Saying Goodbye: 5 Alternatives To The Optical Disc

CD DVD   Saying Goodbye: 5 Alternatives To The Optical DiscWith computers growing smaller and lifestyles going mobile, less and less devices offer sufficient space for internal optical drives. Presently, the market is kept afloat by Blu-ray consumer home video sales, but in terms of data storage, optical discs are slowly becoming obsolete. Moreover, while most movie buyers still prefer to own a physical copy of their purchase, this market, much like the music market, will soon be taken over by streaming services. So are you still storing data on optical drives?

Optical discs have a storage capacity of up to 50GB (Blu-ray) and at around $0.08 per GB they remain one of the cheapest ways to store data. Under optimal conditions in terms of temperature, humidity, and handling, Blu-ray discs can last over 50 years, an impressive number. The problem is, optical discs require an optical drive to be used and such a device will likely break long before 50 years are up. The question then is whether those drives will still be available in a decade or two from now and at what point it is smart to switch to another storage medium.

The way you store your data should always be current. There is no point in chaining yourself to a specific method or medium. The key is that your data is easily accessible to you, now and in the future. Hence, the best way to store your data depends on your needs. How much data do you have? Do you want to store, transport, or share your data? Where do you need to access them? And for how long do you need to store your data safely?

To make potential alternatives to optical discs comparable, I have examined four different criteria: storage capacity , average price per GB, average or approximate lifetime in years or number of write/erase cycles, and compatibility with other devices and operating systems.

Option 1: USB Stick

Capacity: regularly up to 128GB (256GB available)

Price: from $0.60 to $0.80 per GB

Lifetime: 10 thousand to 5 million write/erase cycles, approx. 2 to 20 years

Compatibility: theoretically any device with USB port

Flash-based drives and particularly USB thumb drives are probably the best alternative to optical discs in terms of lifetime and portability. Since lifetime depends less on climate and storage conditions, but primarily on the amount of times data are written to or erased from the drive, flash drives theoretically could have a longer lifetime than DVDs or Blu-ray discs. With up to 128GB, thumb drives also offer more storage capacity (Blu-ray up to 50GB) and they do not depend on the availability of an optical drive. However, flash drives are significantly more expensive per GB.

USB Stick   Saying Goodbye: 5 Alternatives To The Optical Disc

Option 2: SD(HC) Card

Capacity: up to 128GB

Price: from $0.62 to $1 per GB

Lifetime: 100 thousand to 1 million write/erase cycles, approx. 1 to 10 years

Compatibility: adapter or SD card reader required

This is the most portable alternative to optical discs. With regular storage sizes between 16 and 64GB, SD cards are also comparable in size. Similar to USB sticks, the lifetime of SD cards depends on write/erase cycles and can thus be very short or rather long. Like all flash-based storage devices, the price per GB is significantly higher than that of optical discs. Moreover, SD / SDHC cards require an SD / SDHC card reader or an adapter.

Option 3: External Hard Drive (HDD)

Capacity: up to 3TB

Price: from $0.04 to $0.15 per GB

Lifetime: approx. 2-5 years

Compatibility: any device with USB port

External hard drives are the cheapest alternative to optical discs. They cost less, offer a much higher storage capacity, and are essentially compatible with any device that sports a USB port. In terms of connecting the hardware, compatibility is a non-issue. That said, keep in mind that the file system (typically FAT32 or NTFS) can potentially prevent recognition or full functionality of a HDD when connected to other devices (TV) or operating systems. The biggest issue, however, is the vulnerability of HDDs. They are easily damaged by physical shock, which makes them suboptimal for transporting data. Moreover, their operation relies on moving parts, meaning each use increases the likelihood of hardware failure.

HDD   Saying Goodbye: 5 Alternatives To The Optical Disc

Learn more about file systems from my article What A File System Is & How You Can Find Out What Runs On Your Drives, then find out How To Format A USB Drive & Why You Would Need To. And while we are on the topic of file systems, you might also want to know How To Reformat Your FAT32 Drive To NTFS – And The Advantages Of Doing It or How To Format A Large Hard Drive With Either FAT Or FAT32 .

Option 4: External Solid State Drive (SSD)

Capacity: up to 256GB

Price: from $0.80 to $1.78 per GB

Lifetime: 100 thousand to 5 million write/erase cycles, approx. 5 to 20 years

Compatibility: any device with USB port

In terms of price and durability, SSDs are similar to thumb drives or SD cards: expensive, but potentially long lifetime. SSDs are available with larger storage capacities than other flash-based storage devices, however, this also comes at a higher price.

Fancy an SSD? Be sure to look into my 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD .

Option 5: Cloud Storage

Capacity: regularly up to 500GB with Dropbox (theoretically unlimited)

Price: from free to $1 per GB and year

Lifetime: theoretically unlimited, practically as long as service is available or as long as you pay

Compatibility: any device with internet access

Storing your data in the cloud is the most convenient way to backup, share, and keep your data with you, provided you have access to the internet. However, this is only practical for small amounts of data. If you have more than a few GB, it can get very expensive as fees are due monthly or yearly, for as long as the storage space is needed.

Cloud Storage   Saying Goodbye: 5 Alternatives To The Optical Disc

Before you make a decision on where to store your data in the cloud, browse our cloud storage articles for tips & tricks.

Conclusion

Many alternatives for optical drives exist, but few can compete with the price and theoretical lifetime of Blu-ray discs. On the other hand, many make for better long term investments. In the long run, you should always have your data stored in at least two future-proof locations. But for the moment, Blu-ray discs and DVDs are a viable storage method. Just make sure you move your data before your last way to access them disappears.

Do you still use optical discs to store or transfer data?

Image credits: CD DVD via Shutterstock, USB Stick via Shutterstock, HDD via Shutterstock, Cloud Storage via Shutterstock

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148 Comments -

Arron Walker

Will players really stop being produced? I can imagine them fading out of the mainstream, but you can still go out and buy a brand new record player. I think you’ll still be able to access your data if you only have it on a blu-ray in 30 years time, but you might have to pay quite a lot for something that can read it.

Laga Mahesa

5 1/4 floppy drives.
Cassettes from Amiga/Acorn/Amstrad etc.

I have some floppies from my old Amiga A1200 with save games from Frontier and some of my first coding forrays. I have no idea how to access them. The amiga used a non-standard drive mechanism, and the drives were formatted using an extremely non standard filesystem.

Doc

The Amiga never used cassettes (at least in the US).

The Amiga used a standard 720k floppy drive, with a nonstandard format that left 880k free. (I owned an A500 plus an external floppy). A filesystem driver allowed the Amiga to read/write 720k floppies (or 1.44mb floppies, which formatted to 1.76mb, if you had the rare HD Amiga floppy drive).
Almost all commercial software is available as .ADF files, and WinUAE does a wonderful job of emulating an Amiga 500, 2000, 1200, and more. Cloanto sells an “Amiga in a Box” product with the emulator, legal Kickstart ROMs, demos, and more.

Guest

Gotcha beat: I still have VHS, eight-tracks, “regular” cassettes and Beta!

Tina

The reason you can still buy record players and better yet, buy record players you can connect to a computer, is that there has been a revival of records. Also, there always was a market because DJs never stopped using them and there is a significant number of people who still buy records and play their collection. Besides, records basically don’t age and a lot of the old records have a high value. I think the story here simply is different than for floppy discs or optical media.

Guest

I still use optical media. I’ve had USB flash drives break on me, get dropped, stepped on, mistaken for toys or hair clips, accidentally ingested and fall in the toilet (seriously). USB hard drives don’t last very long — hard drives in general don’t — and what I’ve found myself having to do is back up FROM the drive TO a bunch of DVDs. Used to have a program on my old beige Macintosh called Apple Backup — the factory-shipped backup program — that only backed up the whole hard drive and operating system, not just select files/folders. For a 120MB (not GB!) hard drive, which at the time was the HD capacity equivalent to the USSR — you needed over a hundred of those 1.44MB floppies. (But ah, what I wouldn’t give for the good old days when an entire operating system took up only about 10 megs on the hard drive, roughly the size of a high bitrate MP3 file today.)

Fortunately, a 50GB Blu-Ray DL (though expensive in its own right) can back up a 500GB hard drive using only about 10 discs rather than a ridiculous 100. And that’s assuming the drive is full, which for most people (hopefully) it’s not. Rewritable Blu-Rays exist too, just like CDRWs and DVDRWs. But you need a special drive for them, which itself is a premium as of late (at least for me). Not all BR drives will write to discs, and not all are RE-writable capable. “Alternatives” shouldn’t necessarily be replacements, though. They should just be other options. You can never have too many backups, after all.

Henree Arriola de Garcia

Optical Discs… may you rest in peace.

André Kamara

The question is “what can we do with our tens of now useless CDs ?”

Rok Vetršek

I glued them to the walls in my room in some kind of a pattern (with some space between discs) and it looks great..:)

Douglas Mutay

Oh! good idea! will try it out…lol.
Already did a desk lamp with all my old radio cassettes ;-)

Laga Mahesa

Make a disco ball. :)

Tina

Love that idea! I did this a few years ago. Instead of glue I used pins. Was a pain to remove them when I moved.

You can also build a mobile (CDs hanging from threads and free to turn). Hang it in the way of natural sunlight, i.e. into a window. Produces fantastic light effects!

Laga Mahesa

Bin them. I dumped all my optical crap 3 years ago and never looked back.

Guest

In the mid-’90s when AOL was sending out those seemingly ubiquitous sample subscription discs with AOL ISP software (over and over… and OVER again), this guy across my street used to use them as both Frisbees and for skeet shooting.
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That's right: Skeet shooting. Right there in the backyard. And no, I don't live in the U.S. South. ;-)

Might be a good use for any Windows Vista discs anyone still has hanging around. Or Justin Bieber CDs. Your choice. :-)

Darren

I’m not quite as ready to give up the Disc just yet, My data is my own and my own only, I do not wish for it to be stored on any external device that I am not in control of, IE Cloud based services. And streaming is all well and good until there is a problem with your internet and you lose all your movies, games and cloud services if you choose that route.

If movies fade into streaming only it will raise the price of movies as you’ll have no other option but to buy from them (see Steam Exclusives for example), no second hand market will exist leading to stores going out of business and piracy will rise as a result, and where will people store all their pirated media? thats right. Optical Discs so while they are selling by the bucket load they will still be produced.

Arron Walker

Really? I never use discs to write data, and haven’t for years. I always found it to be a clunky and unreliable solution. Once I got a decent sized flash drive, I was happy to have something useful. That said, I’ve not used blu-ray.

Laga Mahesa

I’m with you there, and BluRay is essentially a shiny update of the same tech as far as I’m concerned. Having had a DVD go literally transparent because the dye rotted, I’ve zero interest in using any such storage ever again.

Yang Yang Li

I agree. Using optical disks to back up data is the most insecure method out there. I use a Toshiba external hard drive to back up my data. Toshiba is know for their reliability.

Martin Pierce

If you say so! wait till your toshiba external harddrive blows up & catches fire, destroying your apartment and all your stuff. Get a bigger apartment and buy blank dvd’s!

Boynton

Remember, even the best brand of hard drive (internal or external) is an electromechanical device with intrinsic risks of failure too numerous to mention. Lose your hard drive and you’re hard pressed to recover your data even with the assistance of expensive software and/or the most sophisticated retrieval services.

Stay with DVD’s. That way you’re not tempted to place all your eggs in a single basket for convenience sake (BlueRay). For your most valuable information, keep a copy at home and a second safely offsite. Update your storage methods as improved technology becomes available and transfer information accordingly. Get your most important mobile information out of the cloud or off your provider’s servers ASAP. Use an efficient and effective method to get it safely stored on a DVD.

Boynton

And, by the way, follow best practice for storing your DVD’s in order to achieve the greatest longevity afforded to the materials used to produce the disc.

Martin Pierce

don’t buy cheap disks–you get what you pay 4. Remember what Leo Laporte says “Back-up, Back-up, Back-up”!

Martin Pierce

only had 1 bad disk in 7 yrs (cheap disks 4 birthday present). i buy them by 100 paks @ costco. ran out of sony there, now have tdk, just as good. can’t beat the price per piece–20c vs. big bucks. but you probly don’t have much 2 back-up. i have 10,000 gb.

Laga Mahesa

Oh I agree. I figured a long time ago that being a cheapskate to yourself will only hurt you in the long run. I bought Maxel media mostly IIRC – but, the thing is, I live in a tropical country and I suspect that the humidity alone wasn’t factored much into the design of the things.

Martin Pierce

I understand. i don’t always have funds to do the things i want to do. TIP: buy ziplock freezer bags (Gallon size). Put disk/s in slim jewel cases; slip into zip lock bags, close seal most of the way but not all the way. let disk/s adjust to surrounding temp. (Not Air Conditioned Air). if no condensation on bag, fold over, squeeze out remaining air and seal in one motion. Better yet; get a food saver machine and seal them in those vacuum bags. no air at all. all my important data and system disk/s are treated that way. also can add moisture dissectant packet from medication bottles to bag before sealing; absorbes the moisture before sealing all the way. allow time in-between each step for acclimation to current climate. Gallon bags will hold about 5-6 disk/s and still allow folding over and sealing. this is proven over 4 yrs. in viet nam for any and everything that i used over there

Tina

In terms of data privacy, an external hard drive or flash drive is just as safe as an optical disc. The disc can be stolen, too.

Regarding price, I think the prices will go down. Obviously, if you are not buying a piece of hardware, you won’t have to pay for the hardware, only for the service. Also, you won’t own a copy of the movie, just the right to view/stream it. And seriously, how many movies are there that you watch more than once…

There will probably be different price categories, for example buy the movie to view it once, or view it as many times as you want for a month, or view it as many times as you want for a lifetime, each with a custom price.

And you can still invite your friends and share the movie with them that way. It will work like a video rental shop, only without the physical shop and medium.

Martin Pierce

showing movie to friends coming over is technicaly illegal. your acting as a fly by night movie theater. open air movie showings like from TCM works because they own the rights to the movies. one exception is movies in the public domain that the owners haven’t renewed the copyright 50+ yrs. back. streaming movies is ok as long as the streaming ‘service with your movies doesn’t go out of business–Whoops!, now what. i wouldn’t watch casablanca again even @ gun point but i do have 2500 movies that i watch more than 1-2 times in a year. haven’t been to theater in years–better things to do with my $20 dollars 4 a theater ticket, like gassing up my truck. Retired, no job, no phone, no rent. i dont accept b.s.

Guest

Showing a movie is not “illegal” unless you charge for it. And even then: who really is going to call the piracy cops (i.e. local PD) for an “illegal” showing in someone’s basement? Unless it was kiddie porn, the police would laugh so hard they’d cough their donuts up if all you were doing was showing a “pirate” DVD of The Hangover. I could pirate the movie Better Off Dead and have an ’80s marathon with friends, even if I did charge them a nominal fee under the “I Want My Two Dollars” Fair Use Doctrine. Points to anyone who gets the reference. ;-)

Doc

“Also, you won’t own a copy of the movie, just the right to view/stream it.” Exactly why you’ll get my burner(s) and blank discs when you pry them out of my cold, dead fingers. I’ve watched the Pirates of the Caribbean movies several times (at least the first three), and I reserve the right to transcode them to whatever device I may want to watch them on. Nobody is going to “license” me anything – when I pay for something, I want to keep it, and continue to do so until I decide to resell it (First Sale Doctrine, which is under attack right now!)

Martin Pierce

Right on! more power to the people. same thing with my guns. I bought them, i own them; there mine! i’ll bury them in the desert and come back and get a few when i need them. always have 1 or 2 on hand.

Martin Pierce

Hooray for intellengence. Lets be honest (you & I) know its a conspircy of hollywood and oem’s; 2 eliminate all ways to copy data. They can’t stop the software, and or other–so remove the drives from the units. Thats why i’m stocking up on laptops (desktop replacements), and external harddrives from amazon and 2 terabite external drives from costco. Air play works great 2. i buy dvd’s by the hundred pak. recently, the new blank disks will no longer be recognized by the older dvd+hdd recorders. Surprise! maybe its just the color of the laser beam–old ones use red–the new ones use orange. They also changed the disk reflective surface from clear mirror effect to a brownish, blue-gray-purple surface coating that doesn’t reflect as much light as a clear surface affecting older player-recorders–weaker reflective return to read head. being a aircraft engineer 4 30 yrs didn’t go 2 waste. wal-mart has a black friday deal on asus laptops with dvd multy format drives & 6 gigs. of ram. I think i’ll pick up 2 tomorrow. Great deal $329.00 ea. black or red.

Guest

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that recording from TV onto VHS tapes via VCRs no longer works because of the digital signal conversion. If this is true, does it have something to do with the fact that it’s a digital signal and tape media is analog, or something to do with the cables that hook up to your TV, or what? All I know is that the media co’s fought long and hard to make home videotaping a copyright violation and lost the legal battle — is this how they won the technical battle (at least with that form of media), albeit about 25 years too late?

Austen Gause

i really hope that the optical disk doesnt die i like them a lot

Martin Pierce

buy extra ones–amazon has samsung external drives (multi-session–multi format) ones with burning software 4 $39.00 usb2, maybe usb 3.

Austen Gause

plus i still have the original half life on disk from 1998 and it still works fine

Yang Yang Li

Haha, I have all three versions of Age of Empires on CDs.

Martin Pierce

haha–i have all 5 versions of Major Dundee on dvd. Senta Berger is hot! Her daughter acts 2 & looks just like her but don’t know her name.

Austen Gause

nice

ReadandSharre

Can’t remember the last time I purchased a CD or DVD — be it music, movie or software!

Martin Pierce

can’t remember my 1st wife. but still buy dvd’s. don’t have cd’s, but still listen to my 4 & 8-track tapes. players in my house & truck still work like new. cassetts always sucked, wrinkle up at the blink of an eye.

Sandesh Damkondwar

Era of optical disk is almost gone. At least for me.

Martin Pierce

theres always papirerus, copper tablets, and stone tablets. i wonder if there region coded & copy protected.

Guest

Martin, you’re a funny guy. I mean that in all earnest and not with sarcasm. Speaking of papyrus (correct spelling), I wonder if you were aware that marijuana legislation was initially an endeavor by Wm. Randolph Hearst to gain a monopoly on the production of paper, since he had one on the timber industry? Hemp paper is ironically what the U.S. Declaration of Independence is actually printed on!

Ostensibly, if anyone could grow a hemp plant in their backyard (this was, of course, in the days before Xerox machines, home printers and even mass-produced stationary were as much a staple of the home as toilets are today), people could print a publication independently that would compete with those in Hearst’s media empire. To combat this, he financed the production of an anti-pot propaganda film, the (in)famous “Reefer Madness,” and succeeded in getting the hemp plant banned at the federal level. The master media manipulator (today’s Murdoch or Huffington, depending on where people stand) played well into the racial and cultural attitudes of the time, depicting the hemp plant as the source of sexual profligacy and societal destruction that was commonly associated with non-whites, the poor, and the mentally ill/retarded or drug-addicted. Federal prohibition on pot still exists about 80 years after this now laughable artifact was produced, but attitudes are now changing, and so are laws at the state level — ironically, as the decline of paper as a medium is widely being heralded in the now international, digital media.

I love how the discussion of the decline of one type of media has sort of dovetailed into a discussion of the decline of other formats as well.

Efi Dreyshner

USB Stick will now take over the market even more – they are cheap, have nice amount of capacity – and they are small (:
Thanks for the article!

Yang Yang Li

No, SD cards will. They are more portable and smaller. A microSD is smaller than the USB connector on an USB drive.

Tina

True, but the card readers are not universal, yet. Especially for microSDs.

Anonymous

Tina comment :P
SD card are not that useful as USB sticks.
Capacity and price….

Martin Pierce

have a sandisk multi sd card reader. also is a video recorder interface 4 recording movies on sd flash cards. wasn’t practical @ the time with only 2 gb. flash cards. but now, 32 gb. and going up capacity you can put five or ten movies on one and carry it in your shirt pocket. TIP: iso sierra format files play on a computer or standard or blu-ray disk player. write the iso file to computer in 20% compressed mode and cut file size 1/3 of original. copy or drag over to sd card in computer and your done. don’t ask me where the compression software comes from. player automatically uncompresses the file as it plays on all units

Anonymous

While various forms of media storage will certainly become obsolete at some point in time, it will not happen overnight and certainly there will have been newer (and most likely less expensive) forms of storage perfected well before then. This would give the average user more than enough time during the technology overlap to transfer the data to the new media to take advantage of its newer, hopefully better, technology.

For the most part, if I need to utilize a backup, I need to use it now and expecting to download 50, 100, 200 or even 500 gigs of data from the cloud will not happen. Thus, local storage remains a necessary requirement. For smaller backups, my preference is either Dual Layer DVD or Blue Ray – Cheap by most standards and easy to store. Use it once, keep three copies in rotation, then destroy it – easy peasy. For full backups which require 200+ Gigs, it’s an external Hard Drive. While some concern has to be given for the potentiality of hard drive damage due to dropping, choosing one of the hard drives with built in protection against that lessens that from happening. Besides, pulling the drive out of the hot swap bay, putting it immediately into it’s cushioned storage container and then into the fireproof safe for storage really safeguards it pretty well. USB Thumb drives are a viable alternative for smaller amounts of data storage but as you mentioned, the cost per Gig is still a bit up there.

Finally, as far as programs are concerned. I will not buy a program unless I can store my own local copy be that on a flash drive or optical drive. I will not trust some cloud only based organization to be there when I need them to be in order to re-download something I already paid for. Besides, most of the time lately it seems that there is no cost savings to downloading software from the internet – at least not of sufficient discount to justify the vendor not having to maintain inventory, package, ship and split the profits with distributors and retailers. I feel we the consumers are really being taken advantage of in that regards.

Yang Yang Li

Well said! I agree with everything you wrote. Albeit I have to admit, storing your backups in a fire proof safe is a little extreme. If you are that careful with your data, what are the chances of your house catching on fire?

Martin Pierce

more people are killed at home by stupid accidents than by any number of house fires. ulless you put real candles on your christmas tree or light a match to see if your pilot light is on!, or gas in the tank a.k.a. cheech and chong (who are they!).

zscruz

ahahahahaha

Tina

Great comment, Thomas. I agree with most of it.

My experience with cloud-based services and storage, however, has been very positive and I am very happy those tools exist. I have been collaborating with colleagues on online documents, actually writing a whole thesis that way. Yes, we always have backups on our hard drive and the Dropbox desktop app makes this so easy, we don’t even have to think about it. We could not work and collaborate as efficiently as we have been doing without cloud-based tools. And it has been completely free so far.

So I cannot relate to your concerns about the price. You’re obviously thinking about different tools.

Martin Pierce

accolades, you got it nailed. as 4 the copying from then till now i’m not going to fall for that money hound again. when my externals are full i vacuum machine them, label them as 2 when and put them in my gun safe with–you guessed it!–my guns–weighs one thousand pounds, bolted to the slab and withstands 1500 degrees for 1 hour.

Martin Pierce

get free programs everyday from giveaway of the day. i have 133 of them anything from a-z.if you really need the upgraded pay to own program by all means buy it. i have several only and some others you only donate funds to further development. if you get a crash you lose them and start all over. most i can do without ,have to have open office 4 sure and “””””dvd u know what is another. that was the 99% reason 4 buying a pc. most software is free and/or cheap. apple is a closed system and stick you through the nose but they still had to be compatable with windows hence parrallels, bootcamp and all like that that allows you to run windows on apple. 90% of business is pc. apple would be gone before a long time ago if they didn’t partner with microsoft in that niche.

Martin Pierce

but only when i’m not pulled over by the police

Koshy George

I haven’t used a an optical disc in 3 years.

Terafall

I wonder how long optical disc will survive?

Carlo Vincente

Still using CD and DVDs, mostly for music. But latelly I´ve been keeping my files in Grooveshark and some of them in the HD in FLAC format, so I´m still using optical, but just in some specific cases.

Mulder

This post makes a number of assumptions that are not true: namely, that every alternative except “cloud” storage connects to a USB port.

While some external hard drives can be connected via USB, most cannot, and if the drive is powered by the USB bus, it needs to produce enough power for that, which most USB ports do not currently provide unless they are part of an externally powered USB hub.

Cloud storage is simple not a viable alternative for anyone. No cloud storage provider for consumers has multiple rendundancy in the event of failure of any part of their data center. So if their power goes out or a particular drive or series of drives fail and your data is on any of them, you’re not getting it back.

The best storage solution for the foreseeable future is DVD and multiple external hard disks kept in separate locations and backed up frequently to prevent the loss of critical data.

Tina

Mulder,

I don’t quite follow your comment. What external hard drives are you talking about?

The standard technology to connect external hard drives is USB, which is why most of them have USB connection. Besides, you can put any standard IDE or SATA (internal) hard drive into a USB case. But you would probably buy an external USB hard drive rather than an internal one if you wanted to use it for data backup.

To be honest, I did not consider years old hardware. After all, the article is about present day alternatives! As far as I know, newer USB hard drives and SSD drives are powered through USB and don’t need an external power source. That’s true for USB 2 and 3. What drives do you mean that still need to be powered externally?

Where do you get your information about cloud storage? I don’t know how they operate or how they guarantee data safety. However, I would be interested to learn.

Why do you think DVD is the best storage solution? Blu-ray is much more durable and stores a lot more data and comes out cheaper per GB of data.

Doc

3.5″ hard drives need more power than the 2.5″ variety, and most cases/docks come with a power brick (either a “wall wart” or a laptop-style power adapter).

Geoff

You come close to, but still miss the most important point of this discussion. I have USB and firewire-based external harddrives. Firewire? Remember that? USB is simply the latest of several come-and-gone interface technologies.You can add serial ports, cassette ports, PC slots, AT slots, SCSI – the list goes on and will go on. Information technology is still in its infancy, but has been adopted as the solution to everything. I imagine a day when the children of today pull out a cardboard box with a few pictures (printed on acid-free paper) and a stack of useless smartphones, each will its own long-lost charger but still holding onto the pictures taken in some slice of the owners life, and they are there – locked in forever, but even more useless than the little packets of negatives I inherited.

The same with cloud storage, you are just dependant on the business model of the company hosting the site. Links will be lost, timelines will die with users, and the photographic history (and everything else!) from this period will be lost, a modern-day “dark ages” that will leave even less physical evidence than the scrolls and manuscripts copied by monks.

Martin Pierce

not true–the getty museum maintains a billion + photographs–the library of congress saves everything american and workdwide on numerious formats in temp controlled national security vaults. they both search worldwide for any media and any device that it was recorded on and repair it so that it can be copied onto any other device now or later at anytime in the future at least until dec.21st. i know because i recently donated one of my working beta recorders to the library of congress for data retreval along with a lot of same spare parts from other same units. there isn’t anything broke that cant be repaired fully except earth and the human body. i got a nice tax break too!

Doc

USB isn’t “come and gone.” USB 3.0 just recently (the past year or year and a half) started coming as a standard feature on laptops and PC motherboards.

Why would photos be “locked into” smartphones? More and more phones are coming with PC-compatible connections. You can transfer (and print) any photo you want; even if you don’t choose to print out your photos, you can move your files to a new device. (I still have photos of my kids that have survived since 1999, being transferred from my AMD K6-550’s paltry 10GB drive, through several generations of hand-built PCs, to my 1.5TB home server drive on an old Gateway that fits under my TV, with copies on my 32GB thumbdrive for backup. I’ve printed collages of those old pictures to put on the refrigerator door several times, often with that month’s calendar. I’ve had friends email me pictures of things, straight from their digital camera to my email in a few minutes’ time; try doing that with a film camera (even an Instamatic)!

Our memories are only as permanent as we want them to be; proper curation is the key, not lamenting outdated technology and progress…

Martin Pierce

i haven’t seen anything in the recent history that isn’t usb compatable 1-2- or 3 except old computers before usb (i have 4 and their 25 pin parrellel port computers) are you on drugs! my computers i use now at any one time may have at least 2 or 3 of those devices plugged in at any one time running off of laptop power without a usb hub. computer can only use and write data at one time unless you have a 16 quad processor (they dont make um!)

Doc

Most USB drives come with a “power brick,” unless they’re the slim 2.5″ laptop drives, which can usually be bus-powered. I’ve got a 300GB 3.5″ HD in a full-size case with a “laptop-style” power brick, a universal SATA dock (drop in any 2.5″ or 3″ SATA drive in vertically, which can also use an eSATA cable for higher speed), and have owned two 2.5″ USB hard drive cases, one SATA, one IDE, and neither required external power. FireWire hard drive cases also exist, but they’re more popular with Macs, as, last century, at least, they were the standard for non-linear video editing.

Almost all cloud storage providers are provisioned for backups; RAID redundancy and timed backups are a requirement for service providers, not an afterthought. From https://www.dropbox.com/help/122/en

“Even if your computer has a meltdown, your stuff is always safe in Dropbox and can be restored in a snap.

“In fact, if you’re using the Dropbox desktop application, ***your files are backed up several times.*** The primary copy on your computer’s hard drive is synced online and ***that copy is then backed up again for safety.*** If you are using Dropbox to sync files between multiple computers, your files are backed up on those computers as well. If that isn’t enough, Dropbox also keeps backups of all of your deleted and changed files too.

—–> “All files synced by Dropbox are encrypted and stored securely on Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) over ***several data centers.*** <——

"It's hard to imagine a scenario where Dropbox could lose your files. Hypothetically, let's say a nuclear bomb blows up the data centers where your files are saved. Even then, your files are still safe and sound on your computer and any other computers linked to your Dropbox account."

(Stars and arrow are mine) I use Dropbox for work files on a daily basis; we wouldn't have even *considered* Dropbox if there were worries about backup redundancy. Your worries about "cloud providers losing your only copy" are just paranoia and unjustified; I'm more worried about police agencies sniffing through my files without a warrant (and laws about reading emails without a warrant are currently working their way through Congress, and meeting up with opposition – talk to your Congressmen and Senators!)

Guest

Regardless of where people’s political affiliations lie (and believe me, they often do), trying to convince Congress to do what’s good for the people is like talking to an empty chair. #eastwooding #oldmeme

Paul Girardin

Why must we rush in dismissing older technologies?

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!

Are we all turning into Apple wannabees, chuck everything out the window every year?

This being said, I use CDs, DVDs, USB (Flash & hard Drives) SD cards & Cloud storage.

Laga Mahesa

CDs and DVDs rot. Normal USBs aren’t designed to last longer than a couple of years, regardless of the marketing blurb. Even the high end ones have a horrific failure rate – Corsair and Patriot are the kings in the USB department, but return rates are abysmal.

As for Apple… surely you’re joking. Their devices are the ones that change the least.

Paul Girardin

Apple … change the least ?

Buy an iPad, the next year they sell the iPad 2, the year after that they sell the iPad 3 and then they sell the mini.

Same with the iPhone!

You have to buy the new one to get the benefits.

Change the least, you say! ;)

Laga Mahesa

Perhaps you mean refreshed? Ignoring individual *apps* (Passbook, Maps, etc) there’s not much that actually changes, functionally. iOS 3 looks pretty much the same as iOS 6. There’s little major difference between an i4 and an i5 – aside from being stretched a bit, more ram and a bigger processor. With 3 vs 3GS, 4 vs 4S, it’s even worse. Just internal spec bumps and different writing on the back.

Compare that with other manufacturers where the shape, screen size and UI differ every six months. Hell, with some of them the same device is not necessarily the same device if you buy it in a different country or with another carrier.

With the recent iPad 4th gen refresh I think people are getting a tad annoyed, as most Apple users have come to assume a year between refreshes. This borks that theory which will have a bad effect on aftermarket resale value I think.

Tina

I think what Laga meant was that Apple devices retain their value. Try to buy an old Mac and you’ll be hard pressed to find a cheap one. Try to sell an old Windows machine and you’ll struggle to sell it for 10% of its original price.

Regarding dismissing older technologies…
Technology is evolving so quickly and customers want it. And where there is a market, there is change, and vice versa.

We store more and more data, floppy discs don’t cut it anymore. Even CDs and DVDs have become too small. Blu-rays can barely store one person’s private photos, let go their music or video collection. Besides, everything is moving to the cloud, so new services emerge. In the long run, we’ll hopefully waste less material that way. But it’s still a long way.

Martin Pierce

Right on!, fooling aside i’ll be dead before holographic read right technology takes over. i’m not falling again for the money pit keep up with the jonses’ anymore. i don’t even own a cell phone since 1980 something. i used to have one in my surburban behind the drivers seat and it used 2 extra gallons of gasoline in my truck. i have national and worldwide text messaging for free. send a text, wait 4 the call or e-mail me. if not to the heck with you. if i had to have a cell phone it would be a trak phone and a minute card if either ran out or broke i would throw it in the trash–er–recycle bin and get a new one. same as with my mobile internet. i buy 500 mb. of data card from virgin mobile, use it up and not need it 4 6 more months. oh, i have a sattellite phone anyway and beats cell phones all to H—-L.

Guest

Right on, Martin. I don’t have a cell phone either. Bravo for not keeping up with the Joneses — this is especially a challenge (to be an individual sans the consequences of groupthink bullying) when one is of high school age (and female). I personally couldn’t care less what people are up to at every conceivable moment of their lives, which is what so-called smart phones are used for, these social media apps that let people update everyone with the answer to a poll about what they’re doing in the bathroom right now and how it compares to some gluteus-maximus reality TV star. If I had a business I would use social media as just another platform of a billboard, like TV, radio and news advertising. I’ll keep my connections restricted to who I want to connect with, and no one from school meets that category. Not to mention Uncle Sam.

If I did have a cell phone it would probably be one of those so-called Obama phones that doesn’t do anything but call or text message, and I would disable the text messaging because I have no use for “txtspk’s” destruction of intelligent English language. For what it’s worth (while paranoia strikes deep — I’m sure Martin here got the Buffalo Springfield reference), the movie “Idiocracy” should be filed under the Documentaries section by now.

Gustavo Costa

Hey, it’s not very good to upload and backup the musics to Dropbox or other cloud services because of copyright enforcement. Dropbox doesn’t allow to share or keep the things which are protected by copyright enforcement.

I prefer the portable HD or SSd. I don’t like to backup to the USB drives because they don’t work in any OS, when they have more than 16GB.

Laga Mahesa

Using Truecrypt gets around that issue.

Gustavo Reis

What’s it, Laga?

Lisa Santika Onggrid

While I prefer using Blu-Ray to store my data as it’s so much larger than DVD in term of capacity, My laptop is still incapable of reading/writing it and Blu-Ray player isn’t so common in my area, so I’m stuck with CD/DVD.
My country’s internet connection isn’t reliable enough to use cloud storage for more than some documents (definitely not for multimedia), and I’m still waiting for the price of HDD to normalize.
Sigh, guess I must do my backup later…(procrastination!)

Douglas Mutay

Thank you Tina for this wonderful article. As for me I will definitely go for a Cloud Storage Solution. I have a ton of DVD and Cds that had lots of my data but that I can’t anymore open or access. Over years they’re just get unusable even though I have kept them very safely. Luckily I was able to make a backup of all important stuff in my HDD and now I am moving them to my Google drive. I hope they will really be safe there because they are not in the ‘cloud’ but still in a physical storage someplace in the world…

Steve

Hey Douglas
Even if data is kept in “The Cloud”, it is stored somewhere physical
I still use optical disks for local storage (never used Blu-Ray) and I use “Resurected” desk tops to extend strorage on my home network. Also have an external HDD for portability of frequest stuff ( a sort of Cache)

Guest

That whole concept and the phrase — “the cloud” feels very Orwellian to me. Waiting on a genius like William Gibson to release a SF thriller with that title. Weren’t we warned enough about the negative effects of “the cloud” after two of them hit Japan? All your base are belong to Beijing!

Bernardo Delapasion

heheh sayonara optics cd… it always break me when i see my cd’s dont play

Richard Brown

None of the technologies we use today are archival. M-Disc is the closest to archival at about 1,000 years estimated life, but only at DVD data sizes. The future is in nanotechnology, where efforts are underway to make carbon based storage a reality. In my world, this advance is essential due to, FINALLY, there will be not just archival storage but LARGE scale storage. I have a bookshelf full of hard drives, these days mostly 3 and 4 Terabyte drives, which I shove into ESATA drive docks, and am always running out of drive space. With petabytes of overall storage already across many drives, having a storage technology which STARTS in the petabytes, with true archival nature, will be a life saver for we data monsters.

Laga Mahesa

This. In spades.

Richard, I suspect you’re more knowledgeable than most regarding drive failure rates. What drives would you recommend for longevity, with speed not being an issue?

Richard Brown

Well, the world of hard drives is spiraling toward a bad place as the best former drive manufacturer, IBM, sold its drive division to Hitachi which in turn sold the division to Western Digital, or maybe it was Seagate. The DeskStar series hard drive had proven reliable. Western Digital is so-so, but somewhat reliable. Seagate is an entirely different case, with essentially no quality control. The last three Seagate drives I bought were all dead on arrival, and I will not buy Seagate again. I am not certain DeskStar will remain a quality drive due to its path toward lesser manufacturers which may cut costs and quality. It is advisable to buy the larger drives these days, as they also have simpler drive mechanisms which MIGHT offer better longevity.

Laga Mahesa

Larger as in capacity or 2.5 vs 3.5? I’m guessing the second.

I’m in complete agreement regarding Seagate. They’re a bit like Norton – used to be the king, but now the smelly troll lurking under the bridge.

I was most unhappy when I heard Seagate bought out Samsung’s Spinpoint division. They used less platters than anyone else; less moving parts, quieter. All of my Spinpoints lasted a long time through plenty of abuse, and I buy up any original Buffalo Ministations I can find as that’s what was inside.

Guest

Hey, OT, but speaking of Norton (which makes the notoriously bloated security software), anyone know how the arrest of John McAfee in Central America will affect the future of his company?

Yang Yang Li

My suspicions have finally been confirmed. I always thought Seagate had horrible hard drives. However, the reviews I have read from Cnet, Wired, and TomsHardware all say Seagate drives are the most reliable. Glad to know other people share my sentiments!

Guest

Desk Star? Desk Star drives were so infamously unreliable they earned the nickname Death Star!

Yang Yang Li

“bookself full of hard drives” in “3 and 4 terabytes” for “petabytes of overall storage”!? Dang, what profession are you in!

Laga Mahesa

OCD data hoarder, like all of us, but with a bit more cash on hand. :)

Yang Yang Li

Haha, right. Who wouldn’t host a datacenter in their basement if they had the cash? I just wish I had the money to set up a NAS with 12 TB of storage.

Guest

People are in fact doing this, and more power to them: they’re “hoarding” data, considering themselves to be independent archivists for the future (sort of modern day Indy Joneses), and gearing up to operate mini-darknets to communicate securely outside the unconstitutional nosing of the international governmental cabals of the world. They run the gamut of the political spectrum too: not all of them are media “pirates” attempting to set up their own answer to Mega Upload, or pranksters from “Chanonymous” hell bent on hacking Wikipedia with obscene photographs. (Those /b/ tards make me sick, by the way.)

Many of them are political protesters in the U.S. and abroad: freedom fighters in the Middle East, Eurozone skeptics, even Americans disgusted by Obama and his increasingly socialistic practices of non-governance. Unfortunately, due to the nature of human evil being what it is, so-called darknets have gotten a very bad reputation as kiddie pr0n havens for sickos to shield themselves from legitimate prosecution. The jury is still out on how to catch these bad guys while still retaining security and privacy for law abiding and non-perverted citizens to communicate securely and anonymously. Sadly, it seems every net (pun intended) designed to catch a great white shark ends up snagging a few innocent minnows (or even a couple of angry, but arguably less threatening, piranhas) too.

Tina

I would like to know, too!

Tina

Great insight, Richard. Now I’m really curious why you have so much data to store.

Richard Brown

My giant data archives are due to my work in motion pictures and advertising production. I often have clients asking, “You know that job you did for me around 2002 where…” or “We are updating the video” referring to a show originally produced in 1999 where all the data from that point forward, in the form of digital video files, are all kept on drives, which are safer than videotape due to stiction (videotape degrades and essentially turns into Scotch Tape, sticking to itself.) Further, I am a photographer at the pro level, meaning my images range from web size to several gigabytes per frame… this adds up quickly. My video post facility does miracles from time to time, like fixing 3D for those who shot badly. 2K and 4K video files gobble up hard drives at an incredible rate, and that data is kept “online” at the client’s pleasure.

And then, there are backups. Hard drives fail.

As to Deskstar reliability, some have scoffed. These likely are people dealing with the consumer drives, which are small and actually are designed for 50% on – 50% off use, and they die a silly death. For the most part, hard drives should be turned on, and left on, as all the damage is done on the boot. Boot a lot, and say goodbye to the drive before its time. As someone who uses more hard drives than most, I know what’s on my shelves. As to the near term, we are switching to RAID 6 for the most part, as the hard drive world is spinning to a bad place. Can’t wait for carbon storage, which should kill the spinning disk market in a few months. It’s just all that backing up to the new media… what a bummer.

Tina

Thank you for sharing your work routine, Richard.

And agree about hard drives, the running itself doesn’t harm them much, the spinning up is what kills them.

Dave in Houston

Good article but I’d not put anything in the cloud that I wouldn’t care who saw it. Google has been willing to let the Feds have their way with them and a Democrat has sponsored a bill that gives the Feds authority to read your email without a warrant.

If you are going to store something on the cloud that is sensitive, you should probably encrypt it and make sure you trust the server, i.e. your own web host.

Richard Brown

There has never been a warrant requirement to have authorities read email since the inception of the Web (even before the web actually.) The issue is two fold. The general agreement you never read when setting up email and cloud accounts has always been the issue, AND by your continuing to set up your account, you also relieve yourself of privacy. These agreements state that any official request, for example, to read all your email, if asked by any city, state, or federal government agency (and any private investigator) will be granted by the email/cloud host. Because you agreed to this, there is no need for a warrant.

Laga Mahesa

1: Excellent, provided you don’t scrooge yourself out of quality devices
2: Better than 1, as storage of these things is very simple and can done wallet-style, using credit card holders
3: Stage 1 or 2 backups only, before loading onto more permanent solutions. Modern hard drives are extremely unreliable unless you get an ‘enterprise grade’ drive… and even they suck badly. The last manufacturer that seemed to care for longevity in HDDs was Samsung with their SpinPoint series, but that division got sold to Seagate, in whom I lost all faith a long time ago.
4: Better than 1 or 2 if only to minimize swapping around the media.
5: An excellent modern solution for transitory backups, and even incidental semi-permanent backups provided the syncing is done across multiple computers. Eg, I have my core data folders synced between work and home, and each of those synced to the respective ‘live’ locations outside of Dropbox’s main folder. Therefore I’ve essentially got 5 copies right there, at three physical locations.

While Dropbox may be the best/easiest solution, don’t forget the newer competitors. I have 12.8 Gb on Dropbox after a lot of promoting and taking part in Dropquest… with Box.net I got 50 Gb for helping with testing and Yandex gave me 10Gb to start with.

Spread your wealth, I say.

Tina

Thanks for the great comment and tips, Laga!

I think spreading your data across various cloud storage services and accumulating as much free space as possible is a really good advice.

Ken Waldron

Your comparison is apples to oranges. Blu ray is typically used as write once, read many. The other devices lifetime is calculated on read/write, with write being many times.
How do these devices compare when used as write once which would be a equilavent use?
The NAND flash based devices are subject to leakage which is normally managed through periodic refreshes and many parity bits. If just stored away for long periods this does not occur. Leakage is impacted by temperature and time.
Hard disks do not encounter wear when stord, but lubricants will diffuse over time and deposit on the platter, magnetic domains are also subject to leakage.
Are there projections of lifetime in these situations? I for one would be unhappy to find that my flash drive data was unrecoverable after just a few years sitting in my desk.

Yang Yang Li

You have great points in your comment. The estiments for longevity of storage are just estiments. The problems is, we haven’t had our technology long enough to test their limits. Maybe if we store a hard drive for 50 years, in 50 years we will know if hard drives are good storage solutions.

Ken Waldron

There are ways to test these things with accelerated aging, typically through increased temperature which accelerates both lubricant diffusion and leakage. I suspect manufacturers can provide lifetime estimates for all these storage media. I guess I was hoping the author would have done this research.

Tina

Ken,

Over the years I have read a lot of different articles about life times of storage solutions, so I sort of have done this research. The estimates given in the article are the best I could find. There are so many variables and no one will store their hardware under lab conditions, so it’s almost impossible to give a good estimation how long one person’s drive will last. And people do want to know how long their hard drive will last, not some drive stored under theoretical conditions.

You make a great point about write once / read often vs. write / read often. However, this is not comparing apples to oranges. People use both media to back up data. With a Blu-ray, you simply get a new disc to make a new backup. With a hard drive, you amend or overwrite an old backup.

The reality is that people will use the hardware according to its limitations or possibilities. So I tried to make realistic comparisons based on the actual practical use that is happening in the real world.

Yang Yang Li

Don’t spell RIP for the optical disk yet! As long as Microsoft supports optical disks for OEM builders, they will live on. None of the other options are viable for installing a copy of Windows on a brand new computer. One would think loading Windows from a hard drive should be possible but it’s not on most computers.
Now the question is why would a consumer purchase an optical disk? To back up Windows installation disks! Microsoft makes their OEM disks so they become corrupted after 2-3 installation uses. Evil geniuses.
I see optical disks living on in 50 years because Microsoft will keep them alive.

Tina

You can currently download Windows 8 online to upgrade form Windows 7. No need for a disc.

Laptop manufacturers have long stopped providing OEM discs. If you’re lucky, you get a recovery partition on the hard drive. When you’re not so lucky, you have to create your own recovery media and burn it to a disc or save it to an external USB drive.

You can presently install Windows 7 and most other operating systems from a USB drive. Personally, I have installed Windows XP and Windows 7 from USB sticks.

Silverfox Grey

I’m just an average user. I don’t download a lot of movies or music. However, I am concerned that everything is going to streaming. When I buy a movie, cd, book, or magazine I like to get a physical produc; ie. a file on my computer, kindle or other device. I discovered too late that one of the top magazine providers switched to cloud storage. The magazines I downloaded and was formerly able to access without the internet to enjoy whenever I liked were tied to the publishers software and when they swithched over, the copies of my magazines were no longer available to me off line.

I am disappointed:
1. because this publisher provides magazines with high quality illustrations and very sharp print quality. Something that was not available with the original Kindle. (Maybe that’s changed with the Kindle Fire, I don’t know.) I am still not willing to pay $500 for an IPad or Samsung tablet.
2. because this means I don’t own the publication I purchased. I am just borrowing it, like from the library. When I buy a magazine, I can write on it, tear out pages, and share it with a friend. It’s mine.

This is what turned me off to buying music. I can see renting a movie, but with books, magazines, and music, I want to own what I pay for.

I don’t like the cloud, period.

Nancy B

I like DVDs/CD’s for my movies and music, I just hate very so many years they change things. I still have a huge Tupperware container with VHS’s in it! I’m a movie fan especially old ones from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s and many you still can’t get on DVD/blue-ray. I did have the thing to make dvds out of them but my son “borrowed it” and it’s been MIA ever since.

For back up I have 2 external hard drives as well as 2 hard drives in my PC.
When my son made my PC I actually made him put in a floppy drive as I had some back ups on there at the time, then moved them to DVD back ups then moved to external hard drives.
This is exhausting! every time you turn around things change again, and this or that is better.
I’ve stored very little on a cloud as I don’t trust that they can’t be hacked.
I prefer something in my hand and external from the PC.
Call me old fashioned, but I guess that’s just me!

Keith Ambrose

I agree these are alternatives to optical disks but to a degree. I look at it by archiving work files. All of these options are electronic and if it crashes for some reason, your data is lost. Optical disks are almost a paper copy of an electronic file; a form of hard documentation that doesn’t have a risk of losing data if you store it properly.

But any of these alternatives could become obsolete themselves. It’s just a matter of time.

Tina Sieber

Optical discs can rot.

dragonmouth

Yes, I not only use DVDs, but CDs and even 3.5″ diskettes. Waste not, want not.

Tina’s article is offers good advice for NOW. As stated in the article, technology marches on. Anybody here remember the Centronics port? As Geoff said I/O ports have come and gone, mostly because faster ones came along. Right now work is being done on developing an interface that is faster than any today by at least an order of magnitude. Once that becomes commercially viable, USB, eSATA, Firewire will follow the cassette port into oblivion. I can see Tina writing an article entitled “Saying Goodbye – Alternatives to USB & eSATA”

I have just one question for the proponents and proselytisers of cloud storage – “If cloud storage is the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, why don’t the National Security Agency, the CIA and/or the FBI use it to store their data?”

Tina Sieber

It wouldn’t surprise me if the NSA, CIA, and FBI owned a lot of the servers that offer cloud storage. They wouldn’t store their own data on these same servers of course. ;) Theoretically, no one should store super sensitive private information on a device connected to the internet.

To avoid misunderstandings, cloud storage doesn’t necessarily define what type of hardware data are stored on. Cloud storage only means that you store data remotely on a server that you have access to via internet. You could create your own cloud storage server using a computer and a large enough hard drive connected to the internet.

dragonmouth

Cloud storage reminds me of a line from Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha” –

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I know not where.

Guest

Don’t forget that the Chinese company Huawei manufactures probably 99% of the devices used to store it. A report recently aired on 60 Minutes about the mysterious practices alleged against this company:

cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7424702n

Tina

Interesting and sad. I can’t express how much I dislike fear-based reporting. What good does it do? It doesn’t even offer the attempt of a realistic and fair solution.

Not directly related to this topic, but in general we need more communication, understanding, and collaboration. And then there won’t be any grounds for all this partly unfounded fear. Oversimplified: yes. But still true.

Leslie D Hudson

I really don’t use them anymore (disc) I use flash drive.

Godel

If you’re using wireless internet then even the “free” cloud services have a cost, in the form of upload/download data charges. In my case it’s $1 per GB each way.

Tina Sieber

Guess that depends where you are. I pay for broadband internet and I have a WiFi router, but it’s a flatrate.

C Phillips

Any of the technologies mentioned may not be around in 10 years, let alone 50 or 100. You may not be around then either. As long as there are companies working with technology then there will be new technologies coming along that will make other technologies obsolete. We can only hope the new technology will be, either, compatible with the old or transferrable from the old. There are no sure fire bets and there is a good chance whatever you bet on may not be there in the future. This is especially true if the music, movie, game, and information industries have their way and can make contracts with companies like Microsoft who will agree to make technology obsolete for their own or these other companies benefit. Let’s face it, they all gain a lot by reselling the same stuff over and over again in the form of new technology. This has a benefit most times of being better for us too like upgrading from VHS to Blu-ray quality, but it also obsoletes other things like movies you can no longer get because they wouldn’t sell to the up-and-coming generation. It’s something we have to live with and hope for the best. Most of the things I have been archiving for my family isn’t even important to them. I am in my 50’s and who knows how long I will be around. Will I still be able to get that music I love so well in 20 years if I live that long? Who knows. For original music I prefer CD and movies I prefer DVD simply because I can back them up and make them portable to my computer or player without the lower bitrates I hate when you buy the stuff online. I prefer to store original copies on hard disc that I only write to when I am backing up stuff and don’t use that drive every day. It’s mostly for convenience, not archiving, (except for family photos that is, those I archive). Everyone has their own preferences. That is mine. I went mostly from using CD/DVD for backup several years ago when I could get a hard drive larger than my backups. Therefore, to me, the most important thing is whether or not the technology is around in 10 years or more to simply transfer what I have over to what is the best thing at that time and whether it can be converted into a format that is still usable. For that we will have to wait and see.

Tina Sieber

Thanks for your thorough comment!

I totally agree, the key is to migrate your data to the current standard backup/storage solution, something that will be available for the next couple of years. As a certain medium is starting to become obsolete, migrate the data to the next standard medium and so on.

Remember, (electronic) information technology is an incredibly young technology and we are only learning how to manage these huge amounts of data that have emerged due to its widespread use. It took thousands of years for language, story telling, and writing to evolve. Now we expect the storage of digital data to be perfectly reliable and universal within a few decades. Well, I’d say we got pretty far since the invention of computers less than 100 years ago.

Doc

1) I don’t trust cloud storage one bit…not after Amazon wiped a Norwegian woman’s Kindle; one false move and you’re cut off from your data. (I do use DropBox for work, but all of those files are also on my machine, and it’s a work requirement in any case.)

2) None of the other physical alternatives are as cost-effective as DVD+/-R discs. (Once my finances are in better shape, I’m upgrading to single-layer Blu-Ray 25GB discs, to cut down on the sheer number of discs, just like I did a number of years ago when I converted CD-ROMs into DVD-Rs).

3) Even an external (or internal!) HDD can’t match DVDs for easy archiving; your price quotes on HDDs are a bit behind the times, as the market still hasn’t “recovered” from last year’s Thailand tsunami. I occasionally buy 100 DVD-R for around $22 (22 cents per disc, or around 5 cents per GB). The current Pricewatch price for a USB 3.0 TB drive ($127.99) is around 4.3 cents per GB – and if it fails, you have *all* your eggs in one basket, and can’t be “divided up” as a single DVD-R can, if you have files to send to someone, or want to give someone a home movie on DVD to play, for example…

Tina Sieber

Doc,

You can never trust one single storage solution, you always need backups! Cloud storage is marvelous, but of course you have to have a second copy of your data somewhere, for example on your hard drive. And just like cloud storage, the hard drive can fail or the optical disc can rot. Nothing lasts forever.

I agree with you regarding cost effectiveness of optical discs. They are super cheap compared to flash drives.

My price quotes are from last week’s prices on Amazon.com, by the way. The range results from taking into account different storage sizes and brands.

SSDs typically fail by sector, meaning only small parts of data are affected, not the entire drive. That’s kinda like losing single optical discs in a backup series.

HDDs on the other hand have moving parts and while sectors can fail, they typically fail as a whole, in the worst case due to a head crash. Nevertheless, you may still be able to recover data from the disc platter. Specialists were able to recover data from HDDs destroyed in the WTC for example.

Once an optical disc has rotted, however, pretty much all data is gone. You should read my article CDs Are Not Forever: The Truth About CD/DVD Longevity, “Mold” & “Rot”.

Anonymous

NO…I hate optical discs. It’s not just the irritation it takes to create them but to also catalog and store them and then being able to find and retrieve what you want.

I’ve been using USB HDD with some cloud storage but I sure would like some other alternative. Perhaps I should work on creating one.

Gary Mundy

Good info thanks

np

These are not really alternatives per se, but rather supplements to optical storage.

Optical is for archiving while these are just for temporary backup or transient storage. Any place that needs to store important records uses archival grade discs. I use all these–usb sticks, hard drives, SSD–but also heavily use BD-Rs and DVD+Rs for important data that has been finalized or does not change often.

As far as the ability to read them in the future, I pretty much guarantee it. Just look at the CD.

np

FYI: Fujifilm Sees 1TB Optical Disc in 2015, 15TB in Future

http://techon.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/NEWS_EN/20121113/250732/?P=1

fainom enous

Nice article Tina. I use all the above; apart from cloud storage

Michael Jan Moratalla

the problem is still the problem years ago. Money

Anonymous

I think cloud storage will be a better choice in the future.

Jim Spencer

Nice Article, I already back my Dvd collection onto hard drives in Iso format, but it is still hard to beat the effects from placing a disc into the tray and hitting play! I’m not ready to give up my players yet!

Tina

Jim, you don’t have to give up your players and discs for as long as they are working. Just be sure to have a viable backup.

highdefreak

i have to say this: ODDs are still NOT dead. although personally i rarely use ODDs now, i can’t still completely avoid them. reasons:
# USB, SD, SSDs do not offer value even now, i mean $ per GB is still very high when compared to that of disc. unless you are using USB 3.0, SDXC, brand name SSD, you still don’t get the speed either (and, to buy those, your $/GB becomes higher).
# cloud storage may be the option if and only if the internet is really fast which is not applicable, specially, to many asian countries.
# external HDDs are possibly the best alternative in terms of $/GB and speed. but again, it can’t still compete with the disc when volume archiving is required. i have read that 1 TB (or even more) disc technology is on the way; therefore…

just think about the cost of 4+4 TB of RAID 1 external HDD system and compare it to that of 8 TB discs, you get it?

mindsci

I love Optical Discs. I backup all my movie DVD’s. I also burn all my most important data to discs too. Unfortunately, DVD’s and even Blu-Ray discs are almost as bad as vinyl when it comes to scratch-ability. In addition, blank Blu-Ray discs are still way too expensive compared to their DVD counterpart. Another negative concerning optical discs is their slow access times. As for CD’s, I gave all of mine away 6 years ago- I now use MP3’s. Finally, despite their shortcomings I plan on continuing to use Optical Discs for backup for the foreseeable future. I now store all my purchased movie discs and backups in albums and ditch the boxes, so they don’t take up much space.

I wonder if super high capacity discs will come out when 4K TV replaces 1080p?

Tina

Scratching optical discs actually is not a huge issue. Unlike vinyl, the data is not written to the outer layer that gets scratched. Hence you can fix the scratch and make the disc readable again.

However, optical discs can rot, something vinyl doesn’t do. And this can happen spontaneously, just like a HDD can physically break spontaneously.

pmshah

IMHO not by ling shot. All the suggested alternatives have a very big shortcoming. None can be write protected. Only way I have been able to manage is to hang on to a more than 10 years old Dafafab sd card reader and standard SD cards with write protection tab. I have searched far and wide, without success, for an external card reader that will respect the position of the write protection latch AND be able to read SDHC format cards. Apparently the 2 are incompatible, at least for the external readers.

Tina

Why is the write protection so important for you?

druv vb

I will still use DVDs for the coming years. Backup purposes. After 3 month in a dark and tidy place, check them. Backup again if the DVDs would start to rot.

Jorge Yort Rosal

Thanks for the info. I really love the cloud storage.

Shmuel Mendelsohn

It wasn’t that long ago that I had a problem leaving 5 1/4″ floppies and 3 1/2″ floppies. When PC’s started using hard drives it was a major move for me, I guess that I’m just too old fashioned. I’d really rather be back using a 286 with DOS 3.9.

Anonymous

I have fair share of hard disk crashing on me, dvd dye turns bad, which produces data error on read. It seems like the most reliable data storage is the flash disk.

And the most important thing that I learnt is to let go of old data that is not important anymore :D. Because when these media crashed on me, I felt bad initially, and moved on after that. And 90% of the time, I don’t even remember the content in those medias, move on happily :).

Tina Sieber

Letting go is an important part of life. But imagine all of our ancestors had let go of everything. There is a benefit in our desire to collect and document.

But yeah, when one of my HDDs died while I didn’t have a backup, all I really mourned was the pictures I lost. Some things are hard to let go. Needless to say, I always keep backups now. And I got the pictures back. Lesson learned, Happy End! :)

Richard Brown

Did I mention I recover failed PC drives? Even ones where the motor is dying and rarely spins. Nothing like dedicating a computer 24/7 for 7 weeks to recover a very dead drive. Been there, don’t like to do that. FYI, the data recovery is usually about 85% perfect with about 15% mangled files. Sometimes you get everything back. Sometimes its worst case and the drive really IS dead. I have recovered probably 10-20TB of good files from dead drives by now.

Richard Brown

Oh, as to DVDs and so forth “going bad” MOSTLY the culprit is burn speed. The need for speed, especially on the not ready for prime time PC disc utilities is in the 48x or higher variety. Fast is NOT good for burning, so says my 100% readable and rather giant library of CD’s burned 28 years ago. Burned SLOWLY on great quality discs. DVDs, burned correctly should fair better, given the chemistry. I think the Most Interesting Man in the World would say, “Burn slowly, my friends.”

Why? Pit depth, the source of all things long lasting.

Tina

Good point, Richard and thank you for making it!

Apart from creating a worse quality burn, the error/abortion rate also increases when media are burnt at higher speeds.

Qasim Al Khuzaie

I still believe that optical disks are the most reliable media for storing information… Never trust a flash disk or a hard disk because with a simple failure can wipe out terabytes of data. Cloud? Forget privacy. SSDs? Too expensive and not tested properly until now. Optical disks can live for a 100 year!