Media Pros – What’s Your Archiving Strategy?

archiving

I’ve been editing for 23 years, and in that time storage demands for video projects have ballooned as we’ve moved on from SD to HD, 4K and beyond. For example, a single day’s shoot with a Red Epic 5K can weigh in at half a terabyte. That’s OK, you’re thinking, because hard drives, even good ones, are cheaper than ever. True, but eventually, all that data is going to have to go somewhere.

So, should you care? Yes. You should care a lot because just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, media archiving represents a significant potential for trouble for creative businesses.

First off, backing up and archiving aren’t the same thing. We usually think of a backup as a constantly-updating snapshot of your data (e.g. Apple’s Time Machine) whereas an archive represents a specific project that can be wiped from your machine and then restored months or years later.  It’s a trifling nomenclature quibble, but often when someone talks about backing up project data, that’s a strong hint that they have no archiving strategy at all.

1. Don’t forget the golden rule: If you only archive it once, you haven’t really archived it at all. 

For example, if you use Blu-Ray as an archiving medium, burn two of them. If you can, choose two different brands of Blu-Ray to spread your risk. Whenever possible, keep the archives and their dupes in separate locations. This isn’t always practical, but it’s ideal. Two disks, two drives, two tapes.

2. Right-size your solution to the type of project.

At our shop, some projects are just 10 or 50gb. Others are 2tb monsters. So, a mixed “all of the above” approach works really well.

Audio-only projects like radio spots or on-hold programs require a lot less storage and can probably do quite well backed up to (multiple) DVDs.

Small to medium projects can go on BluRay (25gb or 50gb). You can use an app like Toast to string long files over multiple discs that will even include a restoration tool. This is handy if you don’t have the same software running years from now (which leads to point #3).

3. Think like a futurist. 

Who knows when the media you use to archive or the software you use to write and read the data will go obsolete? Using obscure or boutique software is usually a bad idea. The switch to base 64 OS’s caused a lot of legacy software to die off. Some of it hasn’t been or may never be updated.

Not having taken divination class at Hogwarts, you simply cannot tell the future, but you can hedge your risk by sticking to common tools and methods. If your archives are unreadable in years from now, it’s more likely a solution will appear if there’s a market for it. So, it would probably more appropriate to call this one “think like a sheep.”

 

When it comes to picking archiving media, you have a lot of choices, each with its own pros and cons.

There are write-once, read-many (WORM) disc formats like Blu-Ray and DVD. These work well, but the per-gigabyte cost is not great and the 25gb/50gb capacity is a drop in the bucket for larger projects. Whenever possible, use high quality disc media. Sometimes they’re marketed specifically for archiving. In theory, they last longer.

Every few years companies like Sony and Philips tease next-gen holographic discs that can hold 1-3tb each, but for the fifth year in a row it’s still “six to twelve months away.” I fall for it every time. I can’t help it.

LTO (linear tape) has a high cost of entry but the per-gigabyte cost is very low. Most high-volume users swear by LTO, but the devices can be tricky and if you’re only restoring one small file in a giant archive, it can be comparatively slow.

And lastly, we have raw SATA drives. They’re cheap. They’re fast. They’re also fragile. This approach works well for many video pros, but you have to treat the drives well.

Keep each drive in its original packaging in the mylar bag and put a tiny packet of desiccant inside to reduce humidity. You’re also going to want to pull them off the shelf every few months to spin them up and make sure everything is OK. Even if it’s not, you can always make a new copy from the duplicate you made a few paragraphs ago.

Now that solid state (SDD) drives are lowering in price, they might one day turn out to be an ideal choice. However, some studies indicate that SDD’s may have similar durability concerns. The jury is out on this one.

So, media pros, what’s your archiving strategy? I’m honestly curious. What do you use for archiving projects large and small and what would your dream archiving strategy be if you just won the lottery?  Let me know. Somewhere in this is a triangle of concerns, a balance cost-effectiveness, durability, speed. Just like fast, cheap, and good- you can have two but not all three.