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How Are Your Backups?

January 10th, 2010 · 6 Comments

I have a large photo collection which I make a point of backing up whenever I add new photos to the collection. I use Retrospect, an excellent backup program that I have used for many years, and I was backing up initially to CDs and for the last few years DVD+R. I started doing backups about 10 years ago so I had more than 600 disks in the backup collection. I considered it a worthwhile safeguard as I have lost photos in the past for various reasons.

I was doing a backup a few days ago and got tired of of the speed of DVDs which is slow at best to write. I decided to move the backup and associated archives onto a large external hard drive (1.5TB) which I purchased for about $120 CAD.  I started by making a backup of the current collection which took about 24 hours including verification. It’s a large collection, did I mention that?

I then started copying the backup archives using Retrospect which basically involved reading all the DVDs I had burned and copying the data to the new drive. It has been a fun weekend of shuffling disks in and out of readers.

I was shocked to find out about 40% of the disks had 1 or more errors on them and some where just plain unreadable. I made a point of verifying all the disks as I wrote them since I’ve been burned in the past.

I had made a point of buying quality disks, using a marker that didn’t contain any acid and storing them in sealed disk binders and believing the general consensus that optical media had a shelf life of 100 or more years.

 There were some patterns to the failures:

  1. For a while, I was labelling the disks with stick on labels. Almost without fail, these disks were totally unreadable. Throw out your labelling systems if you have any desire to save your disks for the long term.
  2. Printable disks that I had printed on were the next most frequent to exhibit failures.
  3. Disks that were written more than 5 years ago also seem to failed on a regular basis.

In case you were wondering, I tried reading the disks on 3 different DVD drives. An old Plextor model was the best at reading most of the disks. NEC drives worked about 70% of the time and an old Panasonic drive was just terrible.

What’s the moral of this story? If you have important data that you want to keep for long periods of time, better check your optical media. I would suggest making a copy of it to a hard drive and putting the drive in a safe place. At least the drives have the ability to do some type of error correction.

I hate to think of what has happened to all those disks that I made of movies and song compilations that I so lovingly labelled.

Hope your experience is better than mine!

Tags: Technology

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joseph Rudner // Jan 10, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Oh my goodness!

    If I’ve lost my archive I don’t know how I will ever recover.

    Later this evening I will do some testing.

    Which brand 1.5 TB drive did you buy.

    Arghh, my stomach hurts !!

    When in trouble or in doubt
    Run in circles, scream and shout!!

    Runs off whimpering . . . .fade to black

  • 2 RutsUp // Jan 10, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    I think I’ll just go back to putting my head in the sand! Wow…thanks for the heads-up.

    Does that mean I won’t be able to borrow your Milli Vanilli, Rick Astley, MC Hammer compilation CD?!

  • 3 Chris // Jan 11, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Burned DVD’s should be stored like wine and potatoes – in a cool dark place.

    Even hard drives can fail over time. I always suggest the DROBO machine which has 4 bays for standard hard drives and sets up different RAID levels for your data. It just plugs in as a regular USB external hard drive and does everything for you behind the scene. The problem is that you pay for the convenience.

    If you have some time and abilities you can save the ~$700 CAD price tag of the DROBO (it’s just another computer after all) and build a Linux RAID array yourself. The hard drive costs are a wash as you’ll need to buy those no matter which way you go.

    For those truly nerdy there is a method to encode your data onto a series of 8 1/2 x 11 standard sheets of paper for long term storage. ( It’s the next level of the tape/card storage. The good news is quality paper and ink will outlast you and me if stored properly. To get the data back into a computer you use a scanner (hopefully with an automatic feeder) and OCR.

    I think Atwood of Coding Horror had a recent backup failure too.


  • 4 Jacques Giraud // Jan 11, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Not to worry Tammy, I have all my 80s CDs ripped onto my RAID 5 main server. When would you like to come and pick up a copy? Might I suggest some Lionel Ritchie with that as well?

  • 5 Jacques Giraud // Jan 11, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Hi Joseph – I purchased a Western Digital.

  • 6 Murray Rutledge // Jan 7, 2011 at 2:58 am

    I was redirected to your blog from Ruts & Ledges, and I the only thing I can say is that DVD +R formats are CRAP and that is not my opinion. That is the opinion of a lot of people a lot smarter than me. DVD+R format was created to avoid paying royalties for the -R format, and in the process created what one website I read stated as a 40% compatible issue, which means 60% of the time (if you can get it to burn in the first place), you will have a read failure in any DVD reader. I burn a lot of DVDs and find that -R never fail on the burn, and +R fail approx. 3 out of 5 times, making them ultimately WAY more expensive to purchase the blank media than the -R formats. I swear by the -R format now, and will never go back to the +R if at all possible. I found a company in Montreal that ships the -R formats directly to my mailbox, cheaper than I can buy it locally. This is not an endoresment.
    I am glad to hear your 1.5 TB drive is not a Seagate drive… they have a 30% failure rate. I know they are working on a fix, but the truth is, they have lost market share over it. Western Digital is “safer”. Remember, it is not a matter of “IF” your hard drive will fail… it is a matter of “WHEN”.
    And storing your stuff onto an external HDD is not a safe secure backup. A lot of people are now backing up on thumb drives. No moving parts and considerably cheaper than Harddrives.
    The next big technology jump will be solid state drives. already sells them. Again, no moving parts. Less to break.

    Good Luck and Good Night.

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