A Tech Journalist & Educator.
In a data-driven age, such as the one we live in today, keeping our files is more or less preserving our history. Including the personal, emotional, and professional data. All of us produce hundreds of megabytes of data every day, including photos and videos that we take with smartphones, the files we share with friends and those we work on in the office.
Yet, strangely, hardly any of us are wondering how to save data. Archiving is something very few think about and even fewer do regularly. So maybe we took thousands of photos of our children or our dog, but when we look for them, we never find them.
And, sometimes, we just don't find them anymore. But what is the most effective, economical and long-lasting method for storing our data?
The first concept to clarify when we talk about how to archive our data forever is the distinction between actual archiving and backup. A backup usually contains the data that we access often, that we change regularly, the files we are working on, and so on.
Having a backup and updating it regularly is essential in order not to suffer the consequences of a data loss, but it is different from making an archive of our files. Archiving, in fact, has to do with files that we rarely access (e.g., photo albums) and that we don't need to change often (e.g., company invoices). But they are data, in any case, that we do not want to lose.
In choosing the best method, and the best storage medium, for our data, several factors come into play: the duration of the support, the ease and convenience of storage, the costs per GB.
No media is truly eternal, but for archiving we should definitely focus on the more durable ones. If we have several TB of data to archive, then the price per GB is fundamental or the archiving will cost us a lot. Finally, storage media need to be conveniently stored somewhere, so weight and size matter.
Data storage on an external hard drive is a classic, as well as one of the most popular solutions. Usually 3.5-inch hard drives are used, which cost less and are faster than smaller ones for laptops. The problem with this medium lies in the typical limits of the magnetic hard disk: it is fragile, since it is full of moving parts that could break.
An external hard drive that falls off a desk will most likely get damaged. Fortunately, however, the duration of this support can even reach more than 15 years because, by using it sparingly, the components will last a long time. The price per TB for an external hard drive is around $50-100 bucks.
USB sticks and SSDs are more or less the same thing: non-volatile memory chips that can house our data. Unlike magnetic HDs they are much smaller and lighter and have no moving parts that could break.
USB stick storage has been shown to protect data for over 10 years, it is plausible that SSDs will do so for even longer. The problem is the price: it starts from around $60 for 1 TB of the now older and slower models (but for an archive they could also be fine) to over $150 bucks for the latest generation models.
Evolution of DVD discs and the now prehistoric CD-ROMs, Blu-Ray discs offer 25 GB of space each. In a package, sold at prices from $20 to $40 (depending on the quality and the supported burning speed) there are 50. The price per TB is therefore more or less from $20 to $40.
To this price must be added the one-off price of the burner: $50-100 bucks.
In theory, they can last 200 years.
The biggest problem with this solution is the inconvenience of burning, while storage is very convenient thanks to its small size and negligible weight. Be careful, however, not to scratch them or we risk losing data.
The classic " Keep in a cool and dry place " also applies to all these archiving systems of our data. Extreme weather conditions are not good for mechanical hard drives, SSDs or Blu-Ray discs. That said, some maintenance is needed. The hard disks should be turned on at least once a year (preferably two) to check that everything is working and not to block the moving parts.
On this occasion it is also useful to check the integrity of the data, while we are at it. SSDs should stay calm even if they aren't turned on, but one check a year doesn't hurt them either. The Blu-Ray discs, finally, shall be kept clean: pay particular attention to dust, which can scratch them.
Finally, if our archive is to last for decades, we also need to be sure that between 5-10 they can still be used. If our external drives have USB interfaces, are we sure that this standard will still be in force in 20 or 30 years? Hard to believe. Over time, therefore, we will probably have to move all our data to a new archive, compatible with the most modern technologies.
List of References: ScienceDirect, TheViralTech, AllAboutCircuits, VaultNetworks & Wikipedia
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