And a closer look at the shelf life of common data storage devices
In honour of World Backup Day, we’re sharing five steps to protect your beloved data from the various crashes and calamities known to strike device owners.
Here’s to safeguarding your digital assets so they last well into your golden years and beyond....
Step 1: Make 2+ copies of each important file.
Those who are concerned with protecting their data subscribe to the Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) method.
One rule of thumb is that each important file should exist in three forms: one working file with two backups. (Some die-hard dataphiles subscribe to 10+ copies.)
Step 2: Diversify your file formats and backup methods.
Continuing with the LOCKSS approach, save each file in its original format and create at least two open-standard versions. These converted copies serve as insurance should the original filename extension become obsolete.
And to avoid stockpiling all of your digital eggs in one basket, spread the backup love among a myriad of mediums and portable data storage devices like DVDs, external hard drives, the cloud and solid-state drives.
Step 3: Split media storage between onsite and offsite locations.
Common sense dictates that you don’t want to keep your all your valued data in one place. Fire, flood or a similar catastrophe could wipe out your life’s work in minutes, so splitting your storage in this way makes for a good data disaster recovery plan.
A morbid thought that bears mentioning: Don’t forget to share files with trusted friends and family members. It’s smart to keep loved ones in the loop should something happen to you and taking 5 minutes to share a file is a quick ‘n’ easy backup method you can use.
Step 4: Store data in dark, dry and temperature-controlled (220 C) locations.
Digital decay is inevitable no matter how ideal the storage conditions. Yet, you can add years to the life of your archival medium if you preserve it in a carefully maintained environment.
For home, use a fireproof-waterproof safe to protect your storage devices. Away from home, rent a safe deposit box at your bank or a security locker with a private company.
Step 5: Check your files and storage methods periodically for deterioration.
Every three to six months, inspect your data archives and the hard drives on which they’re stored.
As soon as you notice degraded behaviour (e.g., clicking sounds or slow response times), it’s time to replace your equipment. Backup existing data before erasing it from your old devices or destroying hard copies.
But that brings us to the burning question...
The answer depends on the number of read/write cycles it has (i.e., how may times you can save new data to it), the frequency of usage, how the archival medium is stored and the quality of the product.
Life spans below are based on the assumption that each storage mode is used weekly* and cared for according to manufacturer instructions.
1. Solid-state drives (SSD) – 1-2 yrs
Both an internal and external backup method, the SSD gains new converts daily with its boost to OS performance.
It operates much faster than a hard-disk drive (HDD); however, you pay dearly for that speed. According to Lifehacker, for £60 “you could buy either a 120GB SSD or a 2TB HDD”.
Need more info? Read Lifehacker’s super helpful guide on SSDs.
Quick tip: An SSD doesn’t require defragging. Taking this unnecessary step depletes precious read/write cycles, thereby shortening its life.
2. External hard drives – 3-5 yrs
Most external hard drives are fast and simple to use. They’re practically plug and play, requiring little formatting to your system.
Best practices advise users keep several external hard drives on hand, in case of backup failure. They’re sensitive pieces of machinery that don’t like high heat, moisture or being dropped. Handle with care.
Quick tip: Before disposing of or giving away your external hard drive, make sure to delete your data. PCWorld gives high marks to Eraser, a tool that securely removes every last bit of sensitive information from devices.
3. USB flash drives – 5-15 yrs
It’s difficult to beat the efficiency of this little workhorse. Its convenient size and rapid read/write speeds make the thumb drive ideal for its intended purpose: to transfer data between devices.
Yes, the memory stick is only meant for temporary archival, not permanent backup. So keep this in mind when perfecting your future-proofing strategy.
Quick tip: Find a thumb drive that offers the whole security package: virus and password protection, whole-drive encryption and remote-wipe and -lock capabilities.
4. Optical media storage (CD/DVD) – 1-300 yrs
You get what you pay for when it comes to CD and DVD endurance. Cheap discs might hold out a year tops, while high-end brand Delkin Devices claim their archival solutions last up to 300 years.
Even if you decide to go the mid-grade route, resist the urge to store your optical media in a disc wallet. Go for jewel cases instead.
Anybody who owned a black nylon album in the 90s knows what heat, humidity and time can do to a Roxette CD. Discs practically melt into their plastic envelopes and data is lost forever.
Quick tip: To extend your disc’s life, refrain from unnecessary handling, adhering labels or writing on it (even felt-tip pens are a no-go).
5. Cloud storage – TBD
Will the cloud rival the longevity of the original gangster of all data backups: the stone tablet? After all, those resilient slabs of limestone are known to stick around for a couple thousand years.
Although the jury’s still out, online cloud storage is a practical addition to any future-proofing strategy. It stores your data offsite and racks up big points for convenience. Once you backup your files to the external server, you can access your photos, videos, music and documents from any device.
And while there are free online backup services available, it’s worth investing in a trusted brand that makes security its top focus.
Quick tip: Choose a cloud backup service that protects your valued files with bank-level encryption.
*Except for the SSD; its estimated lifespan is based on daily usage.