When was the last time you backed up your files?

It’s not if, but when, your computer hard drive will die. If this hasn’t happened to you already, your turn will come. I promise.

Twice in the past few days my computer has frozen and acted weird. This is something that rarely happens. It’s probably as a result of downloading so many educational products from so many sources and being on so many websites and forums at one time. (I commonly have 30+ tabs open at any given time.) I saw this as a warning sign and I spent the morning cleaning up all the files in my downloads folder, cleared my browser cache, and did a thorough backup of my files, which also cleared some space on my main hard drive. Now I’m writing about it so you will also heed this warning and do regular backups and clean ups of your files.

This sort of maintenance falls into the same category as taking our vitamins and eating a well balanced diet. We know we should do these things. They are good for us and help us maintain proper functions, but they are not top priority unless there is some imminent danger. With computers, there is always imminent danger of losing everything, even though you may not think so.

There are several ways you can archive your computer files and digital photos both offline and online:

  • CD or DVD
  • RAID mirrored hard drives
  • online storage using DropBox archive
  • cloud storage using Amazon s3
  • Services for photographers which archive and display photos, such a SmugMug, PhotoShelter and Zenfolio

I use several back up methods and have a minimum of two copies of every file:

  1. I have a fast Thunderbolt RAID hard drive. A RAID duplicates the files on one or more hard drives all located in the same casing. If there is a fire or other emergency, everyone in the house knows to yank that hard drive out of the wall and take it. It has everything important on it.
  2. I don’t use CDs or DVDs to back up client work anymore. They just don’t hold enough data, and newer computers often don’t have DVD drives.
  3. Now for client work, I deliver it via a private folder on Dropbox, so it is stored and accessible to both the client and myself.
  4. I make prints! Yes, prints are a way to back up images. I started in photography in the days of film. I have boxes and binders full of organized negatives and slides, but to be honest, it’s the prints I find first and the format is great if I just want to look at the image. My mom likes prints too. She doesn’t like using a computer, but she loves looking at prints of her grandchildren. She can keep them in a little brag book and easily show her friends.
  5. I save my most important files on amazon S3.

Each method has pros and cons

  • I feel really secure and protected with my G-Safe RAID hard drive. However, water can damage the hard drive, as well as power surges and theft. Surge protected power bars are a must for all your computer equipment, but it’s hard to fully protect against fire and theft.
  • CDs and DVDs take a long time to make. Then, you still have to store them in a safe place, preferably off site. They can handle getting wet, but they’ll melt in a fire. How will they stand the test of time? When was the last time you used a floppy disk, a syquest drive, or a zip disk? Do you even know what those are? Will you be able to open your CDs in 10 years?
  • Prints are great but need proper storage as well. Remember those photo albums from the 70’s and 80’s that used thin lines of low-tack glue that your photos stuck to? If those weren’t made from acid free adhesive, then you may have a bunch of prints with glue lines eating through to the front of your prints. Prints also degrade in sunlight. So, for really precious photos, store them in acid free containers, in the dark, and away from damp areas like your basement.
  • Online “cloud” storage is safe for files as long as the service provider stays in business. The downside is the recurring cost of the storage and usage fees. Plus, it takes a long time to upload large image files depending on your internet connection. Downloading is much faster though. I feel the most safe with online storage because of the redundancy built into storing the files on multiple servers.

There is no perfect method of file storage. There are risks associated with every one. It’s best to cover your bases and backup your important files at least twice. At this time in history, I trust the RAID hard drives and the online cloud types of storage the most.

One last thing to remember:

As technology changes and improves, you need to move your archived files forward into the future with you, or you may hinder access to your images.

For more on external hard drives and transfer speeds, see this post.

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