ELI5: Quitting Carbonite for an External HD
June 4, 2021 6:03 AM   Subscribe

I manage two Carbonite accounts for computers that don’t get much use anymore, but there’s a lot of historic data in the two accounts that I don’t want to lose. What’s the easiest way to get the following end result: Backup of each of those accounts onto two separate external hard drives, which could plug into new computers as needed for access to files.

I have a Carbonite account full of old MP3s, photos, and documents from undergrad and 20 years hence. I hate to lose them but they are static; I rarely if ever access these things but would be sad if they disappeared. I don’t have the computer that originally held these files, so they live in Carbonite and that’s it. I actually maintain a second Carbonite account for my mother with the exact same thing: old stuff, don’t want to lose it, but not currently in use.

I need to cut my monthly expenses, and this seems like a good one to cut. How do I get the files OUT OF Carbonite, and ONTO a new external HD (one for each of us) that can just be plugged into a computer if we ever want those files?

I really don’t want to have to find new computers to download the entire contents of each account onto and then somehow manually move it to an external HD - We currently don’t even use our computers much and neither of us has one with much memory or processing power, so getting a new computer just for this process seems wasteful and expensive. Could we just buy external HDs and directly download the contents of each Carbonite account onto those? Unsurprisingly Carbonite doesn’t seem to offer support for this... just backing up external HDs into Carbonite. Guess they don’t want you to leave, go figure.

How would you do this, if you needed to optimize for time and money and were not very tech savvy?
posted by juniperesque to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just remember that external HDs do not have an infinite shelf-life, even when sitting unused. So you're taking on the cost of maintenance.
posted by timdiggerm at 6:39 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

What total quantity of data are we talking about here? That is, how many gigabytes in total do you have stored in those two Carbonite accounts?
posted by flabdablet at 6:46 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

You'll restore all the data to a large hard drive. You can do yours, then your Mom's, onto the same drive. When I had experience w/ Carbonite, it maintained the directory structure, but you can restore to any folder you like. Do yourself a favor, create a folder for you, a folder for Mom, restore there. Don't restore to the root folder; too messy. I recommend then re-backing up all the data to some form of cloud storage; hard drives fail easily. There are cheaper options than Carbonite.
posted by theora55 at 7:51 AM on June 4

External hard drives can have pretty long life provided you do NOT keep them plugged in. Most hard drives are rated by "MTBF" mean time between failures and that means while it's on and spinning. If you can get the files out onto the drives, and you ONLY need it for archival purposes, then once you verified the files are good, just unplug and store, while check it maybe once a year to make sure the drive's still good.

HOWEVER... even stored like this, it's generally considered not safe to do this for more than a few years. And the same goes for SSDs. It's very likely that in 3-5 years a new type of storage media or interface would have taken over and it's time to migrate the data again.

I am assuming you're not talking about terabytes of data. I'd say get 2 types of media at least... a spinning harddrive, and either flash media or SSD, to diversify your risk.
posted by kschang at 8:40 AM on June 4

even stored like this, it's generally considered not safe to do this for more than a few years

Best is to keep at least two archive devices with identical content, run a checksum generator like hashdeep over that content and save the results along with the archive, verify the checksums on all devices at least once per year, and immediately recover the entire archive onto a new device when any checksum fails.

These failures will be infrequent enough that hanging onto the failed drives rather than actually turfing them will generally be worthwhile unless the drive involved won't even spin up; the more redundancy the better.

I vastly prefer using hard disk drives for this rather than flash storage. It's been my experience that when mechanical drives fail they usually do so progressively, while when flash drives fail they usually do so all at once. If I have two disk drives that start off with identical content, the chances of recovering all of it are still quite high even if both have begun to fail. If I'm buying both initial archive drives at the same time I'll get them from different manufacturers.

Disk drives also cost substantially less for any given capacity than the same year's flash drives do, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
posted by flabdablet at 3:03 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

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