Changes in Your Workflow Can be Nasty

October 24, 2011  •  Leave a Comment

If you’re comfortable with what you know and there is not a compelling reason to change your current workflow you may want to stick with it.  What follows are the frustrations I encountered when a small change turned into a huge problem.  It’s kind of lengthy but I thought you may be interested in my trials and tribulations.

I recently decided to make a switch in my workflow that had a domino effect and I am still reeling from it.  Last year I began a subscription with Mozy Online Backup.  It took about a week to back up all of my images (almost 2 TB).  At the time Mozy had a single subscription price of just over $100 a year for unlimited storage of up to two computers.  This was great because it was both cost effective and convenient.  This year I got a notice that they would no longer support an unlimited option.  The alternative price was cost prohibitive so I decided to go back to local backups.

To help secure my data I also decided to invest in a Drobo System.  If you haven’t heard about this system it is a box designed for you to easily add up to four (some you can add more) internal disk drives while your system sees them as one.  You have to add at least two drives and one is a fail safe drive to protect you if one of the other drives fails.  This sounded like the smart thing to do so I ordered it.

Installing the Drobo was just as easy as advertised.  Plug the box into a USB port and power it up.  Then plug in the drives by sliding them into the box until they snap in place.  The Drobo uses any internal SATA or eSATA drive and I elected to use 4 drives, each with a 2 TB capacity.  The Drobo Dashboard software will format the drives and you’re ready to go.  One of the neat things is that you see only one drive on your computer (unless you format it for more).

But then things started to go wrong.  Since I had so much data I wanted to do regular nightly backups.  Drobo gives you a backup program to help you with this.  It looked pretty good so I decided to use it.  Then every morning I would find my computer frozen.  No ability to click or use the keyboard.  The only option was to reboot.  Then it got to where it would occur in the middle of the day while I was working.  Writing data to the Drobo was also fairly slow.  One of the options was to replace the USB connection with a Firewire 800.  My system didn’t have the connection for this so I had to acquire an add-on card manufactured by Cisco.  This worked well but the system continued to freeze.

Finally one day, after a reboot, the Drobo drive was not readable.  The volume was corrupt.  It still showed more than a terabyte of data, but the directory could not be read.  I tried running Windows utilities, but nothing worked.  All of my data was on the Drobo.  Not only that but with my recent change I hadn’t had a chance to back up everything.  Talk about panic.  Now I understand why some photographers are a little anal and have two or three backups!

Now I want you to understand.  Before I start bashing Drobo too much you should know that I never contacted their Support staff.  However, I did look tirelessly through their support site at the knowledge base.  My thinking was that there was something on my system that was clashing with Drobo.  I disabled my PC Tools Firewall and enabled the one in Windows 7.  That didn’t help.  I also thought the Firewire connection may be the issue, so I went back to the USB.  Still nothing.

To retrieve my data I acquired a tool called R-Studio NTFS.  Using this tool I was able to see the files and recover them without a problem.  However, since there was so much data this took almost two full days.  I recovered these files on external drives in preparation of restoring them on the Drobo.  Once they were all recovered I reformatted the Drobo and the copied the files back to the Drobo.  Again, this took about 18 hours.

With all of this happening I was still shooting pictures.  Unfortunately I had no place to process them!  Basically, I copied them off of the CF card on to an external hard drive and did a little processing using my laptop.

After a week of frustration I was back to work.  Then the system started freezing again.  Not only was it freezing, but I was consistently getting the Blue Screen of Death.  After some more time of researching I had decided it was enough.  That was it!!  I decided to order a Mac Pro. 

This wasn’t necessarily spur of the moment thing.  I had actually been thinking about it for quite a while.  The problem was that I have been a PC user since the early ‘80’s.  I have always felt pretty good about troubleshooting and being able to ultimately recover from PC problems.  But I have always heard that Mac’s don’t have all of those problems in the first place and they are much more intuitive and easier to use in editing images.  So I decided that I was tired of wasting time having to research and spend money to fix PC issues. 

However, moving from a PC to a Mac isn’t just changing cultures.  There were so many things I hadn’t considered.  First was the software.  I knew there would be required changes in software, but I really thought it would be minimal.  After all I was just using the computer for image storage and processing.  Well, I hadn’t really done my homework on Photoshop.  Lesson learned.  I thought I could still use my Windows version on my laptop while changing to the Mac version for my desktop.  That’s not the case.  Adobe will convert the license from one platform to another at no charge, but they will not give you access to both platforms without acquiring another license.  Well, I’m not going to hold two licenses, so I lost my ability to process images with Photoshop on my laptop.  I will probably move to a Mac laptop at a later date, so I will have to find a way to accommodate until then.

The good news is that all of my Photoshop plug-ins did allow me to load the Mac version at no cost.  I own both the Nik Software Suite and the OnOne Software Suite, as well as some of the Topaz and Portrait Professional plug-ins.  All of these loaded without issues.

However, additional issues came with the new Mac OS Lion (10.7) version of the operating system.  This was totally unexpected and I would have never planned for it.  My monitor calibration software (X-Rite, I1 Display 2) and my Nikon Capture NX2 raw converter were not compatible.  Both of these are critical to my workflow. 

X-Rite Corp develops the software for the I1 Display 2 calibration tool I use.  I didn’t realize that this tool has been discontinued until I went to the support site and couldn’t find the product.  Since the tool has been discontinued they were not quick to update the software.  However, they have released a beta version of an update.  I downloaded and quickly found that the interface is very different from the original.  It used to be plug and play.  Now you have to make adjustments to the monitor.  Not as user friendly.  Then once installed I was able to see that the result was not very good as well.  Now I am left with either updating the tool or trying to see if there are other options.  In the meantime, I’m not sure how to color correct my images.

Capture NX2 is the software that Nikon developed to use with their products.  I have really come to love this product, but sometime Nikon is slow to react.  On their support site they have indicated that they will look into issues with the new Mac OS.  Doesn’t sound too definitive, so I’m not sure when to expect an update.  However, I do have options with this.  I still have my PC and can process files with NX2 and then move them to the Mac for further processing.  Very inconvenient, but doable.  I can also totally abandon NX2 and move back to Lightroom, or use Adobe Raw that comes with Photoshop.  Of course, this would require a bit of a learning curve and I’m not sure I’m up for it.  It would be preferable to continue with NX2, so maybe I’ll be inconvenienced for a while.  

The next issue came with my external drives and the Drobo.  Since these were formatted as NTFS drives for Windows they were not compatible with the Mac.  Again, this was a total surprise, but when I think about it, I should have realized they would be different.  Mac can read NTFS drives but not write to them.  So now what do I do since all of my data is on them.  I found a 3rd party product called Paragon that’s pretty cheap (only $20) so I downloaded the trial.  It worked really well, so this seemed to solve the issue.

Now that I could access and write to the drives I decided to use the Mac Time Machine program to schedule a backup from the Drobo to one of the external drives.  What I found was that even with the Paragon software the Time Machine software cannot backup to NTFS formatted drives.  So I decided to get everything on the Drobo and reformat the external drives to the Mac format then backup the Drobo to them.  However, after the reformat the Time Machine software still would not backup.  This time it was because I was required to exclude the Drobo from the backup set.  So the saga continued.

As a result I went to the Apple Store and looked for backup software and found one called Drive Backup for only $29.99.  It had very good reviews and indicated that it would back up to and from any volume type.  So far I am very happy with the result.

To sum everything up, you should plan very carefully when you think about changing your workflow.  This was a very small change that had a very dramatic effect.  I have currently disabled the Drobo until I get some extra time to work with it and I can plan better for another disaster.  The idea of the Drobo’s fail safe system is good, but my experience was that it is what caused my system to fail.


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