Aperture 3 on the Mac — Storage and Backup Strategy

First published on: Monday, 31 May 2010

Apple Aperture 3

If you’re having a hard time deciding how to allocate space on your Mac’s hard disks for Apple’s Aperture 3, this excellent post by “DiploStrat” on DPReview.com should be of immense help.

Aperture 3 on the Mac -- Storage and Backup Strategy

I’m quoting the entire post below, with edits / paraphrasing and some of my comments (in square brackets, prepended with DC:) where applicable.

Things to consider when deciding how to allocate hard drive storage space for Aperture:

  1. Aperture speed is dependent on having the Library on the fastest possible drive. On on iMac, that is your internal drive. [DC: Mine is a 640 GB drive on an Early 2009 Core 2 Duo 2.93 GHz 24-inch iMac. My Aperture library files are located on my iMac’s internal drive.]

        That drive should have something on the order of 20-30% free space to allow room for work files/scratch files, etc. [DC: I've moved most of my files, and that includes iTunes (the music, audio and video files, but NOT the iPhone OS apps ipa and iTunes itdb & xml library files), Aperture's referenced Master files (that is, the original JPEG / RAW / NEF / CR2 files) off the internal drive, leaving it with 500-plus GB of free space.]</li>
    <li>Your master images do not need to be on a fast drive. Think about it -- Aperture reads and writes your previews and versions, but never, ever, does anything but read your masters. Once written, they are never changed again. [DC: My Aperture Master files, all 400 GB of them, are on a tiny <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-2-5-Inch-Portable-HX-MU064DA-G22/dp/B002M2MJQ2/?tag=dpnotes-20">Samsung 640 GB USB 2.0 2.5-Inch Portable External Hard Drive HX-MU064DA/G22</a>.]</li>
    <li>As an Aperture user, you want all of your images on line, all the time, and you want as much speed as possible.</li>
I use a Samsung 640 GB USB 2.0 2.5-Inch Portable External Hard Drive HX-MU064DA/G22 to store my referenced Aperture 3 master files I use a Samsung 640 GB USB 2.0 2.5-Inch Portable External Hard Drive HX-MU064DA/G22 to store my referenced Aperture 3 master files

Here’s a suggested storage strategy:

  1. Look inside your Aperture Library Package and see how large your Masters folder is. Get an external hard drive that is at least this large. Drives are cheap; get one twice as large to allow for growth. While I would not buy a USB drive for a Mac, this drive does not have to be very fast. You might be able to get a large used USB drive for very little money.

  2. Now start Aperture and relocate your masters to this drive. They are now Referenced. You should now have cleaned up a LOT of space on your internal drive, but notice that you have NOT archived anything. All of your images are just as accessible as before. The whole point of Aperture is to make it unnecessary to every archive anything unless you really don’t want to look at the images. (In which case you could create a new library for those images. But why bother?)
    So now your Mac consists of two drives not one. Easy. (Especially for those of us who grew up with Minicomputers and Mainframes.) At the risk of showing my age, let us name them “System” and “Images.” (System contains the operating system, Aperture and all of your other applications and “Images” contains, well images.

Now, think about an on-site backup strategy:

  1. Start with Time Machine. The easiest way is to plug in an single external drive that is large enough to back up both “System” and “Images.” Assuming that you want to be able to go back a few months, get a drive that is about 1.5 times as large as both of these drives. Time Machine will now back up your data every hour without you needing to do anything else. Go take some pictures.

  2. The general rule is to have at least two separate media. So, send in the clones. Clones are clones, so you will need one physical drive for “System” and one for “Images” or two partitions. Either one will work. I would set up your system so that your clones update every night automagically.

  3. [DC: I have a slightly different approach to this. I’ve set up Time Machine to back up my iMac’s internal drive to a 150 GB partition on an external Western Digital 1 TB My Book Studio Edition hard drive that is connected via FireWire.

        All of the files on the Samsung drive (this includes the Aperture master files) are manually kept in sync with a "SAMSUNG Archive / Backup" folder on the second remaining partition on the Western Digital drive using <a href="http://www.binarynights.com/forklift">Forklift</a>, an FTP program with a host of additional features. I did consider using <a href="http://www.bombich.com/">Carbon Copy Cloner</a> or <a href="http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/SuperDuperDescription.html">SuperDuper!</a> (which I've purchased a license for) but these programs don't allow for disk-to-folder or folder-to-folder file synchronization.
        The reason why I don't use Time Machine to back my Aperture master files up is because I don't want Time Machine to keep copies of files and folders that I have deleted. I'm also constantly making batch changes to file names and folder structures, and Time Machine will continue to keep copies of the old version of the files with file name and folder location prior to the said changes. This causes the disk space taken up by Time Machine to balloon beyond control.
        With Forklift, I manually sync the files on the Samsung (the Source) to a folder on the Western Digital drive (the Target), and I specify that files which exist on the Target but not on the Source are to be immediately deleted.
        An additional benefit to having your referenced Aperture master files on an external disk rather than on the internal drive is if you replace your internal hard drive, restoring data from a Time Machine backup is much, much quicker. In my case, I only have about 100 GB of Time Machine backup data.]</li>
I use a Western Digital 1 TB My Book Studio Edition hard drive to store my Time Machine backup and a synchronized copy of the referenced Aperture 3 master files I use a Western Digital 1 TB My Book Studio Edition hard drive to store my Time Machine backup and a synchronized copy of the referenced Aperture 3 master files

Consider having an off-site backup plan:

  1. Give some thought to off site backup, either by carrying a disk somewhere or an internet service. [DC: I don’t have an off-site backup process in place.]

  2. Remember that once Time Machine makes a single backup, the only thing extra space gives you is more “time.” Do you really need to go back more than say, one month? [DC: I only need Time Machine to back up my most recent data, and I’ve yet to come across a situation where I’d need to retrieve an older copy of a file. In any case, 100% of my work files are stored in a Dropbox folder, and the Dropbox service does an extremely wonderful job of keeping older versions of these files and making the current copy of the files instantly accessible on my MacBook Pro and iPhone. Learn how you can get an additional 250 MB of space for free, with no strings attached.]

  3. What about Vaults? There really isn’t much need for vaults any more. [DC: I don’t use Aperture’s Vault feature myself.]

  4. In the old days, those disks would have been “System” and “Data.” In other words, you could put all of your data on that images disk. In this case, however, you will want to use Firewire.

“DiploStrat” has one more to say on using Aperture’s Vaults vs Time Machine / SuperDuper!:

Scholars may differ, but I consider the Vault to be a bit of an an anachronism. With Aperture 1.0, which antedated Time Machine, the Vault was a real plus. All Aperture libraries were “managed” and Aperture gave you one button back up of everything, including deleted photos.

[DC: “Managed” in this context means that your original image files are stored as part of Aperture’s library, which appears as a single file but is really a Mac OS X “package” object that consists of numerous files, folders and other file system objects.]

Then came Time Machine and the first release backed up at the package level, not the file level. Ugh. So, the Vault was still the answer. Then Apple fixed Time Machine and more and more folks started using “referenced” libraries — because they have laptops, iMacs, whatever. At this point, backing up the versions/previews/indices, without the masters, becomes a lot less useful. Better to simply do a comprehensive backup of your whole system.

[DC: “Referenced” in this context means that your original image files are stored as a normal file in the Mac OS X file system.]

On a Mac, this is stupidly easy with Time Machine, SuperDuper!, and perhaps an Internet service. In any case, a Vault will only add value if it is on a physically different media. No point in sticking it on a partition of the same drive as Time Machine or a clone — lose one, lose both. So I would forget vaults and put all of my efforts into Time Machine and a nightly clone.
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