May16

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In an article on Ancestry.com entitled Preparing for Disaster, Maureen Taylor wrote a nice informative article on some preparedness tips for photos and family treasures.

I noticed one comment on that article that I thought could use some elaboration:

I keep a thumbdrive containing scanned photos and documents, along with data from my genealogy software program, in a safe deposit box. However, these storage devices are not guaranteed to last forever. They should be replaced at least every 10 years.

As someone involved in information technology, security and and disaster recovery for many years, I like to see people mention how they have things locked away in alternate locations.

However – don’t lock yourself into the idea that technology has a finite or even solidly estimable time to failure. That will only cause you some sort of loss in the long run. Having a thumb drive in a safe deposit box is terrific and way ahead of most people’s plans, I’d guess.

But I would suggest that you stagger several drives with data backups as time progresses. That way if some piece of hardware does fail before its time, you aren’t stuck with 10 year old data – hopefully something much more recent.

Also – Do not, I repeat DO NOT discount the human factor. We all make mistakes and software is fallible. Not every backup of data you make will be a successful one or necessarily contain all of the data you thought you included.

Having a tiered backup plan using varied types of media and hardware will diminish your losses over time – especially if you don’t assume that something will fail in some set number of years.

Even if one of your backups turns out to be on bad media, a failed device, or you didn’t properly select everything you needed to backup – you will at least have a fighting chance that a previous backup might have that data.

These days flash drives, writable media and even sizable external hard drives are relatively cheap when it comes to the space needed for photos and documents. (The space required for video and the options at hand are a whole ‘nother blog post.)

I use a combination of options: I have a 2TB external drive both at home and at my office. I use some software to keep them mirrored so that if one drive fails or (knock on wood) there is a disaster in one location or the other I have a complete up to the minute backup. For photos and documents, I also perform regular backups to DVDs, keeping each set for several years and then shredding the oldest at intervals.

If you can’t keep an external drive at your office, why ask a trusted person if they might keep your drive at their house? You could even consider it an informal “mutual aid agreement” – you keep their drive and they keep yours. (You’ll need a method to synchronize your data that is easy and automated – again, that would be another blog post.)

Some Final Tips:

  • Don’t assume the technology you select today will be around in 10, or even 5 years. How many thumb drives did you own in 2001?
  • When you create a backup to any type of media – try reading it back immediately and on more than one computer. You’d be surprised how few technology professionals do that – but it is the only way to know that your backup was successful and readable.
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