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Posted by Mark Hine at 11:36AM   |  Add a comment

Digital media is a file based world. There is little difference, by comparison, when we save a Word document or a digital photograph. Each are represented by data, stored in one form or another digitally. Each year we add to our digital collection of documents, photographs, music files and videos - like a digital pack rat we just can't seem to throw anything out. So what to do? Burn data DVDs? Buy hard drive storage? Store it in the cloud? What's the best answer?

Let's take these options one by one.

Storing Files on Disc Media
According to a recent article by CNET's David Terdiman titled "Busting (or not) 10 top myths about technology" (Dec. 10, 2010), "according to the Associated Press, many important digital recordings are at risk of being lost much faster than older ones on tape, and many are already gone. The problem, the study cited by the AP reported, is that some physical forms of digital media, such as CD-R discs, can begin breaking down in as little as three years."

Discs are a collection of very thin aluminum sandwiched between soft plastic and become coasters with the tiniest of scratches. In conclusion, disc media is a great short term storage solution but the risks to the physical media itself do not make it suitable for the long term.

Storing Files on an External Hard Drive
The challenge of storing important files on a hard drive is not data degradation, the eventual failure of magnetically stored data, it is the mechanical failure from wear and tear that eventually kills a hard drive. One answer is to store files on flash drives, which have no moving parts and tend to be more fault tolerant than platter-based hard drives.
 According to getusb.info, "barring physical destruction of the drive, the memory or USB connector of a flash drive will eventually fail. SLC based memory is good for around 100,000 writes; more commonly used MLC for around 10,000. The USB connector can withstand approximately 1,500 connect/disconnect cycles".
 
Storing Media in the Cloud
Photo services such as Flickr and SnapFish are great tools and hopefully will be with us for some time. But let's take a lesson from history. When Digital Railroad (a photo sharing site) shut down in 2008 users were left with few options to rescue their precious memories. It could happen again. So the lesson here is share, don't archive in the cloud.
 
So what conclusion can we draw? Multiplicity. If it's important - store it in multiple locations on multiple formats. For large video files, this can be a tough proposition. Video can be stored in its final form but save the files you use to create it. Another option is to use multiple external hard drives where the chance of a dual failure is much less probable.
 
The final lesson? Back it up!
 
 
 



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