The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 06-13-2012, 06:40 PM
Yarster Yarster is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Best off line long term storage solution for digital photos?

So today, our large external hard drive has started misbehaving, which contains all of our digital photos that we have been far too lazy to ever print out or deal with, yet would be extremely bummed out if they were ever lost. A replacement is obviously needed. My wife loves to take photos, takes a ton of them all at high resolution, and then offloads them to the external drive. As a result, I have hundreds of gigabytes of pictures on this drive. While I realize there are probably numerous 'cloud' solutions to this problem, call me old fashioned, but I don't like the idea of my photos being entirely online. A reliable service is probably still a decent monthly fee, and you are always just one hacked account away from someone getting into your private stuff, etc. Given that, what is currently the best way to store digital photos off line in the long term?

It seems like any hard drive based solution can still fail catastrophically at any point and leave you screwed. I suppose the stuff could be wildly compressed and stored on Flash drives, but I'm not sure how much compression you can really get with these photos and if Flash drives are big enough and cheap enough. What would you recommend?

As a side note, if I transfer all the photos off the dying (but not yet dead) drive, store that drive for 10 years, and then boot it up again, will it even work? Do drives that have sat dormant for long periods of time fail, even if kept in ideal conditions?

Last edited by Yarster; 06-13-2012 at 06:42 PM..
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 06-13-2012, 07:01 PM
Eve Eve is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yarster View Post
So today, our large external hard drive has started misbehaving, which contains all of our digital photos that we have been far too lazy to ever print out or deal with, yet would be extremely bummed out if they were ever lost.
Why would you be bummed-out if they were lost? They only exist if you look at them.

Choose the most precious, best ones--the ones you want your grandchildren to see someday--have them printed out on good paper with good ink, put them in a photo album and put them on the shelf, where you can pull it out and look at it whenever you wish. It'll be good for 100 years at least.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 06-13-2012, 07:13 PM
Yarster Yarster is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Eve - Yes, I realize that among the tens of thousands of photos, only a handful are truly 'worth keeping' from the standpoint of longevity, but as I stated, neither my wife nor I is religious about going through the photos. In her case, it is far worse, because she has the 'fancy camera' and all such photos are often multiples (bracketed) and are huge files. For the sake of this discussion, assume every photo has value and the space is required. What's my cheapest versus most reliable long term option?

As a side note, do you ever really know what's a valuable photo? Often only after someone dies, loses a lot of weight, becomes a celebrity or is in the news, etc. do you ever care. My photo of me with David Carradine got dragged out as 'interesting' only after he accidentally killed himself. Likewise, who cares about that picture with the World Trade Center in the background until it isn't there any more?
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 06-13-2012, 07:20 PM
Eve Eve is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yarster View Post
For the sake of this discussion, assume every photo has value and the space is required. What's my cheapest versus most reliable long term option?
Oh, you'll need someone techier than me, then. I am strictly a print-and-photo-album girl. In fact, every ten years or so I winnow down my albums: "who the hell is this person I have ten photos of? Into the shredder he goes."

I do have my photos on two sep. zip drives, but I guess you already do, too?
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 06-13-2012, 07:29 PM
Absolute Absolute is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: In flight
Posts: 3,782
Put simply, there is no good solution for long-term storage of digital data.

The best option is still tape, but I am not aware of any consumer-level tape drives out there (meaning, not ridiculously expensive).

Burned optical disks degrade if not stored properly, and don't have all that much capacity if you really have hundreds of gigabytes to deal with.

Flash drives are not guaranteed to be any more reliable than conventional hard drives.

I would suggest buying a few hard drives, from different manufacturers, replicating your data onto each of them, putting them all in different places, and checking on them every year or so.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 06-13-2012, 07:46 PM
Wesley Clark Wesley Clark is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
My brother is building a server, he wants 3 separate 2TB hard drives in it. He explained he could set it up so that if any one hard drive failed the others would retain the lost info, but I have no idea how. Something like that could work, a multi-drive server.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 06-13-2012, 08:03 PM
Absolute Absolute is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: In flight
Posts: 3,782
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
My brother is building a server, he wants 3 separate 2TB hard drives in it. He explained he could set it up so that if any one hard drive failed the others would retain the lost info, but I have no idea how. Something like that could work, a multi-drive server.
Yes, and if he accidentally deletes something, it will be deleted on all the drives instantaneously. RAID (the term for this configuration) is not a backup strategy.

EDIT: Okay, well, technically it is. But not a good one.

Last edited by Absolute; 06-13-2012 at 08:04 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 06-14-2012, 08:54 AM
Hermitian Hermitian is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
I am guessing you use a laptop, which is why you use an external hard drive to store these photos. This makes it harder.

What I do: I keep all of the photos on an internal hard drive. I have two small portable external hard drives that I swap out and use to backup whatever is on the internal hard drive. One of them stays at work or some off-site location. I have data on these drives that dates back 17 years or more. I have never lost any data.

What you can do that is similar: You can buy two external hard drives (Compared to the costs of losing your entire picture albums, the cost is small). Name them EHD #1 and EHD#2. Copy all of the data from your old external hard drive to EHD #1. This will be your main copy. Now, copy everything that is on EHD#1 to EHD #2. EHD#2 will be your off-site backup. Take it somewhere out of your house. Don't leave it in your car if you have a garage (it will be lost in a fire). Bring EHD#2 back home once every two months or so and recopy everything from EHD#1 to EHD#2. There is software that will allow you to do this copying more easily.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 06-14-2012, 11:01 AM
jasg jasg is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: Upper left hand corner
Posts: 2,951
Quote:
Originally Posted by Absolute View Post
Put simply, there is no good solution for long-term storage of digital data.

The best option is still tape, but I am not aware of any consumer-level tape drives out there (meaning, not ridiculously expensive).

Burned optical disks degrade if not stored properly, and don't have all that much capacity if you really have hundreds of gigabytes to deal with.

Flash drives are not guaranteed to be any more reliable than conventional hard drives.

I would suggest buying a few hard drives, from different manufacturers, replicating your data onto each of them, putting them all in different places, and checking on them every year or so.
+1 ... But every couple of years, think about copying to a new device, perhaps with a new OS.

I have files on various types of now obsolete storage (Syquest carts, ZIP drives, HD) that use obsolete or uncommon interfaces like SCSI and IDE - not to mention OS and disk format options. Get at those files now means resurrecting and ancient computer - and even then I may not be able to copy them to a newer device - I have waited too long.

Last edited by jasg; 06-14-2012 at 11:02 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 06-14-2012, 11:18 AM
filmore filmore is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
One option would be to get an external storage device that supports RAID. RAID is where multiple drives are used together. In one mode (RAID 0 I think), two drives are used as a single drive. To you it looks like a single drive, but everything you write to it is written to both drives. The advantage with this approach is that if one drive goes bad, you can remove it, plug in a new one, and the device will automatically re-mirror all the info. You'll only lose everything if both drives go bad at once.

I have a setup like this at home. I think the enclosure cost around $150 and I put 2 1TB drives in it, which gives me 1TB of total storage (because everything is mirrored).

Some devices will be enabled for Network Attached Storage (NAS), which means you can just plug it into the ethernet. You don't need to have it attached to a computer. This way all your computers can see and use the device. And some devices will even act as a media center, allowing you to stream the photos and movies to viewing devices throughout your house.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 06-14-2012, 12:37 PM
RTFirefly RTFirefly is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Maryland
Posts: 26,610
I'd do what Hermitian suggested. A quick Google search suggests that a 1 TB external hard drive runs about $100, so for $200 you can have storage, and backup storage, for hundreds of gigs of photos.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 06-14-2012, 04:06 PM
Tastes of Chocolate Tastes of Chocolate is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: slightly north of center
Posts: 4,251
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hermitian View Post
What you can do that is similar: You can buy two external hard drives (Compared to the costs of losing your entire picture albums, the cost is small). Name them EHD #1 and EHD#2. Copy all of the data from your old external hard drive to EHD #1. This will be your main copy. Now, copy everything that is on EHD#1 to EHD #2. EHD#2 will be your off-site backup. Take it somewhere out of your house. Don't leave it in your car if you have a garage (it will be lost in a fire). Bring EHD#2 back home once every two months or so and recopy everything from EHD#1 to EHD#2. There is software that will allow you to do this copying more easily.
This is essentially what we do. We keep a copy at a friend's house, stuck in the back of one of their closets. There is nothing on the hard drive that needs security, it's just stuff we'd be bummed if we lost. It's mostly photos and music (all of ours is ripped from CDs we own, and would be a pita to replace.)

Storing it at a friend's house means it's easy to get to, free to store, and fire/flood/tornado isn't likely to hit both houses at the same time.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 06-14-2012, 05:03 PM
Mdcastle Mdcastle is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
I have a 1 TB RAID-0 NAS, It's nice for a backup and centralized storage of huge media files, but I'm not convinced about the integrity of it for a one and only data archive. Someone could steal it, it could get lost in a fire, hit with a power surge, the controller could go bad and corrupt all the data. I intend to get a dockable hard drive to do a backup once a month and leave it at my parent's house.

Printing photos is horribly expensive relative to alternatives and I'm not convinced of the longetivity of the "archival" comsumer level photo papers and inks right now. Better to have it printed professionally on real print photographic paper.

Long term storage- the reality is you can't just store digital media in a shoebox like you can film and expect it to be useable decades later. Even if we're still using SATA and USB a decade from now, which we might be, I'd be worried about any electrolytic capacitors on the drive or controller (if external) drying up. Having two external hard drives, and storing one off site, and periodically replacing them if technology demands is probably the best solution to the OP.

Last edited by Mdcastle; 06-14-2012 at 05:07 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 06-14-2012, 06:36 PM
Otara Otara is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Buy new hard drive every year or two, update, put old drive in safe storage with a date label. Or old backup drive, whatever. Put some of your most significant moments on picasa or flickr etc - doesnt have to be exhaustive, just so that you'd have something if worst came to worst.

Some programs like Lightroom can copy to your main drive and a backup drive at the same time when importing your pictures. I use a network drive so even if my laptop goes boom 2 seconds afterwards, I have a copy automatically.

Over time you'll have tons of drives, so you can try to restore from the newest, then the next newest, etc. And in practise something better will turn up, you dont need to be doing this for 40 years, only so that you wont have more than a few years at risk at best.

As far as winnowing/sorting now goes, one problem is what you think you want now may not be what people want to see in 20 or 30 years.

Otara
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 06-14-2012, 07:15 PM
iamthewalrus(:3= iamthewalrus(:3= is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Absolute View Post
Yes, and if he accidentally deletes something, it will be deleted on all the drives instantaneously. RAID (the term for this configuration) is not a backup strategy.
The setup described doesn't have to be RAID.

I have two 2TB drives in my box. I use a backup program to back the data from one up to the other nightly. If I accidentally delete something, it's still on the other one until the backup gets flushed (time varies with how full the drive is and how much data is churning, but it's certainly plenty to recover from an "oops").

There's a minor amount of hassle if I have to restore from backup that wouldn't exist with RAID, and I don't get the faster read/writes that you get with RAID, but that's not what it's for.

The important data (photos, emails, etc.) is also backed up online.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 06-14-2012, 08:08 PM
Michael63129 Michael63129 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Quote:
Originally Posted by Yarster View Post
As a side note, if I transfer all the photos off the dying (but not yet dead) drive, store that drive for 10 years, and then boot it up again, will it even work? Do drives that have sat dormant for long periods of time fail, even if kept in ideal conditions?
Hard drives will suffer from "bit rot" if left unused (or used but data isn't refreshed) for a long time; this issue is rarely discussed but can happen with any magnetic media (also, sector data is only written once at the factory, so you can't refresh this, thus bad sectors appearing in drives which are otherwise in good (mechanical) working order). Flash memory will also undergo similar degradation (but it appears that it is more reliable; a spec of 10 years at 85C is orders of magnitudes longer at 25C).
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 06-14-2012, 08:17 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Sturgeon Bay, WI USA
Posts: 17,525
Long-term storage? Print it out on acid-free paper and put it in a box. I guarantee 100 years from now, what's in the box will be more viewable than any digital storage of 2012-vintage. If I'm wrong, sue me.

Meanwhile, for reliable, medium-term storage, I suggest you check out a Drobo.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 06-14-2012, 08:42 PM
tomcar tomcar is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2010
You might not like the idea of online storage, but in reality it is your best option. I would take time and research online backup plans and start getting comfortable.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 06-15-2012, 10:16 AM
AaronX AaronX is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2011
I don't like hard disks because they're too easily written to. Every time you open your photos, you risk corrupting them. For this reason I prefer DVD+-R.

You might also want to take a look at SanDisk's Memory Vault. Limited rewritability, guarantee for 100 years.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 06-15-2012, 10:27 AM
UncleRojelio UncleRojelio is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: ATX
Posts: 5,326
I keep my photo libraries on an external drive which I keep backed up with Time Machine. Every few months or so I burn the latest photos to a DVD.
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 06-15-2012, 10:53 AM
filmore filmore is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
I've read that burned DVDs are not good for long-term storage. They tend to decay and you'll get read errors after a while.
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 06-15-2012, 11:04 AM
Typo Knig Typo Knig is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by AaronX View Post
I don't like hard disks because they're too easily written to. Every time you open your photos, you risk corrupting them. For this reason I prefer DVD+-R.

You might also want to take a look at SanDisk's Memory Vault. Limited rewritability, guarantee for 100 years.
Do you know anyone with experience using Memory Vault?
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 06-15-2012, 11:19 AM
AaronX AaronX is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2011
No, sorry.
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 06-15-2012, 12:47 PM
Magiver Magiver is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
I had a long term hard drive quite on me. I found this out after my current hard drive died. Most of the material recovered came from DVD's.

I would do a one time back up of all the stuff you've got now on DVD's. Those get stored in a fire safe or someone else's house or bank safe. Then I'd get a network hard drive to back up the backup drive along with your current computer.

I don't know why my backup drive crashed but it was very disconcerting to lose my laptop hard drive only to find the backup dead. The Network hard drive should be set up to backup everything in real time. The other hard drive should be used to backup your pictures as you go but not be plugged in while not in use. That keeps it free of voltage spikes.

This gives you 3 layers of protection plus offsite protection (DVD's).
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 06-15-2012, 12:53 PM
Revtim Revtim is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
I use Carbonite to backup both photos and my MP3 collection (and various much smaller data sets). It's offsite, so if my home is destroyed, like by fire or hurricane, that stuff is safe. It costs about $50 a year, which I think is reasonable.
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 06-15-2012, 02:52 PM
jasg jasg is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: Upper left hand corner
Posts: 2,951
Quote:
Originally Posted by filmore View Post
I've read that burned DVDs are not good for long-term storage. They tend to decay and you'll get read errors after a while.
Quoted lifespans are 2-5 years.
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 06-16-2012, 09:51 AM
oreally oreally is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2012
I have jump/flash sticks 7 yrs old that still work fine, but I swap out the ones I have stuff on that I really care out every few years and have the most important on multiple drives. The HD solutions seem excessive cost-wise and I can't imagine all of your zillion photos are THAT valuable. Even high-res photos aren't typically so big that you can't fit a bunch onto an inexpensive jump stick.

I also have emailed some to myself. I know email isn't as secure, but it's not like I have info or pics on there that I'd freak if someone got hold of.

Finally I agree that printing out some of your most precious and putting in an album is an outstanding idea. The more "tech" solutions aren't always best, to put it mildly.

Last edited by oreally; 06-16-2012 at 09:54 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 06-16-2012, 10:22 AM
Musicat Musicat is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Sturgeon Bay, WI USA
Posts: 17,525
Quote:
Originally Posted by filmore View Post
I've read that burned DVDs are not good for long-term storage. They tend to decay and you'll get read errors after a while.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jasg View Post
Quoted lifespans are 2-5 years.
I have (home-burned) CDs from 17 years ago that are perfectly readable. DVDs, about 10. No decay evident yet. All have been kept away from strong light.

Now if you leave them out in the sunlight for a few weeks, that's a different story.

Last edited by Musicat; 06-16-2012 at 10:22 AM..
Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 01:40 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.