Considering failure rate of digital media, hard disks/cds/DVDs, what is the best way to archive family photos and videos ?

I was thinking of having a couple of hard disks that have the same data. Hoping if one disk fails I have a backup.

Is there a better way to save precious data?

  • 2
    community wiki please – Molly7244 Nov 6 '09 at 19:14


I strongly encourage getting either multiple backup devices and rotating them from home->work/safe deposit box or backing up offsite using JungleDisk, Mozy, DropBox, etc. Keeping in mind that a single on-site backup is better than no backup and that RAID is not a backup I'd chose from the list below what is appropriate for your needs.

In order of not sucking as far as archival purposes:

  1. multiple offsite + [multiple] onsite - Best possible solution
  2. Offsite + onsite - Great for nearly all uses (computer melts and takes your backup with it, you just get your data from off site)
  3. Single offsite - Alright, could be better (what if their data center gets taken out by a hurricane, or Godzilla?)
  4. Onsite only - Worst "working" backup (only protects from hardware/software/user faults not disaster/theft)
  5. No backup - Don't come crying when you lose your data
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  • personally i don't trust online storage with personal data ... but everyone to their own. i remember Kodac recently holding photos for ransom that users have been uploading in good faith that the service is free and would remain so. thanks, but no thanks. – Molly7244 Nov 6 '09 at 19:12
  • @Molly JungleDisk and Mozy both allow you to encrypt your data such that only you can open it (without rainbow tabling the passphrase). I'm a fan just due to ease, a cron job with rsync to your own offsite storage, or--as I mentioned--multiple backup devices (usb hard drives for most people) rotating from onsite to offsite is reasonable. – Tyler Nov 6 '09 at 20:06

The best way in my opinion is use all of them if your data is really important, since each media has it's flaws. Remember: if you have one backup, you actually have none.

I usually use 3 different media types, with 2 different brands in each media in my backups.

1. DVDs: I use TDK's and MAXELL's media here in my country (beware of the manufacturer, sometimes the brand is different but it has the same manufacturer). You should do some research in DVD media quality. Club MyCE is a great place.

2. Hard disks: I backup to a 500gb Seagate and a 500gb Samsung drive.

3. Online Services: I use online services too, Dropbox and iDrive. I encrypt my files before sending them. Windows SkyDrive service has some utilities that integrate tino windows creating a "virtual" drive, it's an interesting option too - and they give you 25gb.

I backup once a week to DVDs and Hard Disks. I use a software called Areca Backup, written in Java. I've tested in Linux (openSUSE) and Windows Vista x64, and it works really fine, splitting in 4gb zip encrypted files so I can burn them. There's a "incremental backup" feature as well. I save these files in Idrive's and Dropbox's monitored folders.

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I think you already propose the best solution: multiply the backup places.

Each support has risks of failing, so the best solution is to multiply, not only in number, but in type too, and in locations as well. You can for example make dvd backups, moreover, and have them in another place, in family, or something.

Because multiplying saves will not have an effect in case of a fire, or even minor incident, if supports are grouped. Another example, justifying the different types, is that each is sensible for different threats. Typically, if your cousin is coming to visit you with his home made electro-magnet, and accidentally makes it fall on a storage place, your hds will most likely be corrupted, but dvds wouldn't. (Ok, I'm pushing a bit the Murphy's law there, but you never know ;-) )

You can also combine with an online storage, but not only, of course, you never know if one day they won't just go away, preventing you from accessing your data again.

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the higher the number of backup sets the safer the data.

i always create 2 CDs/DVDs (which i refresh every 5 years), i buy hard discs in pairs and keep them synced. this policy served me well over the years.

i also keep copies of the most impotant data in a bank vault (which i don't rent for this particular purpose but since i have it anyway, why not making good use of it? :)

flash memory offers great longevity but it is simply too expensive, but this may change in due course, like hard drives and optical discs have replaced my tape backups.

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You're going to want multiple different types of backup for these really important files. First, you need to realize that you probably want something more than just file replication, you want a true backup that gives you access to older versions of files that may have been deleted. This is the whole replication vs backup argument. Something that can snapshot your data is really nice for that.

Second, you're going to want a way to store that snapshotted data in multiple locations. At home you should have multiple copies of the data -- one that you work off of and one that is strictly a backup. The backup should be connected to the machine at all times and just do it's thing automagically. In my case the backup is a Drobo which provides easy data redundancy. You'll also probably want another backup stored in a different part of your residence with the snapshotted data.

Next, let's talk offsite data backup you'll need this when hen a volcanic blast of debris that used to be your furniture and personal effects blows out of your floor-to-ceiling windows and sails flaming into the night. For me I keep a hard disk in the office. About once a month I swap the hard disk at work with the one at home to make sure the backup is pretty recent. I also have a nightly backup job with JungleDisk that takes care of my data should the entirety of the New York City metropolitan area be removed from the map. I store about 100G of data on JungleDisk and it costs me about $12/mo or something like that.

Of course that leads to the problem about how to get people to access that data if I'm gone, right? Well, for that I have a line in my will that tells how to access the data using some tools that I've placed on an SD card and left at my parents house.

With all this I can rest pretty easily knowing my data is secure.

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