150 GB of priceless family memories, hangin' out on my rickety Dell
January 18, 2011 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of digital photos and videos. What's a reliable, safe, redundant and not-too-costly system for storing personal media files?

I've got a decent quantity of family photo and video data to store-- say, ~100 GB thus far, and growing at the rate of an additional 25-50 GB per year. Thus far I've stored all this using a slipshod combination of my laptop hard drive + home-burned DVDs + Flickr Pro. But the laptop is fast running out of space, and I'd like to develop, once and for all, a storage system that'll be reliable, easy-to-use and, above all, robust and safe.

An external hard drive seems like the most obvious answer, but all the models I've looked at seem to have scary bimodal reviews where 90% of users love them, but the other 10% explain how the drive died for no reason after 2 months of use and it cost them $1000 to get their data off, etc., etc. Eesh. DVD/flash drive/SD-card storage sounds appealing, but I don't really know enough about the reliability of the various media to feel safe depending on any of those.

Online storage seemed like a good idea, but the sites I've seen seem mostly designed either for backup only (vs. storage, since I'd want to delete the files from my computer after uploading), or for short-term handling of small quantities of data, rather than long-term archiving. Flickr is great, but doesn't accept videos longer than a minute or so.

So I'm wondering: tech-savvy and photographically-inclined MeFites, what do you use to archive all of your data? Should I be looking at combining options for redundancy, and if so, which ones? And lastly, what's a reasonable yearly bottom line for all this?

(Caveat: I'm haunted by the feeling that this is a really stupid question, and you'd think there would already be a million Lifehacker posts and AskMe threads out there addressing such a simple and common problem. But googling drowns me in details without providing any real answers, so I thought I'd poll the hive mind to ask for personal solutions. Please feel free to post links to DUH! articles I may have missed.)
posted by Bardolph to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Drobo is an excellent solution for redundant storage and backup. It is not a particularly good solution if you plan to do extensive work on the materials being stored there (I've found it to be significantly slower than other external storage devices) but the ongoing redundancy coupled with the expandability makes it a really solid option.
posted by dadici at 10:34 AM on January 18, 2011

multiple formats/drives.

Get two externals, save to one, have the other automatically mirror the first. Then burn them to archival CD/DVD discs, store them off site.

Nothing is ever foolproof, but the above at least allows for a high degree of error.
(oh, and if at all possible, save your data in a lossless format, that'll preserve quality over multiple saves in different locations)
posted by edgeways at 10:37 AM on January 18, 2011

(er, store the discs off site, not the external hard drives)
posted by edgeways at 10:38 AM on January 18, 2011

You are never protected unless you have at least two copies of your data. Drives fail, servers crash, laptops are stolen, etc. The good news is that hard drives are cheeeeeeep.

I shoot a lot of photos. I have a dedicated drive for photos on my desktop, which is cloned (manually, via SuperDuper! on the Mac) to an external drive. To take it to the next level of redundancy and add off-site storage, I'm going to get a safe deposit box where I will store a second cloned drive, and periodically swap the clones when I back them up. Obviously, that's a bit of a kludge, and you can get online cloud storage (Amazon, etc.), but I get a free safe deposit box, and I like having things physical.

I think I saw an ad on Newegg.com today for a 2TB drive for less than $80. Buy 2 (or 3) and you're pretty well covered.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:39 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am ridiculously paranoid about data loss so my method of backing stuff up may not be the sleekest and sane way in which to preserve data. I've been making pictures since I was 16, switched to digital photography after graduating from college, and have since scanned most of my negs. All in all I have 700gb of digital image files and I am massively terrified that something will breakdown and I will loose all of my images.

The best thing I have come up with is multiple hard drives. I have a 300gb LaCie drive (I'd link it but it's about 4 years old) that backs up my Macbook, a Seagate FreeAgent Go that is a working hard drive and another that is a storage hard drive. I went with that guy because it's small and doesn't need an additional power supply. At some point, I plan on finding some sort of online storage solution, just in case of some freak accident.

But like I said, I am paranoid.
posted by godshomemovies at 10:45 AM on January 18, 2011

Multiple hard drives from multiple vendors stored in multiple places replaced on a staggered cycle every 3-4 years with one hard drive being replaced each year.

Alternatively, Mozy or Crash Plan or Jungle Disk or ... etc.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:55 AM on January 18, 2011

I agree with others: multiple hard drives, rotated at a friend/family member's house every so often. Here's what I wrote for a similar question.
posted by Hankins at 11:07 AM on January 18, 2011

Yah, multiple drives. Three copies on three hard drives. Two kept at work in an exceptionally fire resistant building, one kept at home. Never more than one transported at a time. All of them are periodically powered up to verify they're functional.
posted by pjaust at 11:13 AM on January 18, 2011

I have 2 large external hard drives, one that I keep at home and one at work. Every few weeks I switch them.

I use Cobian open source backup software to keep the backups up-to-date with no work on my end.

Also, every 2-3 years I burn discs of everything important.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:26 AM on January 18, 2011

My strategy is fairly simple, but is also a manual process, so maybe it's not for everyone. I keep an extra copy of my photos & videos on a portable USB-powered hard drive at my office, locked in a cabinet. The risk of theft or fire there is small, vs. my (older, wood-framed) house.

Every 6 months or so, I bring the hard drive home and copy the latest batch of folders onto it, then bring it back to work for safe keeping.

I suppose I'm always at risk of losing a few months' worth of photos, but I try to keep it all in perspective.
posted by see_change at 11:28 AM on January 18, 2011

I'm backing up about 60 GB at Amazon S3 and it's costing me about $6 a month. I use a command line tool to avoid the intermediaries like Jungle Disk that add to the cost with their own fees. It'll take a while to get all the data up to S3, but once there you shouldn't need to mess with it as it is a backup.
posted by COD at 11:33 AM on January 18, 2011

Ditto. Use two external drives, one mirroring the other. And everything is on dvds. I have one drive at my office, the other at home, and my dvds are in a cupboard in my basement. Seems safe enough to me.
posted by crapples at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2011

The trick is to not put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Each backup method has faults, but if you use several you're less likely to suffer catastrophic loss.

I take a lot of photos (at least as many as you, maybe more) and these days my backup process looks like this:

- 750G External HD connected to the computer where I do my photo editing. Backs up automatically with Time Machine, plus has a separate partition where I can add the files myself in case Time Machine messes up. Automatic backup software is key here. Don't rely on yourself to remember to back up your files on a regular basis.

- 1T Portable External HD. Stores all archived photos from present and past years. Stored off-site. Updated manually on a monthly-ish basis. Off-site is the key here. All of your photos stored at your house + your house burns down = catastrophic loss. (This replaces the DVDs I used to burn for backups. It was taking way too many DVDs and there's always the chance DVDs could go the way of floppies one day.)

- A combination of Flickr Pro and SmugMug for online storage. Since I have so many photos, I really only back up the "keepers" this way to keep costs low. Though I don't currently use it, SmugMug in partnership with Amazon offers the SmugVault: unlimited storage of JPG, PNG and GIF files as part of your account, with the option to store other photo formats and video for a fee.

This way you don't have to sweat which HD brand is most reliable because you have failsafes in place in the event that one does fail (which it inevitably will). A reasonable bottom line? Whatever you're willing to pay. It's up to you to determine how much keeping your photos safe is worth to you.
posted by geeky at 12:07 PM on January 18, 2011

Back it up to another hard drive. For extra-extra security, do this twice and keep one at work.

Nothing is going to be easier than another hard drive. Easier to back up, easier to recover from, easier to duplicate the next hardware revolution when diamonds replace hard drives (or whatever the future holds). Hard drives are the fastest, cheapest, most ubiquitous and thus most well-understood, well-represented, and well-supported data storage technology on the planet. Full stop.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:38 PM on January 18, 2011

Be prepared to lose it all.

Once you embark upon the path of attaining absolute data safety, every step you take will increase the anguish you will feel when it inevitably all comes crashing down as you are hit by the one corner case you hadn't planned for. I am serious; consider the impact of losing every single image, and convince yourself that although this may be truly terrible, it will not be the end of the world, life will go on, and your character remains though your computer is a buzzing, fizzing pile of slag. Because until you can look yourself in the mirror and say, "I accept that I may fail", you will be gripped by a paranoia that knows no bounds, that must succeed at all costs, and that cannot conceive of a universe where its holy mission of preservation has been thwarted. You will spend long nights poring over UPS tech specs and engaged in frantic research on the incidences of cosmic rays, like a crazed audiophile driven to the brink by the waveform distortions caused by his own earlobes.

Having said that, the I believe reasonable solutions for personal data security are something like the following, in increasing order of difficulty/expense:

Level 1: Stop reusing your camera memory cards - just buy new ones when they're full. 50GB/year is less than $100/year at current flash card prices. Then, obviously, keep them somewhere safe.

Level 2: Buy a pair of large hard drives and set them up as a RAID-1 mirror. Use software RAID, not hardware, as it is easier to recover from a failure. The automated nature of the mirroring is the essential feature here - if you are just copying folders from one hard drive to another, you won't do it often enough. Run your photography workflow on this mirror, so that your photos are never stored only in one place.

Level 3: At regular intervals, maybe quarterly or yearly depending on your budget, buy a new external hard drive, copy everything onto it, and give it to a friend.

Level 4: Run an EBS volume on Amazon EC2 and trickle-upload everything nightly using something like rsync. This will take months, but will guard against a disaster in your home. Use Amazon's snapshot facility to take regular snapshots of your EBS volume(s). This provides rollback to earlier backup states and guards against corruption introduced by your toolchain.

Level 5: Where the paranoia really starts to set it, if you haven't taken care to defeat it.

Forget burning DVDs - at 100GB and growing, you won't do it.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 1:58 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

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