Corey Bailey
           Audio Engineering
USEFUL INFORMATION YOUR DATA IS AT RISK!
So what’s this? I’ve been telling you that you have to migrate all of your recordings - home movies, pictures and video to the digital realm, and now I’m telling you that it’s at risk? Ok, I got your attention with a sensational title. This is really about backing up the data that you are amassing. When it comes to moving your family history to the digital domain, my suggestion is to give copies to as many family members that will store it and, of course, enjoy it! You need to be backing up everything from your computer’s system disk to your cell phone’s phone book. I know, I know, this is a real PITA! The truth is, however, that here we are in the digital era, and we have to be our own data managers. The alternative is to loose it all. The motto of the information technology managers is:  “You’re only as good as your last backup.” Backup schemes: We will start by separating the digital data you are compiling into two groups: Your family history: (Group 1) This includes digital photos, audio recordings, videos, and anything else associated with your family history. Many people these days are researching their family history on-line, and this information (including any scanned documents, pictures, etc.), should be in this category. To safely store your family history, you need more than one copy with, at least, one or more copies stored off site. Backup vs. File Copy I’m using the term “copy” for this group because these files should be copied as opposed to “backed up.” The difference is that many backup schemes involve software that copy files in such a way that requires the same software to read them again. Backup software often compresses the data, which can be useful for large volumes such as your computer’s main hard drive containing the operating system and all of your software. Making a direct copy of the original files involving your family history assures that anyone can read or play those files in the future, regardless of the computer system they use. All your data on one drive? Sure, you can do that. If it all fits on one drive, you will actually need two drives: One for storage at home and one for off-site storage. External hard drives come large enough these days that you can copy all of your family data to one drive unless you have a considerable amount of stuff. Then, you’ll obviously need more than one drive. If that’s the case, give them successive names such as Archive-1, 2, etc. or A, B, etc. Nothing lasts forever, and hard drives are no exception*. They are electro- mechanical devices that are precisely made and are very delicate. Consider their life expectancy to be about 10 years in storage. Make sure that the drives to be stored are wrapped in padding of some kind (even boxed if you have the room) in case they are accidentally dropped. Purchase your archive drives with tomorrow’s interface such as USB 3.0 plus E-Sata even if you don’t have an interface yet for E-Sata. Apple “Mac” computers have an interface called “Thunderbolt” which, is now standard on all new Mac’s. PC users may know of this interface as well which is also known as “Light Peak” which was originally developed by Intel Corp. If you are asking yourself about solid-state hard drives for archiving, wait awhile. Not only can they be prohibitively expensive, but tests have shown that they may not the best choice for long term archival storage. Solid State Drives (SSD) have come a long way since their introduction. Nearly all of the initial problems have been overcome, prices are falling and, millions of SSD’s are in daily use, even in enterprise servers. I’ve gone so far as installing one in my 11 year old laptop. One curious aspect of solid state drives is that they have a limited number of write sequences. (Actually, the number of write sequences is limited by the number of erase sequences.) Not to worry though, because the available number of write sequences far exceeds the average users lifetime. Even if you do approach the limit, most SSD’s will warn the user. Should it happen that the write limit is reached, the drive becomes read only so not all is lost under these circumstances. One sticky problem remains when it comes to using a SSD for archival use: If a SSD fails, the data is usually un-recoverable unlike a conventional HD. With a conventional spinning platter hard drive, the data, if important enough, can be recovered. There are several companies that specialize in data recovery. The process is not cheap but, it can be done. So for the very reason of potential permanent data loss, I cannot yet recommend SSD’s for archival use. DVD-R’s are another possibility, particularly if you don’t have enough material to warrant the cost of an external hard drive. Use archival quality gold CD’s and DVD-R’s. They can cost upwards of $4.00 US each in small quantities but for about $40.00 US, you can get 45 or more Gigabytes (GB) of data space. Be careful about labeling the discs. If you want to write on them, make sure to use felt tip pens designed for writing on CD’s and DVD-R’s. Avoid paper disk labels for long term storage. Despite the 100-year claims made by the manufacturers, consider the life expectancy of recordable CD’s and DVD’s to be about 10 years as well. And, this would be stored in a controlled environment like a safe deposit box. Off site where? As I mentioned earlier, give copies to as many family members that will store your history and, of course, enjoy it!  A safe deposit box is one of my favorites. Besides the copy of all your data, safe deposit boxes are great for all of the insurance papers, birth certificates, and other important papers that you want to be able to find when you need them. On-line storage (the cloud) is an option. There are on-line services that will securely store any amount of data for you, and some will allow you to make the repository accessible to anyone you choose, which could be great for sharing family history. If you select on-line storage, make sure that the the service you pick does not use any data compression or change the format of what you store in any way. If all you are looking to stash is an external drive or a few DVD’s and you work in an office environment, storing your off site data there (particularly in a portable fire safe) may be an option if allowed. Everything else: (Group 2) You will still need to keep a local backup of your personal computer(s) handy for that day when your hard drive fails, and, chances are, it will. It’s not a matter of if it will fail, but when. You also need to establish a regular schedule for backing up your personal computers. External drives* work great for this and many come bundled with software to automate the backup task. The 10-year lifespan mentioned above will more than likely be about 2 to 5 years if you leave it powered up and attached to your computer. Even allowing for less than a 5-year lifespan, your backup drive will probably outlive the computer you are backing up. On-line storage (the cloud) is also a convenient option, and many services will automatically back up your computer. Think twice however, about using on-line (cloud) storage for personal information that can be mined (hacked) for identity theft purposes. Some cloud storage facilities offer data encryption which I consider to be absolutely necessary for personal information. Yet another possibility is Network Attached Storage (NAS). NAS drives are available from many of the companies that offer external drives. The NAS drive connects to your home router or office network and can be accessed by all of the computers that connect to the network (including wireless) allowing for remote backup and simply storing files in a central location. On the other hand: NAS drives are more expensive than external USB drives, and network data rates are typically slower than the USB interface. So, convenience has its price! * A word about external hard drives: As stated earlier: “Nothing lasts forever, and hard drives are no exception. They are electro-mechanical devices that are precisely made and very delicate.” One of the frequent killers of hard drives is shock or sudden movement while being turned on and accessed. This happens mostly with laptops as people tend to forget that there is a disk inside spinning at 5400 RPM or faster. This same problem happens with external drives being moved or re-positioned while powered on. Another big killer is heat. External drives are made to look “kewel” but most provide little or no air circulation causing the hard drive inside the enclosure to run excessively hot. Powering down that USB drive when not in use can more than double its life expectancy. Return to TOP of page © 2012 Corey Bailey
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