I want my digital photos and movies to last many decades. How do I archive them?

I currently have 50 GB of photos and movies on my computer’s hard drive. Yesterday I backed them up to an external hard drive.

But the HD in my computer won’t last forever. And neither will the external HD.

I suppose one solution is to always make sure I have two, working HDs with the photos & movies; when one fails, purchase another HD and make a new backup. But is there a better way to do it?

Add cloud backup. Professional companies are way better at ensuring that their hard drives are working. It also protects against, like, your house burning down, or someone stealing your primary computer and your backup drive.

If you’re really paranoid, add multiple backup services.

Supposedly, M-Disc will last hundreds of years.
You still need a way to read the discs, though.

If all you are interested in is having this data accessible during your lifetime (not some historical archive), cloud storage is probably the most robust.

One at-home option is to get a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device that can do RAID storage. What that is a standalone box that can hold multiple drives. From the outside it looks like a single drive, but inside there are multiple drives. You can have the files duplicated on all the internal drives. If one drive goes bad, you can swap in a new one and the NAS will reduplicate all the data. Here’s an article which covers a few NAS drives so you can see what they’re all about: The Best NAS (Network Attached Storage) Devices for 2021 | PCMag.

Cloud storage will also work, but one disadvantage is that you’d have to pay a monthly fee for that much storage. And another is that if you die, your relatives may not know about the cloud storage or how to access it. One advantage of an at-home solution is that your relatives will see the external drive with a label on it like “Home movies and pictures” and be able to get to the data.

A NAS + drives + electricity to run them isn’t free. Over the long term, I’d expect cloud storage to be cheaper and more reliable than running your own NAS due to economies of scale.

You can easily add a deadman switch to a google account that will email info to the person (or people) of your choosing after your account is inactive for a set period.

FWIW, I think you should have a local backup and a cloud backup.

A useful question to ask yourself is if your hard drives were destroyed and a genie offered to restore all your lost-forever photos for a price, what would you pay? Personally, may answer is “several times the expected cost of online backup for the rest of my natural life” and I think that is true for most people.

I use OneDrive as a general cloud backup as it already comes with my annual subscription to MS Office365. It’s also on my smartphone so photos and videos automatically get backed to the cloud up as I take them.

Additionally, I keep a backup of photos on Shutterfly, which is free.

Yep, this. I use a combo of cloud and offline backups. For my more important documents and files, I’ll store them on the cloud, in my case Microsoft OneDrive. This way, if a calamity such as a fire takes out my house and any offline hard drives inside, I can simply get a new PC and restore my data from the cloud. In the unlikely event that Microsoft goes busto, I assume their standard operating procedure is to give me at least a couple months of advance notice before wiping their cloud servers, so that I can migrate my data to a different provider.

For larger but non-critical data such as my music and movie collections, I keep them in offline hard drives, and every 8 years or so, I buy a new set of hard drives and manually migrate all the data over, knowing that HDs don’t last forever. By keeping the large files offline, I can stick to paying $1.99/month for 100 GB of storage, instead of having to pay $189.87/year for 2 TB ($69.99/year for the base Microsoft 365 subscription that comes with 1 TB included, and $9.99/month for an additional 1 TB).

…cloud storage is the probably the best answer, but picking the right cloud storage is the tricky part. Spend a bit of time doing research so that you pick the right cloud storage for your needs. Do you need end-to-end encryption? How long have they been in business for, are they profitable, and are they likely to be in business decades from now? How easy is it for me to accidentally delete some (or all) of my files? How do they back up their files, if at all?

There isn’t any single one answer that works for everyone. But these are the solutions I use.

I have a master drive I store all of my files on, and a separate portable hard drive for backups. (I did experiment with RAID for a short while, but it got too expensive and impractical. And RAID (on its own) is not a backup)

I use Dropbox to deliver videos/logos/zip files to my clients and to back up finished video files.

I use Photoshelter to deliver images to my clients and it also is my primary backup for all my keeper JPEG images. (I currently have 359,554 images stored online: 2.272 TB)

I use Sync . com to store any files that need secure encryption.

I use Amazon Glacier to backup any mission critical RAW files and video files.

RAW video files get stored on an additional drive that gets swapped with another drive at a friends house regularly (and otherwise lives in a fireproof cabinet)

FYI I use 3-2-1 backup methodology. It wouldn’t hurt to have a look at this and adapting it to whatever it is you are doing now.

Cover all the bases.

I put my digital photos onto DVDs, but they can go bad over time. With USB sticks so cheap and very large now, devote a couple of them to archiving. Put your DVDs and sticks in different places. And, last but not least, cloud storage. Use two providers if you wish, it’s pretty cheap now.

Hard disks of any kind are not a long term solution. For one thing, future PCs may be unable to interface to them. Storage devices seem to get obsolete rather quickly. Valuable files on a floppy disk? I have a couple of floppy drives lying around, but I am not sure if I connect them on the newest PCs. I certainly cannot connect them to a laptop, unless some sort of FDD-USB connector has been devised. (And how many people would need it?) And I used to have two other forms of magnetic storage that have been binned. And who remembers MO and WORM drives?

Yes, USB floppy drives exist as do USB DVD drives. My latest 3 PCs no longer have any built in.

When storing on harddrives, keep bit rot in mind. You won’t notice one changed bit in the file until you open it.
Chances are small, but I’ve seen it happen once in our pictures. Ideally you’d implement some checksumming to counter that, although backups negate the problem of course. Just make sure to keep them long enough.