Friday, July 31, 2015

How do you preserve your personal data forever? We ask an expert

How do you preserve your personal data forever? We ask an expert. Simon Hill. Digital Trends. July 12, 2015.
     About two billion photos are uploaded to the cloud every single day. Every minute about 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.  Our digital worlds are constantly expanding. Storage and access are not the same in the digital world as they are with physical materials.  The article is a discussion with Dr. Micah Altman, Director of Research and Head/Scientist, Program on Information Science for the MIT Libraries.  “Preservation is really about long term access. It’s about communicating with the future at some point.” Digital materials are under threat of loss: “One threat is that the media fails. The hard drive fails, the DVD fails, or the disc can’t be read. Another threat is that you can see the bits, but you can no longer tell what they mean because there’s no software available that will render that document... that format is not supported anymore.”

People think that digital files will last forever, but different types of digital media have "tremendously varying shelf lives". The shelf life can vary drastically by how they are stored. Not all storage is created equal. The media that’s sold to consumers is not really built for long term storage. “One of the challenges is that the media that’s usually sold to consumers, like hard drives in computers, are not really built for long term storage.... They’re designed for an operating lifetime of maybe three, four, or five years.” There is also a lot of variation in hard drive quality; some brands and batches last longer than others.

It’s possible to buy archival quality optical discs that are designed to last a long time. Some have been working on an Archival Disc standard. The  M-Discs from Millenniata have been designed to last for about 1,000 years. Many are looking at cloud storage, but you are "shifting the burden of figuring out how to preserve your data onto your cloud provider". Some vendors are Backblaze and CrashPlan, because they implement best practices and they’re transparent about what they do. Unfortunately, cloud storage isn’t a foolproof method of preservation, and you are placing a great deal of trust in the provider you select. Businesses go bankrupt or there could be other problems. It may help to use two cloud storage solutions, because the chance of simultaneous problems at two independent companies is much lower. There are also privacy questions to consider. The data can be protected with encryption, but "if you lose the encryption key then you’ve lost the data.”

Some other tips:
  • Put materials in a standardized format. TIF and PDF-A are recommended
  • Have an explicit succession plan plan in place for what happens to your accounts when you’re not in a position to access them
  • Make multiple copies
  • Research the cloud storage services before using them
There’s no definitive answer on how to ensure your digital files last forever, but you can hedge your bets and come up with a multi-pronged strategy to give your data the greatest chance of survival.

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