Insurance policy for digital photos

Just think about how many different insurance policies a typical household might have:  medical, dental, life, homeowners or renters, personal articles, auto, long term disability and my favorite the personal liability umbrella.  Some would say that we live in a world of insurance overload.  Perhaps, but insurance makes us feel safe and we sleep well at night knowing that we are protected.

That’s why it is so surprising that most people make little or no effort to protect their most valuable and irreplaceable digital assets such as photographs, videos, music and other personal data files. The average consumer does not have their data properly backed up or archived and could easily lose a lifetime of precious data at any time.

An external hard drive is great for managing continuous backups and day to day changes in your data and the cloud is perfect for sharing, collaborating and meeting basic backup needs.  However, I would not consider either of these solutions a real strategy for the long-term preservation of your digital data.  Why?   Well the reality is that hard drives will eventually fail; they might last a year, they might last six years.  The only certainty is that they will eventually fail.  While cloud backup solves this problem by offering redundant offsite backup, it opens the door for a host of other concerns and you should really think twice before offloading your permanent data storage to the cloud.  “Another Day another Cloud backup company”

To truly ensure the long-term protection and preservation of your digital photos and files, it is important to properly archive to a data storage media that is specifically designed for longevity such recordable Blu-ray. DIGISTOR’s Personal Archive Recorder comes with everything you need to permanently archive and easily manage and restore a lifetime of personal digital files. We like to think of it as an insurance policy for your digital data.

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Pros and Cons of Data Storage Devices

There are lots of choices when it comes to backing up or archiving your data and digital assets.  While everyone’s needs are different and there is no one-size fits all solution, we took a look at the most common data storage devices used by consumers or professions for backup and archive. Here are some of the benefits and pitfall associated with them.

External Hard Drive: When considering the price per GB, ease of use and ability to quickly restore files, it is no wonder this is the go-to backup solution for most people. I myself have at least 3 of these in my home office.

What most people don’t realize when choosing a hard-drive only backup solution is that hard drives are not designed for longevity. While you may occasionally see a lifespan of up to 7 years, the average hard drive will fail in 3-5 years. If you don’t have a backup of your backup and/or a permanent archive of your data, it may be impossible or prohibitively expensive to recover your files when your hard drive fails.

Another thing to consider is that your backup data really should be kept separate from your computer. In case of fire, theft or other disaster your hard-earned backup would most likely be rendered useless if left sitting on a hard drive right next to your computer. While most hard drives these days are portable and can easily be stored separately, the average user leaves their sole backup drive sitting right next to their computer.

USB Flash Drive:  While flash drives are generally much more expensive on a per GB basis, they share many of the same benefits as a traditional HDD solution; easy, quick to access and portable.  Flash is also a great media for sharing or easily distributing data.

However, flash also shares one of the biggest drawbacks of HDD which is longevity. Most reports estimate the lifespan of USB flash drive about the same as HDD, depending on use and storage environment.  This number can vary greatly depending on the quality; it is important to stay away from cheap USB flash drives if using for backup.

Re-writable CD/DVD: On a cost per GB basis CD or DVD can be an inexpensive storage solution since many people already have CD or DVD drives. The lifespan of a CD or DVD is generally longer than a hard drive or USB flash if you take care of the disc, and keep it free from scratches. You are also more likely store a disc offsite or away from your computer. The biggest drawback is the capacity. It also takes more work to burn a CD/DVD disc than it does to setup an automated backup to HDD and most people are not disciplined enough to manually manage their backups on a daily or weekly basis.

Cloud Storage / Online Backup: On the surface online backup seems like the answer to all your backup concerns; inexpensive monthly payments (or even free if you don’t have much data), easy to setup and automate backups, offsite copies of your data managed by a 3rd party and access to your files from any web browser.

However, when considering an online backup provider it is really important to do your homework, look at the fine print and consider the following:

  • Cost – while it is certainly possible to enjoy very inexpensive or even free online backup if you have a small amount of data, the cost can grow very quickly if you have large files such as videos, photo’s and music. And remember, this is a monthly or yearly rental fee; when compared to the average life of a hard drive or other backup solution this can really add up.
  • Bandwidth – probably the most overlooked issue today with online backup. The first problem is actually getting your data transferred to the provider. With the bandwidth available to the average consumer or small business, it could easily take 2 months or longer to simply upload a few hundred GB’s of data to an online backup provider.
  • Restore – sure you can access your data, but how long does it actually take to restore? With the 250GB data cap limitation of most consumers, it could be impossible to fully restore if you need all of your files back at one time.
  • Migration to another storage media or provider – how easy is it to move your data to another solution?
  • Who owns your data? – what happens when you cancel your membership or can no longer afford the service. Does your data disappear?
  • Is the provider really an online backup service or a provider of online sharing and collaboration tools? There is a difference.

This is not a bash against online backup; this is clearly where the market is headed and some of the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages.  However there are still many roadblocks and pitfalls to consider before jumping into a cloud only backup solution. We will tackle many of these issues in future articles.

RAID – RAID may win the battle in capacity and redundancy but can be expensive compared with other storage media options for consumers and small business. RAID systems also tend to be quite difficult to set up and manage, even for expert users or IT professionals. While RAID can be effectively used as part of a backup plan for large users and enterprises, it is not an ideal solution for the average user or for permanent archiving.

 

 

Tape – While tape is often used as part of a backup plan for large enterprise, it is generally not cost effective for the average consumer, professional user or small business.  With an estimated longevity of 7-10 years, tape is not ideal solution for long-term archiving.

Recordable Blu-ray (BD-R): In our opinion, archiving to Blu-ray disc is the easiest and most cost effective method for the average consumer, small business, photographer or video professional to permanently store their data. While not necessarily the ideal solution for daily backups, let’s look at some of the benefits of using BD-R for long-term storage:

  • Longevity – a high quality blu-ray disc can provide 50-100 years archival life due to low sensitivity to light and a hard coat scratch resistant material protecting the data.
  • Media Capacity –  25GB, 50GB & 100GB on a single recordable disc (BD-R)
  • Costs – the most cost effective option for long term storage or permanent archiving of data with media costs as low as $0.04 per GB.
  • WORM media– (Write Once Read Many) media which is a necessity for a true archive or permanent storage.
  • Quick random access – allows you to easily find and restore a single file or files in a large archive.
  • Security – archiving to BD-R allows a secure, permanent copy of your data that can easily be stored in a safe or other offsite location.
  • Ease of use – archiving to BD-R is even easier than burning a CD or DVD.  DIGISTOR’s REWIND archiving software is designed for the specific purpose of easily archiving all of your digital assets. This includes:  Archive or Restore in 3 easy steps, endless archive across multiple discs, automatic scans and updates of archived folders or files, and the ability to use the software on both PC and Mac.

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Another day another “cloud” back-up company…

Lately there has been a large number of online “cloud” back-up companies popping up and announcing large funding commitments from their venture partners. From a business strategy perspective it seems to make a lot of sense, as essentially online back-up providers are selling customers the promise of data preservation, and using economies of scale to maximize profits for their shareholders. While I can certainly understand and respect this cloud back-up strategy from a business and finance perspective, as a user I question the effectiveness for many reasons. I am most concerned about the security of the actual data transfer as well as how secure my stored data actually is.  Is your data secure and encrypted when you transfer it?  Is it safe once it is sitting on your provider’s servers?  What happens if your provider’s infrastructure isn’t quite as robust as they have advertised? What happens when your cloud back-up provider goes out of business?

History proves that fashionable companies such as this come and go and today’s in vogue cloud back-up provider is yesterday’s pets.com, or other defunct dot com bust of years past.

Companies such as Carbonite (www.carbonoite.com) like to promote “worry free back-up” which is great until your hard drive is fried and you need to restore your collection of files, photos and videos.  How do you know your data will be there for you, and if it is, how long will it take for you to get the critical files you so desperately need?

I was reading documentation from Carbonite’s SEC filing last year where they had to release inherent business and technology risks before their public offering, and I found the following statements to be very disturbing.

The company wrote that a disruption in service could be very harmful for its business, indicating that there have been occasional interruptions, but nothing serious so far. However, the company does not keep separate redundant copies of customer files, meaning that a Carbonite data center failure, at the same time as a customer failure, could mean a loss in data.

“Our systems provide redundancy at the disk level, but do not keep separate, redundant copies of backed up customer files. Instead, we rely on the fact that our customers, in effect, back up our system by maintaining the primary instance of their files. We do not intend to create redundant backup sites for our solutions. As such, a total failure of our systems, or the failure of any of our systems, could result in the loss of or a temporary inability to back up our customers’ data and result in our customers being unable to access their stored files,” the company wrote.
Via: http://www.crn.com/news/storage/231002967/carbonite-prices-ipo-at-106-million-outlines-business-risks.htm

No redundant files?  Who is accountable for your data if they do have an outage, or data corruption?  That’s right.  It is still your responsibility to have a local back-up or archive or you will have little recourse if your data is corrupted by a 3rd party provider.

A few of my personal key worry points:

  1. It will take a very long time to upload the data.  If you have over 200GB’s it could take weeks to upload.
  2. It will take a very long time to restore all data if needed. If I need everything back, I want it quickly.
  3. How secure is the data being sent out to the internet?
  4. How secure is my resting data on 3rd party cloud back-up provider’s servers?
  5. How robust is the capacity and infrastructure planning?

I am not 100% against online back-up.  I do think there is potentially a place for it in your workflow, and the most notable value I would say is having a copy of your data completely offsite in case of a natural disaster.  With that said I am far from sold on this model from an overall data integrity point of view and question the validity of the long term effectiveness of this model. And isn’t that what your back-up or personal archive plan should be about anyway, the long term?  Your back-up and personal archive plan shouldn’t be about a trendy business model or marketing tactic, it should be a way of protecting precious memories and files for the rest of your life.

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Another Look at Backup vs. Archive

Much has been written over the years about the difference between backup and archive but there is often still confusion. With all the buzz surrounding cloud storage and online backup lately, we figured it was time to revisit the discussion.
Backup to HDD or Archive to BD-R

Let’s start with a simple definition of the terms:

Backup: Backup is the process of copying active data (data that changes often) to some type of storage media as a form of short-term protection should your files become corrupted, deleted or destroyed.

Archive: Archiving is the long-term storage of your permanent digital assets; data that does not change such as photos, videos, music and business data.

What many people fail to consider when choosing a data storage solution is; what are you really trying to accomplish? Is it the ability to access a copy of recently changed data? Do you want a permanent, secure copy of their most precious files? What about the ability to quickly restore lost data or files? Or, are you simply looking for a way to easily collaborate and share files online? If you are like most of us it is probably all of the above. There is no single solution to satisfy all of these requirements and it is important to understand the difference between a backup and an archive. Here are a few things think about when considering your personal or small business data storage needs.

A backup is a copy of your current state of data, meaning it’s usually retained for a relatively short period of time and superseded with a new backup as the data changes. In most cases this means using a rewritable storage media such an external hard drive, flash drive, rewritable optical disc or an online backup provider. These can all be excellent forms of data storage for backup, but again it is important to distinguish the difference between a backup copy (temporary) and an archive (permanent).

Now let’s talk about archive, which is designed to provide long-term storage and rapid access to your permanent data. That is, data that will not change and that you would never want over-written. Archiving is generally performed less often than backup but this really depends on individual requirements. And, unlike backups, an archive should be copied to a write-once media that cannot be altered or overwritten. Because of the longevity, and reliability of BD-R recordable media, DIGISTOR has long been an advocate of Blu-ray disc for archiving.

So you ask what should I do, backup or archive? The answer is both. To manage continuous backup and protection of changes to your latest novel, project or work assignment, an online storage provider or external hard drive will do the trick. For permanent storage of your photos, videos, music and files you need an archive or permanent data storage solution. Most experts agree that an ideal storage workflow consists of multiple backups in multiple locations as well as a permanent archive.

I realize we are just scratching the surface on a very complex issue and there are several factors to consider when developing a backup and data storage plan. Hopefully, this article provides you with some understanding of the difference between backup and archive and gives you some food for thought when considering your own strategy.

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