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How Data Backup Saved the Toy Story Franchise

Jul 3, 2019, 17:28 PM by Alex Simons

toy story backup

Image: Pixar

It’s not easy to imagine Pixar Animation Studios making a huge blunder. (Well, unless you count The Good Dinosaur.)

But with the release of Toy Story 4, this seemed like a great time to revisit what has to be the biggest operational goof in the company’s history. There’s a valuable lesson here about the importance of Data Protection-as-a-Service (DPaaS).

But it’s also just an amazing story — almost as crazy as the idea of toys coming to life when their owners aren’t around.

Forward-Thinking Studio. Forgets Data Backup!

As they were nearing the end of production on Toy Story 2, a Pixar employee accidentally entered a delete command for one of the film’s files. Problem was, the employee didn’t specify which file in the folder to delete, and so the Linux system just started… deleting all the movies files!

By the time the staff figured out what was happening and shut down the system before more content could be erased, 90% of the digital assets for Toy Story 2 were already gone.

Worse, it appeared they were gone for good. When the staff called IT to ask for access to the backup drive, IT told them the backup system hadn’t been working for some time.

That led to an emergency meeting at the Pixar offices, where the execs probably shouted a lot of words that they’d never allow in one of their movies.

Pixar’s $100 Million Volvo

But this is Hollywood, so of course there’s a happy ending.

In that meeting, the film’s supervising technical director had a light bulb moment. She gave birth to her son earlier in the year so the studio allowed her to do some of her work from home. That meant she had copies of most of the movie’s files on her personal computer.

So she and a Pixar executive hopped into her car, which came to be known as the “$100 million Volvo.” They drove to her house, gently placed her computer into the trunk, and brought it back to the Pixar offices where the team restored most of the files for Toy Story 2. Phew!

Tens of millions of dollars of Pixar production work. Saved only because of a $2,000 computer, and the birth of a little boy named Eli.

I know. It almost sounds… Incredibles! But it’s true.

And it happened to one of the sharpest, most forward-thinking movie studios in history. All because they didn’t have a proper backup solution working to protect their company’s mission-critical data — the very files that would eventually become Toy Story 2.

toy backup story

Image: Pixar

Every Business Needs Data Protection-as-a-Service

Pixar was backing up its data on-site. But they didn’t seem to have the in-house expertise to immediately correct the issue once their backup system started failing. (This was 1998, though, so we can’t blame them too much. Cloud backup wasn’t really a thing yet.)

But this story does underscore the need for more than just “data backup.” Technically speaking, Pixar had been backing up its movie files on that technical director’s home computer. But that’s not a viable strategy, is it? If you’re counting on an employee’s Volvo to restore your company’s lost digital assets, you’re doing something wrong.

Businesses need complete, end-to-end offsite data protection services. That means redundant cloud backup, so even if one offsite backup facility has an issue, you can grab your data right away from another location. It also means disaster recovery — full restore of files, folders, operating systems, or entire digital environments, to anywhere, within minutes if necessary. (Exactly what Pixar needed!) And it means having a team of data protection experts watching your digital assets 24/7, ready to alert you at the first sign of trouble.

Let’s just hope Pixar learned its lesson back then, and we don’t hear a similar story years from now about another near-catastrophe with the files for Toy Story 4. (Although if it happens to The Good Dinosaur 2, that’s maybe not so bad.)

If you’d like to learn more about how DPaaS can improve your company’s data, we invite you to set up a data protection assessment with a KIS solution consultant today.

* KeepItSafe is not affiliated with or endorsed by The Walt Disney Company or its subsidiaries.

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