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Hard-core data preservation: The best media and methods for archiving your data

Jon L. Jacobi | March 1, 2016
Daily backup isn’t archiving. If you want your data to survive the decades, you need to use the right tools.

5. Stay away from proprietary file formats if possible. Use PDF/A, RTF, JPG, MPEG, etc., which are likely to be readable well into the future. It’s rare to find a program any more that doesn’t export data in some standard file format, but if you use one, archive the installation files for said program. If it’s dependent upon a specific operating system or version of such, create a virtual hard drive or virtual machine with the software installed on the operating system and archive the whole deal. You can save the installation files for the operating system, but drivers may become an issue as hardware advances.

6. Don’t use encryption except for truly sensitive data. Passwords can be lost or forgotten. Remember we’re talking long haul here.

7. Date and document the archive. Name the media as verbosely and specifically as you can. Use a piece of masking tape and a Sharpie if you have nothing else. There’s no point in archiving the same data again at the next juncture. 

8. Respect changing technology. Just because the media lasts 100 years, doesn’t mean the technology used to read it will. We’re only 50 years or so removed from punch cards, so the pace of obsolescence is rapid, but hard to predict. If you see the technology you used being replaced wholesale by another, re-archive. That said, you can still find the means to read ATA hard drives and they’ve been around a good 30 years. If you look hard enough, I’m sure you can even find a means to read punch cards, even if it’s in the computer museum in Mountainview, CA.

Do it!

You can do as much or as little as you desire in terms of archiving, and to be perfectly honest, a single archive copy will probably see you through. However, do you really want to have that “probably” on your mind?

For those who skipped the entire background discussion and would just like some quick and dirty advice…

Method one: Using a Blu-ray burner that supports BD XL and M-Disc, back up to BD-R HTL or M-Disc BD-R/DVD+R discs. Stay away from regular CD/DVD recordable/rewritable and BD-R LTH, aka, phase-change media. Make two or three copies and send at least one to a family member you trust, or store it in a safe deposit box somewhere. If you add data relatively slowly, add to your existing archive using M-Disc DVDs.

Method two: Grab two or three USB 3.0 external hard drives, back up your important data to them, write-protect them, then store one locally and put one in a safe deposit box, or send it to a trustworthy relative. Every couple of years, refresh the archive, i.e., copy it off, then copy it back again. Or use the above mentioned DiskFresh.

 

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