Well, Happy New Year, and here’s to a data-safe 2012!

As lots of folks take this moment as a good opportunity to finalize their bank accounts, receipts and tax information, it’s also a good time to check on your data, be it music, videos, personal and professional files, documents, and so on. Far too often, folks find out all too late that they’ve not kept their data in a safe place (or two).  And when it’s lost….look out; the pain starts.  Big time.

If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s one simple truth that anyone who works in the digital data world (which at this point is 99% of us!) knows:  Data isn’t safe until it exists in three places.  (That’s right; THREE places.)    The master copy, the backup copy, and the safety/second backup copy.  And if you think it’s expensive, what price would you put on all your data if it just goes POOF and disappears?

If you haven’t set up a data backup plan yet, now is a good time to start.

You may have only a few gigs for your personal stuff: calendar, address book, photos, emails and documents, or you may be well on the way into the ‘Terrabyte” world, esp if you’ve been archiving movies, music, online books, etc.   Over time, it does all add up! If you don’t need all THAT much space, you may want to just get some USB thumb drives, or SD chips that hold 8, 16, 32 or even 64 gigs of data.  The bigger ones aren’t all that cost effective (yet), but they have no moving parts, and in theory at least, should last a long time.  The most important issue beyond the media itself is the backup.  Always the backup!

Another quick and somewhat easy way is to just buy an off-the-shelf, self-contained hard drive by one of the big manufacturers like Western Digital, Seagate, LaCie, etc.   They’re sold everywhere now, online and in stores, in all kinds of sizes and configurations, and it’s never been cheaper, faster and easier now to just hook the drive up to your main computer via a USB cable and copy all of your critical files in one easy move.  Most come with software that will walk you through this and it’s great if you just want to let it work that way for you, or you can simply do it yourself manually.   The really good thing about dedicated storage drives is that they’re not being used over and over again (like the “C” drive in most people’s computers), so they’re often used only a few times to simply store and occasionally retrieve data.  That’s a big difference in the longevity of a device like this.

After you’ve made copies of everything from 2011 and before, you now have one of two choices:  Unplug the drive (or SD card, USB stick, etc.) and put it away until the next time you want to back it up; say every other month or so.  Or, simply keep it connected, and use the timed backup software that came with the drive and let it do it automatically behind the scenes.  (Every Sunday night at2-3 a.m.for example, is often a good time and a good way to start your week.) If you do keep your main storage drive connected and powered up, consider an uninterruptable power supply for it, as well as a surge protector for those inevitable lightning strikes and power outages.  They wreak havoc on storage systems.

If you’re like me, you may want to go that extra mile or two with a second backup system, just to be safe.   I may be extreme, but of course my business depends on it, so whenever I finish a project for a client (specifically, once I’ve been paid and the check clears the bank), I make sure there are three (and sometimes four) copies of a project in existence somewhere. The client gets their copies, the dupe copy lives on in my duplication system’s hard drive, and the masters – audio & video files as well as mix/editing templates, bounced stereo files and final renders for CD or DVD – are off on a hard drive, in a dedicated folder, with the client’s name, project and date, so I can easily retrieve the project from long-term storage to update, repair or simply re-copy it for another duplication run.

Before cheap SD & Hard Drives there was Tape and Optical….

Once upon a time, people used tape for data storage, and then came CDrs/CD-ROMs.

I’ve found over the years that tape (data tapes, that is, not necessarily analog audio tape) isn’t a very reliable way to save data.  (I’m so glad I never took the excabyte route that many colleagues swore by in the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s.  Yuck!)  Old DAT (data and audio) tape retrieval/restore can also be a white-knuckle experience.  Was the machine that made it in good shape in the first place?  Will the DAT play on my current machine?  It’s always a roll of the dice… Mangled, chewed up DATs will never play properly; and unlike analog audio tapes, you can’t get “just a little” out of them; it’s all or nothing.

Early burns of CDr’s from the 90’s are pretty scary, too. Although I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck with media burned from the late 90’s and onward.   Early, first-generation CDs (early/mid 90’s era) have proven to be pretty unreliable, but I’ve recently had to re-master a holiday project from 1996, with all files retrieved from the only mixed/edited masters I had, on CDr’s and CD-ROMS.  Happy to say, thanks to good media available of the day, I had zero problems retrieving them.  (You bet I put this latest version away on a hard drive, too!)

Backup, Backup, Backup

All that said, whatever media you prefer, take some time today to figure out what you need to backup personally and professionally, and how you’re going to do it. The same goes for old movies, tapes and other treasures.   If you’re not sure you can do it properly, get them to a professional to back them up, make digital copies, etc.  10, 20 or more years from now, you, your kids and your clients will be glad you did.

Have a great 2012, and remember to back it all up for the next New Year, too.