By Mary V. Danielsen of Documented Legacy
Whether you have one external hard drive, a handful of USB flash drives, an archival box of DVDs and CDs, or a home network server, this is a good week to double check and ensure they are functioning properly. You can replace technology, but you can’t recapture the lost memories and data if your technology fails you over time.
As we invest in the technology and supplies to safeguard our memories and important family records, we’d like to feel this isn’t a revolving door of expenses. This week, let’s look at how we use and store external back-up drives and flash drives to preserve our memories. For the purposes of this blog post we will refer to both collectively as back-up drives.
It is a good week to begin this process as it is National Fire Prevention Week (Oct 6-12). You should already be policing your home for fire hazards and home maintenance issues, changing the batteries on your smoke detectors, and reviewing where your important documents are stored in case you need to grab them in an emergency. Keeping your memories safe is another important step in fire prevention.
The team at ADT has put together a fire safety guide along with a list of fire prevention week activities families can partake in to build more awareness on the topic. Their resource also provides a downloadable fire safety checklist to help adults and children prepare a plan for a home fire ahead of time.
How long do things last? It’s an age old question.
There is no reliable answer to how long your back-up drives will last. They definitely have a life span, however, and how you use and store those items will aid in their longevity. Manufacturers typically provide a warranty for the median length of time a drive will last before, statistically, more frequent problems begin to occur with the product, usually one to three years.While that seems wasteful to replace backup systems every three years, you need to pay attention to how reliable they are for you.
The problem is there are too many variables that influence the lifespan of a back-up drive. It’s quite possible your primary back-up system could last for more than a decade, but it’s also possible it could die tomorrow. That is precisely why you need to review them regularly and transfer files to a new backup drive if problems begin to occur. The telltale warning signs will be missing or garbled information, frequent crashes, lost files, strange sounds, cryptic error messages while performing typical activities like moving files, rebooting, and long wait times to access files or clear out the trash.
Remind yourself that this step is part of the 3-2-1 method of backing up data that we discussed in previous posts and a Prepare for Fire webinar and Prepare for Disaster eguide. The philosophy is that you chose your critical information (photos, videos, records, etc) and make three back ups, using two different forms of media (perhaps 2 types of backup drives or a backup and DVDs) and store one offsite, such as in a watertight fireproof safe or on cloud-based storage.
Evaluate the system you have in place to backup your data so that any one backup drive dying does not cause you to lose your entire family history and all your precious memories. The more backup systems you have the wider your safety net will be.
This week bring all your back-up devices into one location and test each of them. Many of us have different systems that we’ve used over the years. Flash drives hit the mass market some 14 years ago when most consumers were just beginning to discover the ease of digital photography and the self burning of digital photo files to compact discs. In the last 10 years we’ve gone from using flash drives with 256MB of storage space and burning consumer-grade photo CDs to carrying a slim 2TB external hard drive, not much larger than an old plastic CD case. As such, we may have several different devices of varying ages with an assortment of information, photos, videos, records, notes and other important stuff stored on them.
Like your backup drives, CDs and DVDs also have a life span that varies based on how you’ve used and stored them and whether you have the working equipment to read them. Some new laptop computers are being manufactured without a CD/DVD drive, which makes it a priority to transfer your old files to an external hard drive if you’re nearing an equipment upgrade.
Consider the following when reviewing your back-up drives:
- Check your devices to see if all the information you expect to be there is actually there. Double check yourself.
- Are they working? Are they experiencing any of the failure warning signs. If so, set them aside and make a note.
- Label the age of your backup drives with the year you bought it. This way you’ll know if they are beyond the 3-5 year mark.
- Make a list of all the backup systems you have and store it somewhere you can rely on. On the list include the device’s age, size, serial numbers, cost and key files. For CDs and DVDs, list how many you have and where they’re stored. This will help you maintain a review schedule, especially if you have multiple systems and plan an upgrade. This list can be as simple as an index card or a Word document. The list can also be expanded to include subfolders and key information. It can then be scanned or exported and stored on the cloud.
- Backup drives need to be well ventilated to keep from overheating. They need to be stored away from water and extreme changes in temperature and humidity. Otherwise the lifespan will decrease. If the humidity is too low, you’ll have more concerns with static shock than lifespan.
- Don’t make your backup and external storage drives the same device. If you use an external hard drive for storage of all your digital files it’s advisable to have a second back-up system to diminish the risk of loss.
- You want to minimize the wear on the bearings inside these devices. Don’t store them in places you regularly access other things, like the junk drawer in the kitchen or your messy desktop where they’ll get knocked around and moved a lot. You’ll want to keep your backup drives in a specific spot, away from dust, grime and accidental misuse.
- Handle these carefully, as not to drop or bang them around. This is particularly pertinent with flash drives. They can fail quickly with a little G-force trouble. With CDs and DVDs you’ll want to ensure they’re housed in a case or acid-free sleeve and stored upright. Label the front of the CD or case with the date and key content.
Here’s the good news: The prices are coming down on backup systems that make them more affordable than ever to upgrade and simplify your back-up plan. Watch for sales and special offers. Keep an eye on electronic store sales, as many offer great deals – both online and in store – on Black Thursday, the day after Thanksgiving.