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Komando Kritic: Best way to archive files for serveral years October 14, 2006

Posted by oktyabr in Komando Kritic, opinions, personal, technology.

Kim’s show actually had no blatant faults with it today although to be honest I only caught about half the program as work kept me away from the radio on and off all morning, but with a little effort I think I can squeeze a post or two out of today’s show 😉

One caller did ask “what is the best way to archive files for 10+ years?”

Kim’s solution was much like my own, don’t rely on any one media and make more than one copy. Even though CDs were around 10 years ago formatting has changed somewhat and as OS’s progress there could be some concerns about a machine 10 years in the future being able to accurately read any archived information. Also the shelf lifespan of physical media is always a gamble… CDs simply haven’t been around long enough to know yet how long they can last, on a shelf, as a reliable archive medium! There ARE some manufacturers that specialize in long life CDs that might be worth looking into, especially if you want your archives to be reasonably portable, but this wasn’t the first thing that came to MY mind when I heard this caller’s question…

Kim was a bit vague about her solution, to basically use CDs or DVDs (or perhaps some “online” backup service… BUZZZ!!! Wrong answer!) but she never touched on what I consider to be the best solution… A RAID system, perhaps in a dedicated server.

Webopedia’s definition is as accurate as any:

“(rād) Short for Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Disks, a category of disk drives that employ two or more drives in combination for fault tolerance and performance. RAID disk drives are used frequently on servers but aren’t generally necessary for personal computers.”

That last line sums up why most people don’t think of this first but if you are serious about your data backup there are few alternatives as flexible or dependable, in concept, than a RAID. There are many different kinds of RAID but what we basically want is one that simply mirrors the same information on two or more drives. This way, when one drive fails (which will eventually happen) you simply replace it with a new one and make an exact copy from the other drive(s) in the machine. Also many modern motherboards support RAID “out of the box” so it’s simply a matter of throwing in some harddrives and setting it up.

I would NOT recommend using a work enviroment machine for this purpose, especially if it is running Windoze, if for no other reason than your archived data is at risk like any other data on a machine exposed to day-to-day activities on the net. Some viruses and trojans, for example, could corrupt or even completely erase all your carefully archived data! Best solution, in my opinion, is to buy a dedicated machine, stuff a reliable, stable linux on it (for it’s hardiness against viruses and other nasties) and plug it into your LAN. Then do a monthly backup to the server of any important data you wish to archive, being sure to archive the data in it’s own partition seperate from the OS. I run a system like this at home that works as my family file/print/music server and I keep music in a partition called “music” and files in a partition called “files”. Easy, isn’t it?

Ten years from now some new harddrive technology is likely to be available and CD/DVDs might be some quaint token of nostalgia but the digital data on those RAID drives can still be moved over the LAN to whatever new storage technology becomes available.



1. Andreas - October 21, 2011

Really now… i was looking for some more practical solution than buying another computer, install linux on it, buy a few hard drives and so on. For all that moneyez you can get some professional online solution that is a lot more practical and safe.

oktyabr - March 8, 2012

Heh, you’ll notice that that original post was made several years ago, before online solutions were readily available and promoted. I’m posting now because the recommendations I made in 2006 are *still* the best ones, IMHO, for several reasons:

1) Online services use the exact same technology… or they should! If they don’t and THEIR storage fails, what happens to your back up then? If they do then you are paying them (monthly or yearly) to do what you could just as easily do at home yourself. But please continue…

2) Bandwidth for most of the world is not free and for most of us our “upload” rate is much slower than our “download” rate. If you only have a gig or two to store then it might not be that big a consideration but a terabyte (roughly 1000 gigabytes… or approximately the same as 1,400 CDs full of information) of storage is not uncommon in new desktops and even laptop computers these days and presumably you will find a way to fill it. One CD full of information on a typical DSL connection (768Kbs upload) will take roughly 3 hours to transfer to that nifty online backup service… a single terabyte of data, uploading 24 hours a day non-stop will take approximately 132 DAYS to upload! For the unlucky few that still have a dial-up connection that’s about five YEARS of steady uploading, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And that’s IF your ISP doesn’t shut you down for investigation! Most would, assuming you are likely running some sort of server, and/or charge you commercial rates for doing so.

3) What if you need your files and can’t get them? What if that remote storage was in the midwest somewhere and hit by a tornado? What if the phone lines between you and they are some how interrupted? You have no choice but to wait until you can (hopefully) access your files again.

4) Last but not least I didn’t say “buy a new computer and put linux on it”. Certainly you could, but since a computer used strictly for storage requires much less resources than your everyday desktop or laptop that means it is a perfect role for that “old” computer that you were just going to give away, sell at a garage sale or maybe throw in the dumpster anyway.

Fortunately technology has advanced far enough to consider other options… a commercially built NAS or “Network Attached Storage” which will do exactly what I’m talking about. Hook up a small box to your home network and back up the important files from your computer (or any other in home or office) to the device. 1+ Terabyte versions start around US$200 with RAID capable models somewhat higher. And yes, nearly all commercial NAS run linux… not mac or windows 😉 I run a NAS at home myself, once they became cheap enough to replace my home brewed solution.

External hard drives plug into your computer usually via a USB connection and are also a viable solution and will generally be even cheaper than a NAS, because they lack the “stand alone” networked ability. If backups are made on a regular schedule, say once a week or once a month, you can then take that external drive and put it in a fireproof safe at home or a remote location like a secure deposit box at your local bank. MUCH safer than a remote service and likely much cheaper (and convenient) as well.

The best solution is to use more than one of the methods above. My personal important files, including thousands of photographs and hundreds of gigs of music, are stored on 1) my personal computer, 2) my NAS device at home, and 3) on an external in a small fireproof safe. Three different stores of the same data… If any of them fail I simply make a new backup from one of the others.

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