Our Photo Lab Experts’ Advice on Long-Term Photography Storage
Professional forums today are filled with discussions about safeguarding digital files. Things were a lot simpler with film, when the only decision was the kind of sleeves to use. Today there are two good digital solutions, while we are encouraged about some developing technologies that might make life a lot easier in the future.
Permanently Keep Your Files on Hard Disc Drives
Since your image files are already on a hard drive, you can just leave them there! Obviously, today’s professional camera files are big, so you will have to add more disc space for your new shoots as well as to keep enough free space for “hungry” applications like Photoshop. Fortunately the size of add on drives has increased and most are currently relying on reasonably priced 1 TB external drives. Although you will see 2TB units, most experts feel that only the 1TB units have shown enough reliability for day to day studio use. There are lots of options and decisions to be made regarding how to power and connect these drives. You can directly connect them to one computer or put them on your studio network (NAS)? As usual, if these are Greek to you, get some help where you source your hardware. A lot depends on how your studio works. Of course, even though 1TB seems like a tremendous amount of free space, you will be looking to purchase additional drives as your space requirements evolve. Unfortunately, although you have all of your jobs a “mouse click away,” you still need to address the issue of archival backup since you literally have “all your eggs in one drive.”
Big drives are great, but relying on one is too dangerous. Camera negatives never spontaneously decayed (since nitrate!), but disc drives can and will fail without much warning and the word archival never appears in the same sentence with hard disc. At a minimum, purchase and install a second identical drive to act as a backup and install some sort of “mirroring” software, to automatically keep the second drive an identical copy of the first. Hard drives are not forever and they will fill or fail or worse yet…both! You may want to consider a slightly more expensive RAID configuration (disk array), where multiple, identical drives are configured to automatically “mirror” each other automatically. Save to one and you are really saving to both. There are lots of options here and they need not be terribly expensive. RAID configurations will assure more automatic reliability in the event of a drive failure and also often give some nice drive “health check” warnings.
No matter how good your systems get, most hardware experts consider multiple hard drives, even in a RAID configuration, only as a solution for protecting against hardware failure of dynamic “in process” work, since working files cannot practically be archived as they are far too dynamic.
However, after a job is shipped to a customer, the probability of file access or modification drops precipitously. These jobs can be “archived” and protected against hard disc failure or even against accidental deletion.
Archive Completed Jobs to Writable CD or DVD
The most cost effective and by far the safest archiving method today is writable CDs (700MB) or DVDs (4.7GB.) To be sure, you will hear a lot of horror stories about discs that fail to read or “fade” in a few months. Chances are these failures were either not written correctly to begin with or were written to very low cost, unstable media. Like photo paper, there is good blank optical media and not so good blank media. Use only media that incorporates a gold (that’s real 24 carat gold) reflecting layer, since the most common environmental failure for optical discs, besides physical damage, is humidity and heat attacking the disc’s reflecting layer and rendering it completely useless. Even though it take a little more time when burning discs, only use recording software that supports “verify after write.” This feature will automatically read all data after recording and verify that the disc in fact contains all the data that you wrote AND THAT IT IS ALL READABLE! Digital technology allows for identical copies, so make 2 copies of each disc, and store one at another location…in case of a catastrophe! Chances are you won’t use an archive disc for a while and if they are stored reasonably (dark, clean, cool, dry) they will easily last longer than you need them to. One bonus of archival CD and DVD materials is that they can’t be erased… intentionally or by mistake!
Evolving Technology…Archiving and Backup to the “Cloud”
Today there is growing discussion of “cloud storage” and “cloud computing.” In this model, your computer system automatically (and continually) copies all of your important files to large, secure and redundant storage facilities on the internet. This model could conceivably eliminate not only your backup hard disc but your DVDs well.
Thousands of consumers and businesses today rely on cloud backup services, from vendors like Mozy, Carbonite and Sugarsync, to automatically preserve all of their important personal files, images and music. Big commercial data centers are also adopting the model. The appeal is simple. Lost or stolen machine…no problem. Hard drive crash…no problem! Simply login to your service, download a new sync application walk away! The system automatically retrieves all your files, restoring everything back to its state at the moment of failure. Today, most of these services are used for backup of files that are on your internal drive, but the technology can do much more.
Our photo lab will keep you up to date as things develop, but for now, stay with mirrored disc drives and archive to good quality DVDs. You won’t be sorry.