7 Backup Strategies for Your Data, Multimedia, and System Files

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Strategy 6: Store Items for the Long Haul

· Good for: Heirlooms

· Frequency: Once a year

· Recovery features: No versioning or full-system restore

· Automatic off-site storage: No

For archiving heirloom files, use special discs such as Delkin’s Archival Gold (above) or MAM-A’s Archive Gold.
With proper archiving, your photos, videos, and other digital memorabilia could last a long time. Archive your valuable files about once a year, saving them to long-lasting media manually. Make multiple copies of the backups, and check to confirm that you can read them on another computer. Keep a copy for yourself and send others to relatives. Consider putting one in a safe deposit box.

Obviously, since properly testing an archiving strategy would take at least 50 years, and my deadline is much shorter, I can't guarantee that any of my suggestions will work. Still, a few wise choices can improve your odds of success.
Archival media should satisfy the following criteria.

The media must be unerasable: According to the law of data entropy, whatever can be erased, eventually will be erased. (But beware of the corollary to that unalterable law, pointed out by PCWorld.com community member JimH443: "That which cannot be erased will be misplaced.")

Media and mechanicals must be separate: Hard drives hold a vast amount of data--up to 2TB on a single drive--but like other mechanical devices with moving parts, they can break. A well-made, properly stored CD or DVD (see "Burning Questions: Ten Tips for Durable DVDs" for more on how to store discs) frees you from having to worry about mechanical-component failure. If you ex­­pect moving parts to last for decades, you'll be disappointed.

The media must be inexpensive: The cheaper copies are, the more likely you are to make multiple copies, which in turn will increase the odds that at least some will survive.

The media must be ubiquitous: If everyone uses the medium now, chances are better that someone will be able to use it in the 22nd century--or at least later in this century.

The media must be robust: It needs to survive for decades.

CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, and DVD+Rs meet the first four criteria, but--despite various claims of longevity based on laboratory aging--no one knows how robust they'll be in the long run. Representatives of leading data-recovery companies DriveSavers and Ontrack told me that they occasionally see optical discs with symptoms possibly related to age and poor manufacture, but that it isn't a common problem.

Your best bets among optical discs are relatively expensive archival discs such as Delkin's Archival Gold, Kodak's Gold Preservation, and MAM-A's Archive Gold. The makers of these discs claim to use higher standards for them than for run-of-the-mill data discs; and all use gold rather than silver in the disc's manufacture to increase longevity (see "Burning Questions: When Good Discs Go Bad"). But archiving concerns extend to other issues such as whether the file format will be readable in 50 or 100 years. Your chances are better if you stick to popular formats such as .jpg, .mp3, .doc (but not .docx), .txt, .html, and .pdf. And the more formats you can save the file in, the better.

You should store the discs in jewel cases, upright, away from direct sunlight, humidity, and extreme temperatures.

Another possibility is to burn a copy to Blu-ray Disc. Blu-ray doesn't yet enjoy the same reach that DVD and CD have, and it remains pricey (about $25 for a 50GB disc). But Blu-ray far exceeds DVD and CD in capacity, and the format is gaining acceptance rapidly. Only Buffalo, LG, and Pioneer market Blu-ray burners today, but the LG Electronics NAS NB41 packs four drive bays and a Blu-ray Disc burner.

With a little luck, your great-grandchildren will enjoy your mementos from the early days of digital photography.

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