It’s gone. All of it.
All your early work you were just about to upload to your online portfolio is corrupted. You thought it would be safe to stash it in that old thumb drive for the last five years, and now you’re paying the price. But what could you have done differently? What can you do now to make sure this never happens again?
For anyone this has ever happened to, you have our sympathies. For those of you have a crippling paranoia about this happening to them in the future—or again—we’re here to help.
No data storage solution is without its pitfalls, but there are ways to keep your information safe. Here are my top 5 solutions for solving the problem of long-term data storage to keep your art, your photography, and your memories safe.
USB Thumb Drives
Perhaps the most widely used data storage option out there, these little devices have replaced disks and CDs almost everywhere.
But just because they’re all over, does that make them the best option for long-term data storage?
I think all of us have gotten to enjoy that oh-so-fun experience of popping a USB stick into the drive on the computer only to have the information you know you saved there not show up or not open properly.
In spite of this, a USB drive can keep data secure for years — in theory. So, yes, this is certainly an option for data storage, but the reliability of the storage depends on the quality of the drive itself and how you care for it. (Don’t do what we all do and just rip it out of the port without properly ejecting it.)
Lower quality drives wear out sooner, but even the best ones have a limited capacity to be erased and re-written before corruption occurs. USB drives are viable options, especially if you are writing the data once and then storing it in a secure place, but trusting to them completely could prove costly.
External Hard Drives
These handy options are very common and are becoming more affordable by the day. They are similar to your computer’s storage, only they can be connected and disconnected by a USB cable.
These devices come in two options: Hard Disk Drives and Solid State Drives (HDD and SSD). HDDs tend to hold more data for the money, while SSDs work quicker, use less power, are lighter, and are more durable due to the lack of moving parts.
With many on the market now capable of holding data in excess of a terabyte, external hard drives are a sensible storage option. Again, they can wear out, but HDDs can last longer than 10 years and SSDs can vary in lifespan by how often they are re-written and erased.
Another plus, there are tools to help back up your smartphone to your external hard drive directly (https://setapp.com/how-to/backup-iphone-to-external-drive).
By optical discs I mean CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and M-DISC. In years past, this technology was accessible everywhere. But now? Newer laptops might not even come with a CD drive due to everything becoming accessible online.
For storing your work, some of these can still be viable options. Blu-ray and M-DISC especially can store or protect a decent level of data. (The claim for M-DISC is that it will keep data secure for a thousand years.)
The biggest issue is if you’ll have a device to read your data optically in even five or ten years. This medium can store your art and photos for many, many years, but it would be wise to consider other options as well, possibly using optical discs as a backup plan.
Social Media As Ways to Store Data
I’ve still got original photo and art files from more than a decade ago on my Facebook account. Your data on this and many other social media sites is supposed to be unlimited. Sounds like the perfect solution.
Well, it’s not exactly ideal. With the fact that your photos and art are often limited to a certain resolution and managing privacy settings for individual albums or pictures can be an added stress, social media sites can work for storing things long term, but that’s not usually their dedicated purpose.
Getting an odd message from a friend and then a follow-up message where they inform you they’ve been hacked doesn’t do much for one’s confidence either. And keeping other file types you might like to store is not as commonly supported.
With that said, social media can work, and most options are free, but you will need to be resigned to the security concerns and limitations if you go this route.
This is my personal option of choice for long-term data storage, even if – like the rest of the choices out there – it is not perfect.
Impervious to fire and the least likely to be lost or corrupted, cloud storage also is the most likely to cost you more money in the long run. There is a price to be paid for security. This price is worth it more often than not, though.
With the cloud, there are apps that allow you to access your artwork and photos right from your smartphone or tablet.
The limitations of the cloud? You’ll need the internet, both to access your files and to upload them–and I’m sure you can see the potential for problems there already. You’ll often be paying a monthly rate for this service. It just might be worth it to you to be able to open a file right at your fingertips rather than pulling it out of your desk drawer and booting up the computer though.
Practical Long-Term Data Storage Strategies Depend on Redundancy
Now that you have a few options, your best bet is to go with several of them. Put your most important files in more than one place and save yourself some stress. The peace of mind will be more than worth the hassle if what you’re preserving is precious to you.
Even then, there are ways to maintain your data storage devices. You’ll want to connect your HDDs, SSDs, and USB drives to your computer once every few months to check the contents and run the device for its own health. The inconvenience is worth it to make sure your art and photos are safe.
Save Yourself from Worry
All of these options have their drawbacks, but they are all still practical, long-term data storage methods. Using the right combination of them for your work and personal files will save you from headaches down the road, but only you can choose the right ones for your needs.
Do you have a tried-and-true way to preserve your files I didn’t mention? Let me know. Then take a look at my other posts or browse through some of the artists that inspire me to help light your own creative spark.