Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Offsite Storage for Amateurs
August 28, 2010 2:59 AM   Subscribe

For a home user, what is the best storage medium for backup files to be left at an offsite location? Portable Harddrive, USB drive, SD Card, burnt DVDs?

I have about 13GB of pictures on my harddrive, and would like to keep a copy at my parents house. I would update it infrequently, probably every 3-6 months. What should I buy that will easily cope with being left to collect dust in a cupboard for long periods?
posted by WhackyparseThis to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nothing beats the simplicity of DVDs in an envelope shipped to your out of town parents to throw in a pile. You just have to keep up with it.
posted by phearlez at 3:34 AM on August 28, 2010


Look into Jungle Disk (Amazon S3), Mozy or similar.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:39 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


DVD option may be simple but I had bad experiences with some DVD burning formats not being standard and some computers not being able to read it. Maybe you will need to try out a specific format.

If you have unlimited data broadband package then you may want to go for an online version sich as Jungle Disk, Mozy, as above). My personal favourite is Dropbox which has the most seamless sync (2GB free), Microsoft Live (5GB free), Sugar Sync (2GB free) and many other if you are willing to use Gladinet.
posted by london302 at 4:13 AM on August 28, 2010


Gold archival MAM-A DVD-Rs. The environmental test chamber routines (covered under some ISO) suggest a century of life. Verify when burning, perform a binary comparison, perhaps using Beyond Compare, after burning, and you should be good.

I have never had one go bad or burned a coaster, and I have been through a few hundred of them.
posted by adipocere at 4:48 AM on August 28, 2010


Somewhat depends on how much data you wish to archive. 13GB of pictures makes me think of decentralization. Buy two 500gb hard drives and store them in separate locations. But make sure it's the solid state flash drives, not the kind that spin up - they don't last as long.

If you go with gold "archival" discs, still do some research. Not all are made the same. Some have a thin gold layer, some have gold coloring (!), some have scratch protection, gold layer, and all sorts of other bells & whistles.

Alternatively, buy several thumb drives; they're very cheap and a very easy way to avoid keeping all your eggs in one basket.

Name or number whatever you do with a brief list of contents printed out and stuck to it, or near it.
posted by carlh at 5:26 AM on August 28, 2010


USB drives are notoriously flaky.

Being risk-averse, I do the DVD thing and the off-site portable hard drive thing, though I don't update the off-site drive as often as I told myself I would when I started that routine. The hard drive is a mirror of the entire contents of my computer. If my house burned down, I could buy a new computer, out that drive in it, and have everything back the way t was as of my last backup in 5 minutes. -- the DVD's are just the most important data - RAW files, AIFF files, etc. since burning them is time-consuming.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:34 AM on August 28, 2010


I have a friend who rips terabytes of DVDs and Blu-rays. His backup solution is stripped (oem) drives and one of those USB drive plugging adapters or possibly a NAS-y disk array with hot-swapping (though getting the latter right for quick backups and quick media removal would be tricky).

He makes copies to spare spindles, takes the spindles away and then socks them in a closet in another location of the house. He says he finds these to be better for long-term storage than optical media.
posted by kalessin at 6:40 AM on August 28, 2010


I use 2 offsite regular HDs, with a single HD USB enclosure for reading/writing when necessary. Cheap, simple, and might still be a readable technology in 50 years.
posted by signal at 6:46 AM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


What about something like CrashPlan? Free offsite backup to a HD plugged into your parents' computer, plus you can backup to the cloud if you want too, for extra redundancy.
posted by misterbrandt at 10:25 AM on August 28, 2010


Two identical external hard drives with the same name. Each time you go to your parents house, swap the drive you're keeping there.

Hard drives are cheap these days, so you might as well buy two big ones and back up everything. That way, even if there's a fire and your home burns to the ground, you won't lose any of your data. I recently found a 2TB drive at Office Depot for $120. Sweet!

I swear by SuperDuper! for my backups. I have it set to backup every night at midnight.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2010


If the photos would be enjoyed by your parents, why not a digital photo frame that comes with a USB?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:23 AM on August 28, 2010


For long peroids, I'm going to side with those suggesting optical (dvd, bluray). When you're talking about a decade or longer, there are simply too many points of failure for HDs and solid state USB. When storing optical discs for long peroids, be sure to keep them secured in a dry area (like a safe or similar).
posted by samsara at 11:34 AM on August 28, 2010


Data point: I just tried to retrieve a whole load of data off about fifty 3-8 year old CDRs and DVDRs, and had about an 80% success rate. One of the unreadable DVDRs I was able to read after leaving it in the freezer overnight (wrapped in plastic). Another unreadable DVDR got stuck in my Mac Mini's drive which meant I had to pull the machine apart to get it out. The rest are coasters.

Of the ones that did work, copying could be VERY slow (<1>
Personally, I'd go with multiple copies on seperate portable USB 2.5" hard drives.
posted by Diag at 9:50 PM on August 28, 2010


errr... that (<1> was supposed to indicate "less than 1 MB/second"
posted by Diag at 9:52 PM on August 28, 2010


Go for redundancy and use two of your options - ie DVDs plus one of your other choices. Given the small amount of data involved, it won't cost you much extra, but it'll give you a lot of extra peace of mind.
posted by Ahab at 9:53 PM on August 28, 2010


kalessin: "I have a friend who rips terabytes of DVDs and Blu-rays. His backup solution is stripped (oem) drives and one of those USB drive plugging adapters or possibly a NAS-y disk array with hot-swapping (though getting the latter right for quick backups and quick media removal would be tricky)."

I'm officially confused!

"stripped (oem) drives" is simply the drive (minus box, packaging, etc.) in an anti-static bag, right? You don't mean "striped" (as in RAID 0) do you?

"He makes copies to spare spindles, takes the spindles away and then socks them in a closet in another location of the house. He says he finds these to be better for long-term storage than optical media."

"better than optical media" WTH? Isn't that the type of media that he buys on the spindles and then backs up his data upon? How can spindles of optical media "be better than optical media?

Little help, please?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:00 PM on August 28, 2010


If you want archival-grade optical media, it looks like you had better be prepared to pay. Yikes!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:47 PM on August 28, 2010


Five years ago the archival standard was removable disc (CD/DVD). Been out of the field since then so I'm not sure if it's the same now.
posted by Mertonian at 9:29 AM on August 29, 2010


Low RPM SATA drive is the industry standard for long term archiving, it's slowly replacing tapes.

I'm happy with Mozy. $5 a month for unlimited storage (per computer), crazy data encryption, colocation data centers, and if your house explodes, they'll mail you all your data on DVDs.
posted by phritosan at 11:38 AM on August 31, 2010


InsertNiftyNameHere, I think you are confused by my terminology. In the IT (systems engineering) industry, we often use the term "spindle" to refer to hard disk drives. We do not often use the term "spindle" to refer to the quantity of recordable optical media often sold in computer supply stores. The reason for this is that in the industry it's usually applicable to remember that the estimated safe lifespan of optical media is 5-15 years before the optical media tend to start degrading.

So to speak in plainer English, my friend rips many movies in DVD or Blu-ray format to his hard disks, which he buys OEM (sold just as the hard drives, no boxes, manuals, cables, etc). Using one of the USB drive-plugging adapters like I linked to above, he mounts and formats them to his chosen desktop, laptop or server, to use to store the movie rips. For backups he makes redundant copies to redundant hard drives.

Then he takes the redundant hard drives and stores them in places that are physically secure to his standards, and that are appropriately non-humid and of the right temperature and just keeps them there in non-static-inducing containers (or perhaps on shelves, I don't know).

Here's a link to information about the optical media lifespan problem. Note that the central doubt-inducing stats about optical media are:
- 47 percent of recordable DVDs indicated a lifespan of longer than 15 years
- Some of DVDs predicted a life expectancy of 1.9 years

That said, there are folks who are trying to achieve manufacturer-estimated data lifespans on optical media by making multiple redundant copies in different formats and keeping them in different locations in the hopes that at least one of the backups will be good when the time comes to retrieve them.
posted by kalessin at 12:32 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


kalessin: "InsertNiftyNameHere, I think you are confused by my terminology. In the IT (systems engineering) industry, we often use the term "spindle" to refer to hard disk drives. ... So to speak in plainer English, my friend rips many movies in DVD or Blu-ray format to his hard disks, which he buys OEM."

Ah, OK, thanks for that. I get it now. I was pretty sure you were talking about regular HDDs, but, as you correctly spotted, I was thrown off by the term "spindle." I'm certainly aware that a spindle is part of a HDD, but I've only heard it used as a standalone term as a blank optical media holder. Now I know some more lingo.

I always wondered, though. If you keep your backup HDDs in a metal vault, what if someone places a large speaker magnet on the side of the vault? Won't the magnet's field wipe out the data on the HDD? (Maybe that's next week's AskMe question.)

Thanks!!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:22 PM on September 1, 2010


I'm not positive of the flux required to wipe a hard drive, but I do know that the effective range of most magnets powerful enough to interfere with hard drives is pretty short. I also know that most devices designed to wipe data from magnetic media seem to be electromagnetic, which usually means that they are alternating current devices (though they could be direct current) I don't know if they are electromagnetic only because the flux is controllable and can be switched off, or if there's some special characteristic of ac electromagnets which is more effective at wiping magnetic media than a fixed field magnet like a speaker magnet.

So you'd have to have a pretty tight metal case (close in to the actual hard drive platters) to worry about speaker magnets (which aren't really all that strong compared to the magnets already in use in hard drives). I'm not a magnet scientist, so I don't know what happens when you overlap the fields of powerful short-range magnets (like those used to help move the arms in a hard drive in conjunction with electromagnets) with those of weaker but longer range magnets (like the ones on speakers).

But the other thing to know about hard drives is that they are encased in metal already (though I suspect it's aluminum, which is magnetically neutral). Which brings up the other topic of paramagnetism (which means magnetism that isn't innate but that exists in response to a magnetic field nearby) in metals and how they're not all paramagnetic. Alumnimum is not paramagnetic, but iron or steel is. I know that fixed magnetic fields are not subject to the Faraday cage rule but it's possible that a non-paramagnetic substance could interfere with a magnetic field. Again I'm not sure.

Finally, and I suspect this is why ac electromagnets are involved in disk wiping, it's not actually the fact of sitting in a magnetic field that interferes with stored magnetic media data, but a change in magnetic field, like moving a fixed magnet rapidly over a disk drive's surface or rapidly changing the field in an alternating current or moving the platters themselves within the field that erases or changes the data. So just putting a powerful magnet on top of a disk drive probably won't do a lot unless you're constantly moving the drive around in that field.
posted by kalessin at 6:26 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


kalessin: "wiping magnetic media than a fixed field magnet like a speaker magnet."

Wow! You read my mind! I have a big honkin' 20 oz magnet that I salvaged (without destroying) from an old Jensen 3-way 6"x9" car stereo speaker years ago that is hanging on my fridge, so that is exactly what I was thinking of. I've always wondered what it would do to a hard drive.

That was some outstanding info you provided. Thanks very, very much for that.

I guess I'll just have to do some tinkering with a HDD I don't mind killing and whatever various magnetic fields I can generate. I remember seeing a video where a guy degaussed a computer monitor using the electromagnetic field generated by a soldering gun so I'll have to add that to my speaker magnet to play around with on an old HDD.

Thanks again!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:42 PM on September 4, 2010


If you have a dead hard drive and are interested in magnets, take one apart. Look for two flat magnets mounted inside of a metal casing that are at the coils end of the data reading armatures. These are invariably very powerful rare earth magnets with a hell of a grip but usually only have a range of about a centimeter. Well worth the effort. Also you can marvel at the precision smoothess of the surface of the drive platters.
posted by kalessin at 3:49 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


« Older Are there any magic acts where...   |  How to make Dan dan noodles ?... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.