give you more and more power on 12V because that’s what the gamers need — it’s what their CPUs and the graphics card need, so you can get a 1000W or a 1500W power supply and it gives you a ton of power on 12V, but still only 25 amps on 5V. As a result, it’s really hard to get more power on the 5V rail, and a hard drive takes 12V and 5V: 12V to spin the motor and 5V to power the circuit board. We were running out of the 5V.
So our solution was two power supplies, and Brian and I were sitting there trying to visually imagine where you could put another power supply. Where are you gonna put it? We can put it were the boot drive is, and move the boot drive to the side, and just kind of hang the PSU up and over the motherboard. But the biggest consequence with this was, again, vibration. Mounting the boot drive to the side of a vibrating chassis isn’t the best place for a boot drive. So we had higher than normal boot drive failures in those nine.
So the next generation, after pod number 8, was the beginning of Storage Pod 1.0. We were still using rubber bands, but it had two power supplies, 45 drives, and we built 20 of them, total. Casey Jones, as our designer, also weighed in at this point to establish how they would look. He developed the faceplate design and doubled down on the deeper shade of red. But all of this was expensive and scary for us: We’re gonna spend $10 grand!? We don’t have much money. We had been two years without salary at this point.
We talked to Ken Raab from Sonic Manufacturing, and he convinced us that he could build our chassis, all in, for less than we were paying. He would take the task off my plate, I wouldn’t have to build the chassis, and he would build the whole thing for less than I would spend on parts … and it worked. He had better backend supplier connections, so he could shave a little expense off of everything and was able to mark up 20%.
We fixed the technology and the human processes. On the technology side, we were figuring out the hardware and hard drives, we were getting more and more stable. Which was required. We couldn’t have the same failure rates we were having on the first three pods. In order to reduce (or at least maintain) the total number of problems per day, you have to reduce the number of problems per chassis, because there’s 32 of them now.
We were also learning how to adapt our procedures so that the humans could live. By “the Humans,” I mean me and Sean Harris who joined me in 2010. There are physiological and psychological limits to what is sustainable and we were nearing our wits end.… So, in addition to stabilizing the chassis design, we got better at limiting the type of issues that would wake us up in the middle of the night.
E: So you reached some semblance of stability in your prototype and in your business. You’d been sprinting with no pay for a few years to get to this point and then … you decide to give away all your work for free? You open sourced Storage Pod 1.0 on September 9th, 2009. Were you a nervous wreck that someone was going to run away with all your good work?
TN: Not at all. We were dying for press. We were ready to tell the world anything they would listen to. We had no shame. My only regret is that we didn’t do more. We open sourced our design before anyone was doing that, but we didn’t build a community around it or anything.
Remember, we didn’t want to be a manufacturer. We would have killed for someone to build our pods better and cheaper than we could. Our hope from the beginning was always that we would build our own platform until the major vendors did for the server market what they did in the personal computing market. Until Dell would sell me the box that I wanted at the price I could afford, I was going to continue to build my chassis. But I always assumed they would do it faster than a decade.
Supermicro tried to give us a complete chassis at one point, but their problem wasn’t high margin; they were targeting too high of performance. I needed two things: Someone to sell me a box and not make too much profit off of me, and I needed someone who would wrap hard drives in a minimum performance enclosure and not try to make it too redundant or high performance. Put in one RAID controller, not two; daisy chain all the drives; let us suffer a little! I don’t need any of the hardware that can support SSDs. But no matter how much we ask for barebones servers, no one’s been able to build them for us yet.
So we’ve continued to build our own. And the design has iterated and scaled with our business. So we’ll just keep iterating and scaling until someone can make something better than we can.
E: Which is exactly what we’ve done, leading from Storage Pod 1.0 to 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, to 6.0 (if you want to learn more about these generations, check out our Pod Museum), preparing the way for more than 800 petabytes of data in management.
✣ ✣ ✣
But while Tim is still waiting to pass along the official Podfather baton, he’s not alone. There was the early help from Brian Wilson, Casey Jones, Sean Harris, and a host of others, and then in 2014, Ariel Ellis came aboard to wrangle our supply chain. He grew in that role over time until he took over the responsibility over charting the future of the Pod via Backblaze Labs, becoming the Podson, so to speak. Today, he’s sketching the future of Storage Pod 7.0, and — provided no one builds anything better in the meantime — he’ll tell you all about it on our blog.
This post is for all of the storage geeks out there who have followed the adventures of Backblaze and our Storage Pods over the years. The rest of you are welcome to come along for the ride.
It has been 10 years since Backblaze introduced our Storage Pod to the world. In September 2009, we announced our hulking, eye-catching, red 4U storage server equipped with 45 hard drives delivering 67 terabytes of storage for just $7,867 — that was about $0.11 a gigabyte. As part of that announcement, we open-sourced the design for what we dubbed Storage Pods, telling you and everyone like you how to build one, and many of you did.
Backblaze Storage Pod version 1 was announced on our blog with little fanfare. We thought it would be interesting to a handful of folks — readers like you. In fact, it wasn’t even called version 1, as no one had ever considered there would be a version 2, much less a version 3, 4, 4.5, 5, or 6. We were wrong. The Backblaze Storage Pod struck a chord with many IT and storage folks who were offended by having to pay a king’s ransom for a high density storage system. “I can build that for a tenth of the price,” you could almost hear them muttering to themselves. Mutter or not, we thought the same thing, and version 1 was born.
Tim, the “Podfather” as we know him, was the Backblaze lead in creating the first Storage Pod. He had design help from our friends at Protocase, who built the first three generations of Storage Pods for Backblaze and also spun out a company named 45 Drives to sell their own versions of the Storage Pod — that’s open source at its best. Before we decided on the version 1 design, there were a few experiments along the way:
The original Storage Pod was prototyped by building a wooden pod or two. We needed to test the software while the first metal pods were being constructed.
The Octopod was a quick and dirty response to receiving the wrong SATA cables — ones that were too long and glowed. Yes, there are holes drilled in the bottom of the pod.
The original faceplate shown above was used on about 10 pre-1.0 Storage Pods. It was updated to the three circle design just prior to Storage Pod 1.0.
Why are Storage Pods red? When we had the first ones built, the manufacturer had a batch of red paint left over that could be used on our pods, and it was free.
Back in 2007, when we started Backblaze, there wasn’t a whole lot of affordable choices for storing large quantities of data. Our goal was to charge $5/month for unlimited data storage for one computer. We decided to build our own storage servers when it became apparent that, if we were to use the other solutions available, we’d have to charge a whole lot more money. Storage Pod 1.0 allowed us to store one petabyte of data for about $81,000. Today we’ve lowered that to about $35,000 with Storage Pod 6.0. When you take into account that the average amount of data per user has nearly tripled in that same time period and our price is now $6/month for unlimited storage, the math works out about the same today as it did in 2009.
We Must Have Done Something Right
The Backblaze Storage Pod was more than just affordable data storage. Version 1.0 introduced or popularized three fundamental changes to storage design: 1) You could build a system out of commodity parts and it would work, 2) You could mount hard drives vertically and they would still spin, and 3) You could use consumer hard drives in the system. It’s hard to determine which of these three features offended and/or excited more people. It is fair to say that ten years out, things worked out in our favor, as we currently have about 900 petabytes of storage in production on the platform.
Over the last 10 years, people have warmed up to our design, or at least elements of the design. Starting with 45 Drives, multitudes of companies have worked on and introduced various designs for high density storage systems ranging from 45 to 102 drives in a 4U chassis, so today the list of high-density storage systems that use vertically mounted drives is pretty impressive:
Exos AP 4U100
Thunder SX FA100-B7118
Viking Enterprise Solutions
Viking Enterprise Solutions
Viking Enterprise Solutions
Another driver in the development of some of these systems is the Open Compute Project (OCP). Formed in 2011, they gather and share ideas and designs for data storage, rack designs, and related technologies. The group is managed by The Open Compute Project Foundation as a 501(c)(6) and counts many industry luminaries in the storage business as members.
What Have We Done Lately?
In technology land, 10 years of anything is a long time. What was exciting then is expected now. And the same thing has happened to our beloved Storage Pod. We have introduced updates and upgrades over the years twisting the usual dials: cost down, speed up, capacity up, vibration down, and so on. All good things. But, we can’t fool you, especially if you’ve read this far. You know that Storage Pod 6.0 was introduced in April 2016 and quite frankly it’s been crickets ever since as it relates to Storage Pods. Three plus years of non-innovation. Why?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Storage Pod 6.0 is built in the US by Equus Compute Solutions, our contract manufacturer, and it works great. Production costs are well understood, performance is fine, and the new higher density drives perform quite well in the 6.0 chassis.
Disk migrations kept us busy. From Q2 2016 through Q2 2019 we migrated over 53,000 drives. We replaced 2, 3, and 4 terabyte drives with 8, 10, and 12 terabyte drives, doubling, tripling and sometimes quadrupling the storage density of a storage pod.
Lots of data kept us busy. In Q2 2016, we had 250 petabytes of data storage in production. Today, we have 900 petabytes. That’s a lot of data you folks gave us (thank you by the way) and a lot of new systems to deploy. The chart below shows the challenge our data center techs faced.
In other words, our data center folks were really, really busy, and not interested in shiny new things. Now that we’ve hired a bunch more DC techs, let’s talk about what’s next.
Storage Pod Version 7.0 — Almost
Yes, there is a Backblaze Storage Pod 7.0 on the drawing board. Here is a short list of some of the features we are looking at:
Updating the motherboard
Upgrade the CPU and consider using an AMD CPU
Updating the power supply units, perhaps moving to one unit
Upgrading from 10Gbase-T to 10GbE SFP+ optical networking
Upgrading the SATA cards
Modifying the tool-less lid design
The timeframe is still being decided, but early 2020 is a good time to ask us about it.
“That’s nice,” you say out loud, but what you are really thinking is, “Is that it? Where’s the Backblaze in all this?” And that’s where you come in.
The Next Generation Backblaze Storage Pod
We are not out of ideas, but one of the things that we realized over the years is that many of you are really clever. From the moment we open sourced the Storage Pod design back in 2009, we’ve received countless interesting, well thought out, and occasionally odd ideas to improve the design. As we look to the future, we’d be stupid not to ask for your thoughts. Besides, you’ll tell us anyway on Reddit or HackerNews or wherever you’re reading this post, so let’s just cut to the chase.
Build or Buy
The two basic choices are: We design and build our own storage servers or we buy them from someone else. Here are some of the criteria as we think about this:
Cost: We’d like the cost of a storage server to be about $0.030 – $0.035 per gigabyte of storage (or less of course). That includes the server and the drives inside. For example, using off-the-shelf Seagate 12 TB drives (model: ST12000NM0007) in a 6.0 Storage Pod costs about $0.032-$0.034/gigabyte depending on the price of the drives on a given day.
Maintenance: Things should be easy to fix or replace — especially the drives.
Commodity Parts: Wherever possible, the parts should be easy to purchase, ideally from multiple vendors.
Racks: We’d prefer to keep using 42” deep cabinets, but make a good case for something deeper and we’ll consider it.
Possible Today: No DNA drives or other wistful technologies. We need to store data today, not in the year 2061.
Scale: Nothing in the solution should limit the ability to scale the systems. For example, we should be able to upgrade drives to higher densities over the next 5-7 years.
Other than that there are no limitations. Any of the following acronyms, words, and phrases could be part of your proposed solution and we won’t be offended: SAS, JBOD, IOPS, SSD, redundancy, compute node, 2U chassis, 3U chassis, horizontal mounted drives, direct wire, caching layers, appliance, edge storage units, PCIe, fibre channel, SDS, etc.
The solution does not have to be a Backblaze one. As the list from earlier in this post shows, Dell, HP, and many others make high density storage platforms we could leverage. Make a good case for any of those units, or any others you like, and we’ll take a look.
What Will We Do With All Your Input?
We’ve already started by cranking up Backblaze Labs again and have tried a few experiments. Over the coming months we’ll share with you what’s happening as we move this project forward. Maybe we’ll introduce Storage Pod X or perhaps take some of those Storage Pod knockoffs for a spin. Regardless, we’ll keep you posted. Thanks in advance for your ideas and thanks for all your support over the past ten years.
Everyone is faced with the decision to raise prices at some point. It sucks, but in some cases you have to do it. Most companies, especially SaaS businesses, will look at their revenue forecasts, see a dip, run a calculation predicting the difference between the revenue increase and how many customers might leave, and then raise prices if the math looks favorable. Backblaze is not most companies — here’s how we did it.
In February of 2019, we made the announcement that one month later, our prices for our Personal Backup and Business Backup services would be going up by $1: our first price increase for our Computer Backup service since launching the service over a decade ago. What was announced in February 2019 actually started in December 2016, more than two years before the actual price increase would take effect. Why the long wait? We wanted to make sure that we did it right, not just mechanically (there’s a lot of billing code that has to change), but also in how we communicated to our customers and and took them through the process. Oh, and a big reason for the delay was our main competitor leaving the consumer space, but more on that later.
In this post I’ll dive in to our process for how we wanted the price increase to go, why we decided to build the extension program for existing customers, what went in to our communication strategy, and what the reactions were to the price increase, including looking at churn numbers.
Is Raising Prices a Smart Move?
Raising prices, especially on a SaaS product where you’ve built a following, is never an easy decision. There are a ton of factors that come into play when considering what, if any, is the best course of action. Each factor needs to be considered individually and then as a whole to determine whether the price increase will actually benefit the business long term.
Why Raise Prices?
There are many reasons why companies raise prices. Typically it’s to either increase revenue or adjust to the market costs (the total cost associated with providing goods or services) in their sector. In our case it was the latter. In the price increase announcement, we discussed our reasoning in-depth, but it boiled down to two things: 1) adjusting to the market cost of storage (it was no longer decreasing at the rate it was when we first launched the product), and 2) we had spent years enhancing the service and making it easier for people to store more and more data with us, thereby increasing our costs.
One of the core values of Backblaze is to make backup astonishingly easy and affordable. Maintaining a service that is easy to use, has predictable pricing, and takes care of the heavy lifting for our customers was and is very important to us. When we started considering increasing prices we knew that we were going to be messing with the affordable part of that equation, but it was time for us to adjust to the market.
How to Raise Prices?
Most companies say that they love their customers, and many actually do. When we first started discussing exactly how we were going to raise prices we rejected the easiest path, which was to create a pricing table, update the website, and flip a switch. That was the easy way, but it was important for us to do something for the customers who have trusted us with their important files and memories throughout the years. We would still need to build out the pricing table (fun fact: from 2008 to 2017 our prices were hard-coded) but we started thinking about creating an extension program for our existing customers and fans.
The Extension Program
The extension program was a way for existing Backblaze users to prepay for one year of service, essentially delaying their price increase. They would buy 12 months of backup credits for $50 for each computer on their account, and after those credits were used up, the new prices would go into effect on their next renewal. It was a way to say thank you to our existing customers, but there was just one problem — it didn’t exist.
Building the extension program became a six month project in and of itself. First we needed to build a crediting system. Then, we needed to build the mechanism for our customers to actually buy that block of credits and have them applied to their account. Afterwards, we’d need FAQs, confirmation emails, and website changes to help explain the program to our customers. This became a full-time job for a handful of our most senior engineers, and resulted in a six month project before we were ready to put it through our QA testing. The long development time of the project was a large point of consideration, but there were also financial implications that we had to consider.
The extension program was great for customers, but good/bad for Backblaze. Why? By allowing folks to sign up for an extension we were essentially delaying their price increase, therefore delaying our ability to collect the additional revenue. While that was not ideal, the extension program brought in additional revenue from people purchasing those extensions, which was good. However, since those purchases were for credits, that additional revenue was deferred, and we still had to provide the service. So, while good from a cash flow perspective (we moved up about $2M in cash), we had to be very careful about how we accounted for and earmarked that money.
Continuing to Provide Value
Extensions were only part of the puzzle. We didn’t want customers to feel like we were simply raising prices to line our pockets. Our goal is to continue making backup easy and affordable, and we wanted to show our fans that we were still actively developing the service. The simplest way to show forward progress is to make…forward progress. We decided that before the announcement date we needed to have a product release that substantially improved the backup service, and that’s when we started to plan Backblaze Version 5.0, what we dubbed the Rapid Access Release.
Adding to the development time of creating extensions were the projects to speed up both the backup and restore functions of the Backblaze app (those changes were good for customers, but actually increased our cost of providing the service). In addition, customers could now preview, access, and share backed up files by leveraging our B2 Cloud Storage product. To top it off we strengthened our security by adding ToTP as a two-factor verification method. All those features were rolled up into the 5.0 release and were released a few weeks before we were set to announce our price increase, which was scheduled to be announced on August 22nd, 2017.
Another of our core values is open communication, which we equate to being as open as possible. If you have followed Backblaze over the years, you know that we’ve open sourced our storage pod design, shared our hard drive failure statistics, and have told entertaining stories about how we survived the Thailand drive crisis, and the time we were almost acquired. Most companies would never talk about topics like these, but we don’t shy away from hard conversations. In keeping with that tradition, we made the decision to be honest in our announcement about why we were raising prices (market costs and our own enhancements). We also made the decision to not mention one valid reason: inflation.
Our price back in 2008 was $5/month. With the inflation rate, in 2019 that would be around $5.96, so our price increase to $6 was right in-line with the inflation rate. So why not talk about it? We wanted the conversation to be about our business and the benefits that we’re providing for our customers in building a service that they feel is a good value. Bringing up global economics seemed like an odd tactic, considering that we weren’t even keeping up with inflation and ultimately customers got there on their own.
Lol, you guys kill me. A $1 price increase over 10 years? You aren’t even keeping up with inflation
When reading @backblaze blog post justifying their price increase you would think they were changing dramatically, an increase of $1 / month since 2008 barely exceeds inflation for a service that keeps getting better!
We started down the increase path in 2016. In 2017, we designed and released version 5.0, we built and tested our extension program, we lined up our blog post, we wrote up FAQs, and we created customer service emails to let people know what was happening. After all that, we were ready to announce the following month’s price increase at 10am Pacific Time on August 22nd, 2017.
On August 22nd, at 8am, we pulled the plug and cancelled the announcement.
Early that morning news broke that our main competitor, Crashplan, was leaving the consumer backup space. You may be saying: Wait a minute, a main competitor is leaving the market and you have a mechanism to increase your prices in place — that sounds like the perfect day to raise prices! Nope. Another one of our values, is to be fair and good. Raising prices on a day when consumers found out that there were fewer choices in the market felt predatory and ultimately gross. Once we saw the news, we got in a room, quickly decided that we couldn’t raise prices for at least 6 months, and instead we would write a quick blog post inviting orphaned customers to give us a try.
The year following Crashplan’s announcement we saw a huge increase in customers, which is simultaneously good and bad. It was good because of the increased revenue from our newfound customers, but less ideal from an operations perspective, as we were not anticipating an influx of customers. In fact, we were anticipating an increase in churn coinciding with our cancelled price increase announcement. That meant we had to scramble to deploy enough storage to house all of the new incoming data.
We wouldn’t revisit the price increase until a year after the Crashplan announcement.
That decision was not without financial repercussions. Put simply, we gave up $10 per customer per year. And, the decision affected not only our existing customers on August 22nd, but also all of those we would gain over the coming months and years. While this doesn’t factor in potential churn and other variables, when the size of our customer base is fully accounted for, the revenue left on the table was significant. In purely financial terms, raising prices on the day when the industry started having fewer options would have been the right financial decision, but not the right Backblaze decision.
Hindsight Is 20/20
Looking back, releasing version 5.0 earlier that month was a happy accident. What originally was intended to show forward progress to our existing customers was now being looked at by a lot of new customers and prospects as well. The speed increase that we built into the app as part of the release made it possible for people exiting Crashplan’s service to transition to us and get fully backed up more quickly. Because these were people who understood the importance of keeping a backup, having no downtime in their coverage was a huge benefit.
Picking Up Where We Left Off — The Price Increase
Around August of 2018, we decided that enough time had passed and we were comfortable dusting off our price increase playbook. The process proved harder than we thought as we uncovered edge-cases that we had missed the first time around — another happy accident.
The Problem With Long Development Gaps
The new plan was to announce the price increase in December and raise prices in January 2019. When we started unpacking our playbook and going over the plan, we realized that the simple decisions we had made over a year ago were either flawed or outdated. A good example of this was how we would treat two-year licenses. At one point in the original project spec, we decided that we were simply going to slide the renewal date by one year for anyone with a two-year license that purchased an extension, pushing their actual renewal date out a year. Upon thinking about it again, we realized this would cause a lot of customer issues and had to re-do the entire plan for two-year customers, a large part of our install base.
While we did have project sheets and spec documents, we also realized that we had lost a lot of the in the moment knowledge that comes in project development. We found ourselves constantly saying things like, “why did we make this choice,” and “are we sure that’s what we meant here?” The long gap between the original project start date and the day we picked it back up meant that the ramp-up time for the extension program was a lot longer than we expected. We realized that we wouldn’t be able to announce the price increase in December, with prices going up at the start of the year: we needed more time, both to QA the extension program and create version 6.0.
Part of the original playbook was to provide value for customers by releasing version 5.0, and we wanted to stick to the original plan. We started thinking about what it would take to have another meaningful release and version 6.0, the Larger Longer Faster Better release was born.
First, we doubled the size of physical media restores, allowing people to get back more of their data more quickly and affordably (this was an oft-requested change, and one that is an example of a good-for-the-customer feature that incurs Backblaze extra costs). We leveraged B2 Cloud Storage again and built in functionality that would allow people to save their backed up data to B2, building off of the previous year’s preview and share capabilities. We made the service more efficient, increased backup speeds again, and also added network management tools. Looking past the Mac and PC apps, we also revamped our mobile offerings by refreshing our iOS and Android apps. All of that added development time again, and our new time table for the price increase was a February 2019 announcement, with the price increase going into effect in March.
Wait a Minute…
You might be saying, you released version 5.0 in a run-up to a price increase, then scrapped it, and then released version 6.0 in a run-up to a price increase. Does that mean that every new version number increase will be followed by a price increase? Absolutely not. The first five versions of Backblaze didn’t precipitate a price increase, and we’re already hard at work on version 7.0 with no planned price increases on the horizon.
Price Increase Announcement
We’ve all been subjected to price increases that were clandestine, then abruptly announced and put into effect the same day, or were not well explained. That never feels great and we really wanted to give customers one month of warning before the prices actually increased. That would give people time to buy the extensions that we worked so hard to build. Conversely, if people were on monthly licenses, or had a renewal date coming up after the price increase went into effect, it would give them an opportunity to cancel their service ahead of the increase. Of course we didn’t want anyone to leave, but realized that any change in our subscription plans would cause a stir and people who were more price-sensitive would likely have second thoughts about renewing.
Another goal was to be as communicative as possible. We wanted our customers to know exactly what we were doing, why we were doing it, and we didn’t want anyone to fall through the cracks of not knowing that this was happening. That meant writing a blog post, creating emails for all Personal Backup customers and Group administrators, and even briefing some members of the press and reviews sites who’d need to update their pricing tables. It might seem silly to pitch the press on a price increase (something that is usually a negative event), but we’ve had some wonderful relationships develop with journalists over the years and it felt like the right thing to do to let them know ahead of time.
Once all of those things were in back in place, it was time to press go, this time for real. The price increase was announced on February 12th and went into effect March 12th.
The Reaction & Churn Analysis
Customer Reaction — Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best
We didn’t expect the response to be positive. Planning is great, but you never know exactly what’s going to happen until it’s actually happening. We were ready with support responses, FAQs, and a communications plan in case the response was overwhelmingly negative, but were lucky and that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Customers wrote to us and said, finally. Some people went out of their way to express how relieved they were that we were finally going to raise prices, concerned that we had been burning cash over the years. Other sentiments made it clear that we communicated the necessity for the increase and priced it correctly, saying that a $1 increase after 12 years is more than fair.
@GlebBudman Thanks for explaining so clearly and respectfully to your customers online. I am OK with the price increase. A healthy @backblaze means a healthy location for my backups. Well worth the price.
@GlebBudman As a @backblaze customer since May, 2015, I received the notice today of the product price increase by $1 per month to $6. A very fair price adjustment for the service your company provides. No worries. Thank you for such an excellent product. – David | Boston, MA
When the press picked up the story, they had similar sentiments. Yes, it was news that Backblaze was increasing prices, but the reports were positive and very fair. One of the press members that we sent the news to early responded with: “Seems reasonable…”
There were of course some people who were angry and annoyed, and while some of our customers did come to our defense, we did see an increase in churn.
Churn Rate Analysis
Over the next few months we monitored churn carefully to see the true impact on our existing customers from the price increase.
Every time a person leaves Backblaze we send one final email thanking them for their time with us, wishing them well, and asking if they have any feedback. Those emails go directly into our ticketing system where I read all of them every month to get a picture of why people are leaving Backblaze. Sometimes they are reasons we cannot address, but if we can, they go on our roadmap. After the price increase we’ve seen about a 30 percent increase in people saying that they are leaving for billing reasons. It makes sense that more people are citing the price increase as they leave Backblaze, but we’ve had a lot of positive feedback as well from the issues we addressed in versions 5.0 and 6.0.
What about the people who didn’t necessarily write back to our email? We dove deep into the analytics and found that our typical consumer backup service churn rate six months before announcing the price increase was about 5.38 percent. The six months after announcement saw a churn rate of 5.75 percent, which indicates an increase in churn of about 7 percent. In our estimates we anticipated that number being a bit higher for the first year and then coming back down to historical averages after the bulk of our customers had their first renewal at the new price.
New Customer Acquisition
People leaving the service after you increase prices is only half of the equation. The other half lies in your new customer acquisition. Due to the market having competition, raising prices can cause prospective customers to look elsewhere when comparing products. This number was a bit hard for us to calculate since the year prior our biggest competitor for our consumer service went out of business. The best comparable we had was to look at 2017 versus. 2019. We went back to 2017 to look at the historical data and found that even with the increase, and six months afterwards, two year growth rate of our Personal Backup service was a healthy 42 percent.
Lessons Learned From Raising Prices
We learned a lot during this whole process. One of the most important lessons is treating your customers well and not taking them for granted. At the outset we’d sometimes say things like, “it’s only a dollar, who is going to care,” and we’d quickly nip those remarks in the bud and take the process seriously. A dollar may not seem like much, but to a lot of people and our global customers, it was an increase that they felt and that was evidenced in the churn going up by 7 percent.
Some might think, well a 7 percent increase in churn isn’t so bad, you could have raised prices even more, but that’s the wrong lesson to take away. Any changes to the plan we had in place could have yielded very different results.
The extension program was a hit for our existing customers and a welcome option for many. Taking the time to build it resulted in over 30,000 Backblaze Personal Backup accounts buying extensions, which resulted in about $1.8M in revenue. There is a flip-side to this. If those 30,000 accounts had simply renewed at the increased price, we would have made $2.2M, resulting in $366,000 of lost revenue. But that’s only if you assume that all of those customers would have renewed. Some may have churned, and by buying an extension they signaled to us that they were willing to stay with us, even after the price increase goes into effect for them.
As a customer, def happy with the way you handled this. Appreciated the opportunity to buy an extension at the old pricing, comms was clear & direct, and the increase is reasonable. Cheers!
Having a good foundation of community and an open dialog with your customers is helpful. When we made the announcement, we weren’t met with the anger that we were somewhat anticipating. In large part this was due to our customers trusting us, and knowing that this was not something we were doing because we simply wanted to make a few extra bucks.
When your community trusts you, they are willing to hear you out even when the news is not great. Build a good rapport with your customers and it will hopefully buy you the benefit of the doubt once or twice, but be careful not to abuse that privilege.
Similar to having a good community relationship, explaining the why of what is happening helps educate customers and continues to strengthen your connection with them. When I was on reddit and in the blog post comments discussing the price increase, the people on reddit and on our blog who have grown accustomed to our answering questions were comfortable asking some pretty hard ones, and appreciated when we would respond with thoughtful and long-form answers. I cannot stress enough how much we enjoy the conversations we have on these platforms. We learn a lot about who is using Backblaze, what their pain points are, and if there’s something we can do to help them. These conversations really do affect how we create and consider our product roadmap.
So many companies raise their prices chasing profits, keeping it on the low, so it was refreshing to get an email from @backblaze explaining why they have decided to increase theirs for the first time ever – transparent, decent, fair https://t.co/TDG5mknSLp#howbusinessshouldbe
Rarely does anyone want to increase their prices — especially when it affects customers who have been with them for a decade. Many companies don’t want to discuss their decision making process or playbooks, but there are a lot of organizations that face the need to raise prices. Unfortunately, there are few resources to help them thread the needle between something they have to do, and something that their current and future customers will understand and accept.
I wanted to share our journey through our price increase process in hopes that people find it both informative and interesting. Thinking about your customers first may sound like a trope, but if you spend the time to really sit back and consider their reactions and what you can do as a way to thank your existing customers or clients, you can be successful, or at the very least mitigate some of the downside.
If you’ve ever raised prices at your company, or have examples of companies that have done a great job (or a bad job), we’d love to hear those examples in the comments below!
I never considered myself to be extremely techy. My family and friends would occasionally come to me with computer problems that I could solve with the help of Google and FAQ pages, but I would not go much further than that.
When I came across Backblaze’s job posting for a marketing position, I applied mostly on a lark. My background looked similar to the job description, but I never expected to hear anything from them. When I received the email that I had gotten an interview with Backblaze, my initial thought was, how? Backblaze was the type of company I feared when first arriving in the Bay Area from Ohio. Worry began to bubble up in me about being in a room filled with people who were all smarter or more experienced than me. My family teased me that I would walk into my first day and it would be an episode of Punk’d.
Silicon Valley has a stigma for most everyone who isn’t located in the Bay Area. We assume it will be filled with competitive geniuses and be too expensive to survive. “You may be Ohio smart, but that’s a different kind of smart,” is something I have heard in actual conversations. And I, too, had similar thoughts as I considered trying to fit in at a startup.
Having watched the HBO show, Silicon Valley, my perspective of how my future coworkers would act could not have been more different from reality. The show portrays Silicon Valley workers as smug, arrogant, anti-social coders who are ready to backstab their coworkers on their way to the top of the industry. At Backblaze, I have found the opposite to be true: everyone has been supportive, fun to be around, and team-oriented.
Now that I live in Silicon Valley, rather than watching it, I have to say I let the intimidation get to me. One of my favorite quotes that helps me during times of high stress is by the Co-Founder of Lumi Labs, Marissa Mayer, in reference to how she’s succeeded in her career, “I always did something I was not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow.” That’s an important thing to remember when you are starting a new job, adventure, or experience: On the other side of the challenge, no matter how it goes, you’ll have grown. Here are some of the things that I have learned during my first few weeks of growth at Backblaze and living in the Bay Area. Hopefully, they’ll help you to try something you’re not ready for, too.
Nine Lessons Learned
Don’t be Thrown by Big Words
Write them down. Google is your best friend. There may be words, companies, software, acronyms, and a bunch of other things that come up in meetings that you have never heard before. Take notes. Research them and do research on how they apply to your company or work position. Most of the time it’s something you might have known about but didn’t know the correct word or phrase for.
No One Understands Your Thought Process
Show your work. Something that’s hard when it comes to talking to your boss or your team is that they cannot see inside your brain. Talk them through how you got to where you are with your thoughts and conclusions. There are plenty of times where I have had to remind myself to over-explain an idea or a thought so the people around me could understand and help.
You Don’t Have to Know Everything
Own up to your lack of knowledge. This one is tough because when you are new to a position you have the inclination to not lift the veil and reveal yourself as someone who does not know something. This could be something as big as not knowing how a core feature works or as small as not knowing how the coffee machine works. When you are new to a company you are never going to walk in and know exactly how everything works. At the moment you don’t understand something, admit it and most people you work with will help or at least point you in the direction of where and how to learn.
Living in Someone’s Backyard in an In-Law Suite is Normal
Look everywhere before choosing where to live. Moving to Silicon Valley while trying to establish a stable income sounds impossible, and indeed it is very hard. When talking to people before my move everyone would say, “ugh, the housing payments!” This was not encouraging to hear. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t creative ways to lower your housing costs. While living with roommates to drive housing costs down, I found a family that wanted to make a little extra money and had an unused in-law suite . While it’s not owning your own home or having a full-size apartment to yourself, it’s different and that can be fun! Plus, like with roommates, you never know what connections you will make.
Not Understanding the Software Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Get It
You have the experience, use it. I came to Backblaze with a very surface-level idea of coding, no idea about the different ways to back up my computer, and no knowledge of how the cloud actually works, but I did understand that it was important to have backups. Just because you don’t understand how something works initially doesn’t mean you don’t understand the value it has. You can use that understanding to pitch ideas and bring an outside perspective to the group.
Talk to People with Important Titles
They all have been in your shoes. The CEOs, presidents, directors, and managers of the world all have been in your position at one point. Now they hold those titles, so obviously they did something right. Get to know them and what they enjoy. They are human and they would love to share their wisdom with you, whether it’s about the company, their favorite food places nearby, or where they go to relax.
Don’t Let Things Slip
Follow up. If someone said they were going to show you something in a meeting or in the hallway, send them a note and see if you should schedule a chat. Have a question during an important meeting that you didn’t want to ask? Follow up! Someone mentioned they knew of a class that could teach something you wanted to learn? Make sure they send you a link! All work environments can feel busy but most people would rather you follow up with them rather than let them forget about something that might be important later on.
Soak In the Environment
Be a fly on the wall. Watch how the office operates and how people talk to each other. Get an idea of when people leave for lunch, when to put your headphones on, and what’s normal to wear around the office. Also, pay attention to who talks in meetings and what it is like to pitch an idea. Observing before fully immersing yourself helps you figure out where your experience fits in and how you can best contribute.
Know Yourself and Know Your Worth
You can figure it out. It may take time, patience, research, and understanding to stand confidently in a room full of experts in the field and pitch ideas. You’ve done it before. Maybe when you were little and asked your parents to take the training wheels off your bicycle? It took a few falls but you figured it out and you can do it again.
We hope that this was a little bit helpful or informative or at least entertaining to read! Have you ever joined a company in an industry you weren’t familiar with? What are some tips or hints that you wish you had known? Share them in the comments below!
Big news: Our first European data center, in Amsterdam, is open and accepting customer data!
This is our fourth data center (DC) location and the first outside of the western United States. As longtime readers know, we have two DCs in the Sacramento, California area and one in the Phoenix, Arizona area. As part of this launch, we are also introducing the concept of regions.
When creating a Backblaze account, customers can choose whether that account’s data will be stored in the EU Central or US West region. The choice made at account creation time will dictate where all of that account’s data is stored, regardless of product choice (Computer Backup or B2 Cloud Storage). For customers wanting to store data in multiple regions, please read this knowledge base article on how to control multiple Backblaze accounts using our (free) Groups feature.
Whether you choose EU Central or US West, your pricing for our products will be unchanged:
For B2 Cloud Storage — it’s $0.005/GB/Month. For comparison, storing your data in Amazon S3’s Ireland region will cost ~4.5x more
For Computer Backup — $60/Year/Computer is the monthly cost of our industry leading, unlimited data backup for desktops/laptops
Later this week we will be publishing more details on the process we undertook to get to this launch. Here’s a sneak preview:
Wednesday, August 28:Getting Ready to Go (to Europe). How do you even begin to think about opening a DC that isn’t within any definition of driving distance? For the vast majority of companies on the planet, simply figuring out how to get started is a massive undertaking. We’ll be sharing a little more on how we thought about our requirements, gathered information, and the importance of NATO in the whole equation.
Thursday, August 29: The Great European (Non) Vacation. With all the requirements done, research gathered, and preliminary negotiations held, there comes a time when you need to jump on a plane and go meet your potential partners. For John & Chris, that meant 10 data center tours in 72 hours across three countries — not exactly a relaxing summer holiday, but vitally important!
Friday, August 30: Making a Decision. After an extensive search, we are very pleased to have found our partner in Interxion! We’ll share a little more about the process of narrowing down the final group of candidates and selecting our newest partner.
Q: Does the new DC mean Backblaze has multi-region storage? A: Yes, by leveraging our Groups functionality. When creating an account, users choose where their data will be stored. The default option will store data in US West, but to choose EU Central, simply select that option in the pull-down menu.
If you create a new account with EU Central selected and have an existing account that’s in US West, you can put both of them in a Group, and manage them from there! Learn more about that in our Knowledge Base article.
Q: I’m an existing customer and want to move my data to Europe. How do I do that? A: At this time, we do not support moving existing data within Backblaze regions. While it is something on our roadmap to support, we do not have an estimated release date for that functionality. However, any customer can create a new account and upload data to Europe. Customers with multiple accounts can administer those accounts via our Groups feature. For more details on how to do that, please see this Knowledge Base article. Existing customers can create a new account in the EU Central region and then upload data to it; they can then either keep or delete the previous Backblaze account in US West.
Q: Finally! I’ve been waiting for this and am ready to get started. Can I use your rapid ingest device, the B2 Fireball? A: Yes! However, as of the publication of this post, all Fireballs will ship back to one of our U.S. facilities for secure upload (regardless of account location). By the end of the year, we hope to offer Fireball support natively in Europe (so a Fireball with a European customer’s data will never leave the EU).
Q: What are my payment options? A: All payments to Backblaze are made in U.S. dollars. To get started, you can enter your credit card within your account.
Q: What’s next? A: We’re actively working on region selection for individual B2 Buckets (instead of Backblaze region selection on an account basis), which should open up a lot more interesting workflows! For example, customers who want can create geographic redundancy for data within one B2 account (and for those who don’t want to set that up, they can sleep well knowing they have 11 nines of durability).
We like to develop the features and functionality that our customers want. The decision to open up a data center in Europe is directly related to customer interest. If you have requests or questions, please feel free to put them in the comment section below.
I first met Laura D’Antoni when we were shooting B2 Cloud Storage customer videos for Youngevity and Austin City Limits. I enjoyed talking about her filmmaking background and was fascinated by her journey as a director, editor, and all around filmmaker. When she came to the Backblaze office to shoot our Who We Are and What We Do video, I floated the idea of doing an interview with her to highlight her journey and educate our blog readers who may be starting out or are already established in the filmmaking world. We’ve finally gotten around to doing the interview, and I hope you enjoy the Q&A with Laura below!
Q: How did you get involved in visual storytelling? My interest in directing films began when I was 10 years old. Back then I used my father’s Hi8 camera to make short films in my backyard using my friends as actors. My passion for filmmaking continued through my teens and I ended up studying film and television at New York University.
Q: Do you have a specialty or favorite subject area for your films? I’ve always been drawn to dramatic films, especially those based on real life events. My latest short is a glimpse into a difficult time in my childhood, told in reverse Memento-style from a little girl’s perspective.
Most of my filmmaking career I actually spent in the documentary world. I’ve directed a few feature documentaries about social justice and many more short docs for non-profit organizations like the SPCA.
Q: Who are you visual storyteller inspirations? What motivates you to tell your stories? The film that inspired me the most when I was just starting out was The Godfather: Part II. The visuals and the performances are incredible, and probably my father being from Sicily really drew me in (the culture, not the Mafia, ha!). Lately I’ve been fascinated by the look of The Handmaid’s Tale, and tried to create a similar feel for my film on a much, much tinier budget. As far as what motivates me, it’s the love for directing. Collaborating with a team to make your vision on paper a reality is an incredible feeling. It’s a ton of work that involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but in the end you’ve made a movie! And that’s pretty cool.
Q: What kind of equipment do you take on shoots? Favorite camera, favorite lens? For shoots I bring lights, cameras, tripods, a slider and my gimbal. I use my Panasonic EVA-1 as my main camera and also just purchased the Panasonic GH5 as B-cam to match. Most of my lenses are Canon photo lenses; the L-glass is fantastic quality and I like the look of them. My favorite lens is the Canon 70-200mm f2.8.
Q: How much data per day does a typical shoot create? If I’m shooting in 4K, around 150GB.
Q: How do you back up your daily shoots? Copy to a disk? Bunch of disks? I bring a portable hard drive and transfer all of the footage from the cards to that drive.
Q: Tell us a bit about your workflow from shooting to editing. Generally, if the whole project fits onto a drive, I’ll use that drive to transfer the footage and then edit from it as well. If I’ve shot in 4K then the first step before editing is creating proxies in Adobe Premiere Pro of all of the video files so it’s not so taxing on my computer. Once that’s done I can start the edit!
Q: How do you maintain your data? If it’s a personal project, I have two copies of everything on separate hard drives. For clients, they usually have a backup of the footage on a drive at their office. The data doesn’t really get maintained, it just stays on the drive and may or may not get used again.
Q: What are some best practices for keeping track of all your videos and assets? I think having a Google Docs spreadsheet and numbering your drives is helpful so you know what footage/project is where.
Q: How has having a good backup and archive strategy helped in your filmmaking? Well, I learned the hard way to always back up your footage. Years ago while editing a feature doc, I had an unfortunate incident with PluralEyes software and it ate the audio of one of my interview subjects. We ended up having to use the bad camera audio and nobody was happy. Now I know. I think the best possible strategy really is to have it backed up in the cloud. Hard drives fail, and if you didn’t back that drive up, you’re in trouble. I learned about a great cloud storage solution called Backblaze when I created a few videos for them. For the price it’s absolutely the best option and I plan on dusting off my ancient drives and getting them into the cloud, where they can rest safely until someday someone wants to watch a few of my very first black and white films!
Q: What advice do you have for filmmakers and videographers just starting out? Know what you want to specialize in early on so you can focus on just that instead of many different specialties, and then market yourself as just that.
It also seems that the easiest way into the film world (unless you’re related to Steven Spielberg or any other famous person in Hollywood) is to start from the bottom and work your way up.
Also, remember to always be nice to the people you work with, because in this industry that PA you worked with might be a big time producer before you know it.
Q: What might our readers find surprising about challenges you face in your work? In terms of my directing career, the most challenging thing is to simply be seen. There is so much competition, even among women directors, and getting your film in front of the right person that could bring your career to the next level is nearly impossible. Hollywood is all about who you know, not what you know, unfortunately. So I just keep on making my films and refuse to give up on my dream of winning an Academy Award for best director!
Q: How has your workflow changed since you started working with video? I only worked with film during my college years. It definitely teaches you to take your time and set up that shot perfectly before you hit record,; or triple check where you’re going to cut your film before it ends up on the floor and you have to crawl around and find it to splice it back in. Nowadays that’s all gone. A simple command- z shortcut and you can go back several edits on your timeline, or you can record countless hours on your video camera because you don’t have to pay to have it developed. My workflow is much easier, but I definitely miss the look of film.
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