This is something that keeps bugging me about ALL photo management systems. There is plenty of discussion about backups but scant regard for archives. A backup is pretty easy to understand and do, it is a second copy. The concept for computer files (or any digital information) being that if something goes wrong, I can just go the backup and recover what was lost or destroyed. This is easy enough to understand for one file, a day or month’s photos but gets a bit trickier as information mounts over a year or more. Do you keep backing up everything or start a new series of backups. For those with decent DSLR cameras with high megapixel counts that means buying new and bigger external USB drive or more racks on a RAID System or Drobo. There are good strategies to safely tame this plethora of images but I need to get back to the difference of true Archives.
An archive, is also likely to be a copy but it has two key differences to a backup. The first and most important is it must provide easy access to find the photo (or digital files). This first requirements means there must be a catalogue or index of how best to find the photo. This requires that the storage be organized in such a way that the important characteristics can be recorded where necessary but also that the storage location is recorded as well. The second difference has to do with the physical format of the storage media, where it is stored and how likely that media is likely to be readable in the future. Is the catalogue always available or is it also buried in the data.
I have for several years maintained 3 archives. I have one live on an external harddisk with 2GB capacity, and two CD/DVD collections stored at two different locations (one well off site). Managing and searching in them is starting to become a daunting task (ie locating the right disk and then looking through them takes time, despite being logically labelled and well stored, in suitable storage boxes). Further I’m getting close to that 2GB of photos now. So I have opted to put at least one of the stored archives also on hard disk (or more precisely a couple of hard disks). I do have strong desire not to keep buying bigger and newer gear, so I purchased a small USB hard drive dock (mine is the Shintaro) and it can read both 2.5”and 3.5” SATA HHD drives and also has an e-sata cable. So all I had to do is take the hard drives out of older computers (which I always do before I scrap them) and now I have extra external storage. They are of course slower than a new drive and some of my older drives are smaller 512MB. However Importantly I am not letting my personal and business data get out into the wild (it is well overwritten by photos) and I am also getting a more easily stored medium (a 2.5” 1 TB drive, holding a decade of photos takes up less room than 4 or 5 DVDs roughly a month of my shooting). I did however required two old drives to backup my current archive, but I have several so I might end up using this set this year and cycling over to another pair next year.
Trying to contemplate the best way to do incremental backups (monthly) to a remote disk, has left me sticking with the DVDs as the best option for the time being.