I recently read an article in Popular Mechanics about protecting your data for long periods of time. In other words, making sure your data stays safe and accessible for decades. The author, Rachel Z. Amdt, cited the story of Robert Rune, who in the early 1990s stored his dissertation on his university’s mainframe, only to find that years later when he went to retrieve it, the mainframe had been replaced by newer technology. This brings up a serious issue with protecting data: all forms of storage eventually change. Amdt makes the point that:

The key…is accepting the nonstop job of staying technologically up to date. Because there’s no single, perfect digital archiving solution, the key to making our data last forever is good habits. We need to be vigilant, continually moving our data forward to new formats and keeping it on multiple devices—before whatever we have becomes obsolete or simply fails. The best protection we have against data loss is redundancy—and lots of it.

There are two major lessons to be learned from this statement. The first is that no single backup is enough to properly protect your data. Hard drives crash, flash drives die, and DVDs can get damaged. The best practices involve all of the above. My suggestion is to back up to a hard drive regularly using Apple’s time machine feature or the backup features built into windows. Keep the drive plugged in all the time for a desktop, or plug the drive in and allow for a full backup once a week for a laptop. Back up to a different hard drive once every few months and store that hard drive somewhere other than your home. I’ve known some clients to keep this second hard drive at the office in a safe or even in a safety deposit box. In addition, I highly suggest an offsite backup service such as Carbonite or CrashPlan. These types of services are incredibly affordable, back up constantly, and ensure that in the case of a flood, fire, or any other disaster your data is safe. Redundancy is key, and with programs like time machine and services like CrashPlan or Carbonite, it is nearly effortless to ensure that your data is safe.

The other major lesson to be learned is the importance of staying up to date with technology. The rate which technology changes is astounding, with new version of software, hardware, and new formats emerging at a nearly weekly rate. Imagine that you backup all of your data to DVDs, and 15 years later, you need to retrieve the contents of those DVDs. There is a chance that a DVD drive to read your discs might not be readily available, and then what do you do? Or let’s assume the same case – you back up your data to DVDs – and 15 years later you go to retrieve the data off of the discs. What if the DVDs are readable, but the format in which you’ve saved the files is out of date and can’t be opened? Amdt’s point is that in order to truly ensure that you’re data is safe, it is important to stay on top of the ever changing world of technology and ensure that your data is in the right file format and on the right storage medium.

Our goal at The DAE is to make staying up to date with technology & protecting your data a more simple process. It is incredibly easy to fall behind due to the rate in which technology changes, and if that happens, it is difficult and frustrating to catch up. Whether you need to update your software, get a new computer, or figure out the best way to backup your data, The DAE is a resource to provide the best tech solutions & empower our students to get the most out of the technology of today and tomorrow.

-Rob Kissner


How to Make Your Data Last Forever – Rachel Z. Amdt