A couple of weeks ago (back when I should have been writing this post), the Ur-Guru and I had a conversation about archival storage. He wondered what was going to replace DVDs, particularly for photos, because he was running out of room for them. He has hundreds now, since he has never thrown any away; some contain data copied from floppy disks or magnetic tape, back in the olden days.
Optical media (that’s the generic term that refers to both CDs and DVDs, because you use light to encode data onto them and to read what’s been written there) have been the consumer archive of choice ever since they became affordable. Once a year I copy that year’s client data and financial data onto CDs or DVDs and store them with my paper files. They’re flat, don’t require power, and seem to have a decent shelf-life, at least if you use the brand-name discs and keep them sealed in jewel cases where they’re protected from dust and scratches.
That’s all well and good for a year’s worth of my Word docs, WordPress databases, and mind maps, but it’s actually personal data that are outstripping optical media. Last time the Ur-Guru came to visit, he took home 80 GB of photos with him. That’s a lot of DVDs. It takes time to burn those, and space to store them.
I suggested Blu-ray, but while the discs have a capacity of up to 50 GB (dual-layer), write speed is a max of 8x, and 2x or 4x is more common. The Blu-ray burner will only set you back about $200, but the discs themselves are expensive: they can set you back $10 apiece. Still, as the technology becomes more widespread—if it has time to—Blu-ray will probably replace today’s standard DVDs and at least temporarily shrink the size of our disc libraries. (Assuming we take the time to transfer our data from our old discs to the new ones, that is.)
Yet it seemed to me that with the sheer volume of photos that the Ur-Guru takes—especially since he works in RAW (or, if you’re a Nikon user, NEF)—the only feasible way to store his photos was on external hard drives.
But hard drives fail, as anyone who reads this blog knows.
They are, of course, much less likely to fail if they are not plugged in and spinning. The reason a magnetic drive is such a fragile creature is that it has moving parts, and they move very fast, and they move constantly. But a hard drive sitting on a shelf isn’t at the same kind of risk.
Even so, it seemed prudent to use two hard drives. If a DVD is accidentally destroyed, you aren’t losing very much data. But if you have a 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive and it gets destroyed—ouch!
So we went through a calculation of the costs. In the initial back-of-the-napkin calculations, the Ur-Guru estimated that it would be less expensive to use DVDs to store 1000 GB of photos. Then he realized that he had based all his calculations on the assumption that he would use 2.5” portable drives, which cost more than 3.5” drives. (Those are portable enough if you’re talking about putting them in your car, just awkward if you’re thinking of carrying them on an airplane. These are the figures he worked out the second time around:
- 1000GB / 4.5GB (size of DVD) = 222.2 DVDs of storage.
- 222.2 DVDs at 25 per spindle = 8.88 spindles
- A quality brand spindle of 25 is around 24 Euros.
- Cost of 2 XHDs (e.g. Samsung Story Station) @ 1TB = 170 Euros.
- Cost of 8.88 spindles of 25 DVD’s = 213 Euros.
- Savings: 43 Euros.
- Faster speed of backing up to XHD than to DVD (with verify on).
- Ability to replace files on XHD that you don’t have with DVD.
- Spread of risk because there are 2 identical XHD backups.
- 2 XHDs are lighter in weight and take up less space than 222 DVDs.
Two hundred DVDs stacked on a spindle don’t look like that much. In jewel cases (which you would have to buy separately) or even sleeves (ditto), they get bulkier fast. RAW photos at 10 or 12 or more megapixels, HD video at 1080p—DVDs just can’t cut it anymore. Blu-ray may come to take its place, but meanwhile, hard drives are cheap. Some of them are actually designed to stack on top of each other. And you can re-use them.