Early in my career someone once told me, “There are only two types of hard drives. Drives that HAVE failed and drives that WILL fail.” Fact is, hard drives are inherently unreliable long-term. Data on a hard drive can fade over time. A drive’s moving parts will wear out, rendering its contents unreadable. And if a hard drive is dropped, it can be easily damaged.
Despite these perils, most independent producers archive their media with a pile of hard drives on a shelf. So how do you shift the odds in your favor?
If you are using hard drives to archive your media you should, at the very least, use a RAID drive system striped at a minimum of Level 5 so that a single drive failure will not result in any data loss. If you don’t want to dedicate an entire RAID system to each archive then at least clone each drive to a second copy so that your data is always in two places. If possible, store the copy in a different physical location to prevent loss due to fire or other disaster.
LTO data tape: A safer choice.
For the ultimate in long term archiving consider LTO data tape, either as a backup to a drive strategy mentioned above, or as your primary archive medium. LTO stands for Linear Tape – Open and, as the name suggests, it’s an open data standard adopted by HP, IBM, and Quantum in the late 1990’s. Over the years, the capacity of LTO cartridges has continually increased and, in the current standard, LTO-6, is up to 2.5 TB per cartridge (up to 6.25TB if compression is used, but video files are not easily compressed.) LTO tape is designed to last 15 to 30 years and features built-in error correction to ensure that data is written correctly.
LTO is an extremely efficient and user-friendly archive medium. Read and write speeds are very fast (160 MB/sec for uncompressed data.) If data is written to tape in the LTFS (Linear Tape File Standard) format it can be read by any LTO tape drive and mounted just like a hard drive allowing easy browsing of the file structure. At current prices, LTO media costs about $15 per terabyte, making it an attractive alternative to hard drives for long-term storage. LTO tape drives are still relatively expensive however (external, single-drive units run about $2,100) so you may want to consider using a media archiving service if you only archive occasionally.
So, to sum up, using portable hard drives for long-term storage of your media assets may seem like the easiest and least expensive archival method, but you may find yourself losing data if you don’t consistently follow redundant archiving procedures. For the most reliable, long-term archival of your valuable media consider LTO. Because as the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.