November 20, 2013

Preserving Memories

A long time ago I was taking a train ride from college to visit my parents for the holidays. I was traveling alone, and with my laptop bag. At one point I got up to use restroom and brought my laptop bag with me. As I passed the conductor he couldn’t suppress a laugh and asked why I would bring that into the little lavatory. Here’s the thing: while my laptop was barely functional and borderline useless (a running theme with my computers, I really need to change that), the data is irreplaceable.

I have been living in fear of data loss.

Domingo and I have been exploring options for backup, particularly off-site backup. The benefit of off-site backup is that should something happen to one copy (fire!, earthquake!, theft!) the second copy is likely far enough away from the event to be safe.

Here is the list of options we considered:

Option 1: External Hard Drive in a Safety Deposit Box
The idea is to store an external hard drive full of data in your safety deposit box. Every couple of months or so you replace the current hard drive with one that contains a more recent copy of the data.

At first I thought this option would work well for us. I live in fear mostly of losing Nicki’s newborn photos, her milestones and ‘firsts’. If I lose last week’s coloring photos I will be upset, but I can take more. I can always make an additional trip to the bank if there’s something I want to be extra sure I don’t leave. Since hard drives come in rather compact sizes these days, you can get a tiny safety deposit box. At my bank that runs about $40-50 a year.

I had pretty much settled on this option, but when I went to the bank they had such a long waiting list I wasn’t left with much hope. In fact, the teller whom I talked to had asked for a box for herself when she transferred to that location and was still waiting. Her advice was to call daily and see if a safety deposit box was newly available, thus attempting to bypass the line.

Option 2: Cloud Storage
Cloud storage is more convenient (no trips to the bank!) but is typically much more costly. Most places charge by disk space, and can get extremely pricey. Historically they’ve only accommodated a couple hundred gigabytes. I want to back up photos, and photos take up a lot of space. My brother in law suggested crashplan which has no cap on how much data you can backup.

There’s a secondary cap to be concerned about – broadband. Our internet provider will only allow us to transfer 250 GB a month. I have over 500 GB of Nicki Photos (and roughly 2 TB between Domingo and I). If I don’t use the internet for anything other than creating an off site backup it will take me 8 months.

Lurking behind that 500 GB of Nicki photos is another potential problem. That’s 500 GB of photos collected in just one year. Prior to Nicki’s birth I had about 600 GB total of photos. I nearly doubled the amount of photo data I had last year. Doubled. Part of that is because I bought a nicer camera with more mega pixels, and another part of that is because I don’t know what I’m doing so I take a lot of photos hoping something will turn out decent. (And I refuse to delete any photos, ever.) Even taking consideration that my rate of taking photos is slowing down, I’m going to continue chewing threw bandwidth going forward. In that 8 months it would take for the initial backup I would probably generate enough data to require another 5 months to back up. Extrapolating out I wouldn’t be completely backed up until 15 months from now – and that’s assuming I don’t use the internet during this time!

Crash plan is also the most expensive of the options at $150 a year. They do have a ‘seed’ option where you can seed your backup by sending them a hard drive, thus sparing some bandwidth, but it’s a bit too pricey for my blood.

Option 3: Store a hard drive somewhere we have access to
Previously this meant the glove compartment of my car. Alas, hard drives are not meant to be stored in glove compartments and the contestant bumping will almost certainly accelerate it’s inevitable death. The major problem with a dead backup hard drive is that you don’t tend to know it’s dead until you need it. At least it’s a free option?


We’re going with option 2. I’m using an iterative approach to backing up everything. Each cycle I select one or two small (< 30 GB) directories to back, starting with the most important. That way if I don’t make it to 15 months I should at least have the most important stuff I could possibly have.

None of this changes the fact that I’m still considering a raided hard drive. Recovering from crashplan will be as painful (or alternatively expensive) as uploading to it. I view crashplan as a worst case scenario defense. I expect to have to recover from a crash some day, but I hope I will not need to recover from crashplan.

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  1. […] complete! Our data backup to the cloud has finished, and ahead of schedule too. I no longer need to live in fear of data […]


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