Light is Everything!

Digital Assets

Of Backups and Archives

I remember back when I got my Nikon D800 DSLR camera. 36MP. THIRTY-SIX! Enormous! YUGE FILES! Now we have cell phone cameras with more resolution. LOL The more resolution the better, right?! From a quality perspective, perhaps. But from a storage perspective, this massive amount of Data Hoarding has become a nightmare to manage. Let me explain.

In the digital world, we have many enemies to our data. The number 1 is storage media failure (ex: hard drive dies). People don’t seem to understand that it is a matter of “when” not “if.” Mechanical hard drives will all die eventually and we don’t know when. 5-10 years? 1-2? Hard to say. Even with premium drives, they still all die. So people have devised that backing up the data is essential. This has led to the 3-2-1 principle that states 1 is none, 2 is one and 3 is two, meaning that unless you have 3 copies of your data, it doesn’t exist digitally. All people should follow this practice. However, when you start managing Terabytes of data, this management gets more and more expensive. But the priceless family memories are … priceless! So what do we do for ourselves and our photography clients?

We start doing the math on storage cost per Terabyte. Hard drives are by far the cheapest means of backup. Here’s a quick list of Nov. 2019 CDN pricing on Amazon for 7200 RPM drives:

The sweet spot is either 2TB or 8TB drives in cost per TB, although they are all pretty close. So that’s easy then. Just buy the size of drives you need x 3 and be done with it. This works best for a backup (redundancy) solution. The only hang up is, these drives, when placed into cold storage (ex: in a box in your closet or fire safe) are still susceptible to failure both mechanically with the drive mechanisms (they are best used spinning not sitting) and also magnetic degradation (the platter the data is stored on degrades over time resulting in data loss). So this is not ideal either. What options are left for the archive solution?

You can go with a cloud solution and/or with an optical media solution. Services like Amazon S3 Glacier are now more affordable than ever (like $0.0018 per GB for their Deep/Archival solution [$1.80 per month per TB]). You have the advantage of your data being protected against our other enemies: physical theft and physical destruction by catastrophe like fire or flood. But, someone else also has access to your data in the cloud. It is more susceptible to digital theft as hackers can also steal it, despite locked down and secure systems. And, you have the added time/cost of the bandwidth to upload all your files.

So that leaves us with the final solution for archiving data. Optical Discs. Word on the street is that archival quality DVDs are the best in longterm cold storage options. However, at only 4.7GB per disc, it becomes unfeasible for archiving lots of data. One TB saved on DVD would take ~213 discs and cost a whopping $490 dollars!

This is where archiving to Blu-Ray becomes the only practical option in my mind. For shelf-life, the M-Disc option is being promoted as King by lasting 1000 years! Chances are none of us will be around to verify that claim! Blu-Ray manufacturers claim that these discs could/should last 100-150 years. Not too shabby. This means that under ideal storage circumstances, your data should be safe 10-15x longer than on hard drives alone.

I’m thinking that the Blu-Ray option for archiving will be the way to go. The advantages outweigh the cons. Stick them in a fire safe at home or in a safety deposit box and Bob is your dad’s brother. Massive data centre entities like Amazon & Facebook have gone this route. Many will say that optical media is a dying medium. While it may be less popular/convenient than other methods of handling data such as a RAID or NAS, for archiving I’m leaning heavily to going with this option for a long-term, data archiving option. It’s about an $18 per TB premium over buying more hard drives and still cheaper than the $21.60 for an Amazon deep glacier cloud service (per TB, per year).

To wrap this up, using Blu-Ray as the third member of the 3 fold Data-Safe Strategy is a good way to go. It’s a bit more costly per TB than hard-drives, but offers far greater longevity, making them cheaper by the year. With digital assets, nothing is fool proof. But this strategy will go a long way to keeping your data safe and accessible for years to come. Kick Murphy our of your digital life! 😎