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.”
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
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 or 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 as it was originally known as “Light Peak”, developed by
If you are asking yourself about solid-state hard drives for archiving, wait awhile.
Tests have shown that they may not the best choice for long term archival
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. We use them as boot drives in
our family computers.
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
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.
’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
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 you are looking to stash 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.
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.
I like to use hard drive cloning software for backing up the drive that contains the
operating system and all of the software and files that you use on a daily basis.
The reason I prefer to clone the main drive is because if your main hard drive
fails, you simply install the clone and you are back up and running again in much
less time that it takes to install a new drive and restore everything.
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
Another big killer is heat. External drives are made to look “kewel” but many
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.
© 2012 Corey Bailey
DO IT YOURSELF?
A Little About Sound
Optimizing your PC
Sample Frequency Defined
Packing Records for Shipment
Saving Your Family Video