Personal Archiving in the Cloud

Over the past few years I have been organizing my family’s digital videos and digitizing our old  videocassettes. All along I have tried to follow the personal digital archiving advice that my colleagues and I publish about organizing and backing up your personal collections. Now that I have collected, organized and stored our videos on hard drives, I have a new challenge: backing the files up.Cloud storage

So far I have filled three 1 TB drives with all of our documents, photos, music and video files and I am working on a fourth drive, which means that I should buy four more 1 TB drives to back up the four I already have. Currently, the price of a 1 TB drive averages around $100, though by this time next year the price will probably be less. In fact, there might be much more storage available for less money.

Despite the reasonable price, and that it will be easy to backup our content onto four new drives, we still have to decide if the purchase of new drives fits into our budget. New hard drives are a lower priority for us than a lot of other things we budget for. So with each passing month our much-needed backup drives slip further down our list of priorities and our risk of losing our digital stuff slowly increases. And I know we should upgrade and replace all of our drives in about five years or so; the clock is ticking as our current drives whir toward obsolescence.

Online backup storage is an attractive option, especially since a) data should be backed up in different geographic locations anyway and b) with online backup I don’t have to worry about periodic hardware upgrades. So I have been shopping for an online service.

Newcomers to online (cloud) backup have a lot to learn and many conditions to consider. What about the initial transfer when I upload all of our files to the cloud? Depending on web traffic, the speed of our network and the reliability and bandwidth of our cable provider and other factors, it might take a long time to upload my 3 or 4 TB of files to the cloud. Days.

What if the connection gets dropped during the file upload? Do I have to start over again? Are there limits to my file sizes? An hour of home video, a single uncompressed file, can be about 12 GB. Some services limit the size of the files they will accept to less than half of that. Does that mean I have to split all my video files in half?

Does the cloud service have tools available for upload and backup maintenance? Can the tools or services be configured for periodic automated backup? Can I access my cloud-stored stuff from any Internet connection, anywhere?

Costs and pricing plans vary. Some services charge per volume of data. For example, one service charges $25 a month for 250 GB of storage or $100 per TB per month…almost $400 per month for me to host my 3+ TB (and growing) of digital content. Other services have flat — and much, much lower — rates with no data-size limitations. That seems to be a more reasonable approach.

It takes a lot of research and feature comparison to find a reasonably priced online service to fit your needs. It might also take some trial and error, so it is important not to get locked into a long-term plan before you are certain that you are satisfied with the service. Some services allow you to pay month-to-month and some require yearly subscriptions.

The two essential elements you should research before you decide on an online backup service are 1) cost and 2) ease of use. Consumer cloud storage is still in its infancy and business models are still being invented, so take your time and make an informed decision before you open your wallet or start uploading your precious stuff. Ask your friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers about their experiences and recommendations.

The saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” applies to personal archiving and not storing your digital collection in only one place. No digital storage medium is 100% guaranteed. Cloud storage is only one of several possible backup options and the keyword here is “backup.” Storage diversity is important and I still eventually need to replace my four 1 TB drives. For now, cloud storage as a backup gives me a little more security.

6 Comments

  1. Timothy Burak
    June 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    A quick calculation of downloading/uploading 1 terabyte at 1 megabit per second will take 277 hours, which is 11.57 days.

    This really isn’t a viable solution for me as a photographer. I backup my files on an external hard drive. I have another external hard drive that I back up on a weekly basis and I leave the hard drive at work for a little geographic diversity.

    Not a great solution, but better than a cloud strategy in my opinion. Unfortunately, I had to test my strategy recently as my iMac and PC laptop both crashed and I had to replace the hard drives. I didn’t lose any data, but I am still working on getting all of my software installed and licensed again.

    It’s only a matter of time that data succumbs to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    Tim

  2. Janis Martinez
    June 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks for the article and the reply. I hope others will post here also to educate others. I know little about personal achieving in the cloud. Would you share the online services investigated in your research? Thanks

  3. Mike Ashenfelder
    June 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Janet, unfortunately we can’t mention specific websites or products names in a consumer-services story like this; we have to avoid the appearance of an endorsement or a negative review. The best thing to do is go to your favorite search engine (again, we can’t mention any by name) and search for keywords like “compare,” “online,” “storage” and “providers,” and start from there. It may be best to start a document with your own grid on it and compare five to ten services. Look for monthly or yearly cost, and whether they require contracts. Don’t be swayed by reviews and ratings unless you are sure they’re from a reputable reviewer. Use your own judgement. As for offers of initial free storage of 1 or 2 GB, that’s not much storage at all. In fact it’s an indicator that the service provider will charge for any quantity over 1 or 2 GB, in which case you need to analyze their fee structure. It can add up quickly. Good luck.

  4. Michael Bellacosa
    June 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the post, Mike. What is the current thinking at your shop on privacy concerns vis a vis cloud storage? For example, while the cloud may be part of my digital archiving solution for home videos, is it prudent to store confidential documents there such as financial information?

  5. Mike Ashenfelder
    June 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Michael,

    We can’t vouch for the security of cloud-storage or guarantee the privacy protection of any service. My blog posting only covers technical and financial aspects of cloud-storage, approaching it as just another possible storage medium to consider.

    I have yet to put my own personal financial files into cloud storage; it just hasn’t come up yet and when the time comes to do it, I will be as cautious as you are.

    Read as much information about it as you can — from a variety of sources, to avoid bias — and then make your own informed decision.

  6. Linda Robinson
    September 11, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    I have been using cloud storage for some months now, happily with out incident. Like other however, I have only stored relatively non-critical documents. I did read some references to a security breach effecting DropBox. Agree with all, due diligence is critical.

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