The Archive Problem & Frugal NAS
Last week I posted a video about archiving footage to dual layer Blu-rays discs. I thought it was a good idea, but afterward received a flurry of comments over on YouTube about how it might not be the best idea due to the delicate nature of optical media in general. I also received some great feedback via email, including a link to Will Fastie's excellent blog post, "The Archive Problem".
In Will's email he brought up the point that despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be any obvious choice since all electronic media has a definite expiration date, it's good to promote this discussion. If we create any amount of video work and want to keep it, we need to store it somehow. Since there is no one best storage solution, the "answer" seems to be to spread your files over several media forms and store them in different places. When the expiration date of these forms approaches, you must then re-copy them to new media forms. What a pain!
The following is some new information (to me, anyway) that has been brought to my attention since my Blu-ray video. While offering a decent amount of storage to the average user (50GB), the discs are fragile and can lose data in 1-5 years depending on the quality of the disc. I really have no idea how long they will last. For me, they also took an hour to burn. If you have a lot of video to back up (and I do), this process can take too long and tie up computing cycles better used elsewhere. The discs are cheap, but may not be worth the time or peace of mind I lose creating them.
Memory cards, flash drives, and Solid State Drives (SSDs) appear to have the longest life, but cost the most. Cards and flash drives have a built in charge that could last up to ten years if you write to them once and store them away. SSDs are purported to last longer. Right now, a 256GB flash drive costs $70 and an SSD drive of the same size costs about $100. If you need massive amounts of backup space, this is cost prohibitive, especially if you are on a budget.
That returns us to our old friend/enemy, the hard drive. These can you get large amounts of storage space for very little money. A 1TB bare or USB drive will only cost you $60 and that price will keep dropping. Hard drives will fail, however, and it's never a question of if but when. If you use them for archiving, you can't just leave them in a drawer as they must be spun every so often (at least monthly) to maintain data heath.
The best hard drive solution seems to be the NAS or Network Attached Storage. Essentially a little RAID 1 array, these boxes are a mini computer that holds two or more drives that create redundant backup. If you have NAS for 2TB, you have two 2TB drives in the case. If one fails, you replace it and the other rebuilds the archive. Very neat. These are not very expensive and the only real drawback is that both drives are right next to each other. In case of a fire or theft, you're screwed.
I really like the NAS idea. It plugs into your network and your can archive wirelessly and get an instant backup on the second drive. Still, you have to drop at least $300 to get up and running, though getting up and running is stupid easy.
There is a way to craft a "Frugal NAS", which I'd like to discuss. In my little apartment we have a 32" widescreen TV plugged into a cheap desktop computer. We watch all our digital content (Netflix, YouTube, DVDs, Pandora) through this setup, which never gets powered down--just like a server.
As a result, I can do what the NAS box does, since I already have a way to attach hard drives. I can hook up two external USB drives, using one as the archive drive and the other as the archive backup. This allows me to copy files to the archive (wirelessly if I wish) and have an automated backup to the second drive using a free program like Karen's Replicator. If one drive fails, I replace it and KR will restore the data from the good drive.
I really like this idea and feel that it is the most affordable and secure solution. My only question now is when I fill these up do I store them and create a new archive or buy even larger drives and add onto them? And do I want to separate the drives across the network to avoid the fire/theft issue?