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You Ask, We Answer: What’s the best way to back up your data?

By Craig Anderton | April 16, 2013

 
I SUBSCRIBE TO CRAIG ANDERTON’S TWITTER FEED, WHERE HE NAGS US EVERY MONTH TO BACK UP OUR DATA—AND I’M FINALLY GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT DOING IT. BUT WHAT’S BEST— HARD DRIVES? DVD-ROMS? SSDS? THE CLOUD?

MICHAEL HAMMOND JOHANNESBURG,
SOUTH AFRICA
VIA EMAIL

 

 
LG ’s BE14NU40 Blu-Ray burner has a USB 3.0 interface, writes at up to 14x real time, and supports disc capacities up to 128GB (although BDXL media is extremely expensive).
Anything is better than nothing, but consider cost and reliability. Hard drives cost about 10¢/GB, but need to be powered on periodically so the bearings don’t seize up. Also, data isn’t separate from the read/write mechanism so if it fails, you’ll likely lose your data too (although recovery services may help).

SSDs currently cost about 80¢/GB. They don’t have moving parts, but according to a paper from Microsoft Research, “While flash density in terms of bits/mm and feature size scaling continues to increase rapidly, all other figures of merit for flash—performance, program/erase endurance, energy efficiency, and data retention time— decline steeply as density rises.” Bottom line: Go ahead and use an SSD drive in your laptop, but don’t expect inexpensive, high-capacity SSD storage any time soon.

Blu-Ray is a fine archival medium. Cost is as low as 7¢/ GB for 50GB discs, burners are about $130 if you need one, a drive failure won’t kill the data because they’re separate, and accelerated life tests indicate a minimum of 30 years once a recordable disc has been recorded. The downside is you need to store them properly—no temperature extremes, or high humidity.

As to the cloud, remember that “digital data isn’t real unless it exists in at least two places.” Cloud storage is great for convenience, but physical archiving is prudent as well.
THE EDITORS
 

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