All of Your Archived Backups Will Soon Be Obsolete


CDs may not be as archival as you think



For quite a while I was very concerned about legacy images, primarily with film based images from my early career as a commercial photographer. I saved reams of photo paper prints and I had boxes and file cabinets filled with transparencies and negatives. Most of my garage was devoted to storing all this “stuff.”

At first, I attempted to use archival storage practices and kept things in archival sleeves, meta boxes, etc… but, after a while the collection grew too quickly to maintain that level of protection and new items ended up in cardboard boxes and cataloging, labeling and organizing went out the window.

About this time I started working with digital images in earnest and consequently I had to start developing a way to store digital files long term apart from my meager hard drive space. My first storage medium was dat tapes. I eventually ended up with about 100 tapes that held, I believe, around 4 gigs apiece – which was huge in those days. Today tape is still used for daily emergency backup but it turns out to be lousy for long term storage. (reference article on magnetic media here) I found this out the hard way when, one day I tried to retrieve an important file from one of the tapes and found that the oxide coating had rubbed off and the tape was useless. Checking the rest of the archive I found about 25% of the tapes had stretched or otherwise had problems.

I retrieved what I could and migrated everything to CDs. I was paranoid about longevity at this point and invested in expensive Kodak “Gold” CDs – these only fit around 500 megs but were supposed to last 100 years. Fortunately all of the data on these gold CDs is still good – I check it periodically. This brings up a serious issue that all photographers should be thinking about. Whatever method you use for archiving you should have a plan to migrate data to newer storage medium on a regular basis.

CDs gave way to DVDs but DVDs seem to be a bit less archival than the old “Gold” CDs (reference article on optical media here) so I consider it an interim storage method and all of the valuable material on these is now also on hard drives that are in a firebox in my garage.

The point of all this is to start thinking about how you will migrate your image archive to new media as it becomes available and, very importantly, how much of the archive will you “upgrade” and how much you will let go! Not everything has the same value and sometimes you have to make the hard decision to let some images expire. Getting beck to my original legacy archive, I had 50 file boxes with old jobs, snip tests and proof sheets for every little thing and really most of it was useless hubris. I finally just went through it all and tossed most of it. I still have a lot of family snapshots in shoeboxes that should probably suffer the same fate but the wife won’t tolerate that…

Lately I’m exploring archiving images to the cloud using services like Jungle Disk, Dropbox and social media sites like Flickr. While bandwidth issues prevent this from being a practical solution for everything, I put important images into some of these as a extra secure backup to disaster proof my portfolios. The real advantage of this approach is that the IT infrastructure becomes the responsibility of a third party with deeper pockets and a vested interest in staying current with technology. The Amazon S3 servers used by Jungle Disk, for instance, are more secure than the Pentagon and since this infrastructure is the backbone of their core business, they make sure the everything is quadruple-redunt and robust. I think that eventually the future of archiving will be an online cloud-based activity.

The following are links to articles about archiving topics:

Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling

Insuring the Longevity of Digital Information – PDF

Optical Media Longevity

Digital Preservation Management

Extensive Archive of Information Longevity Articles

Links to online and off site backup services:

Barracuda Backup Service

Carbonite Online Backup

Iron Mountain





Jungle Disk

Finally – the best book on digital asset management:

The DAM Book by Peter Krogh


You can never have too many backups