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v - N: 20210131 13:45


This was written in January of 2021. It started as a quick e-mail to a friend. But I've done that before. So, I put into this page for future reference.

I do not profess to be an expert on backups. But I've been in the computer business for 50 years and have picked up a few practical things. This contains some of those as they apply today.

Some backup techniques are:
  • Tape (Largely obsolete now)
  • DVD's (Still one of the best)
  • USB Memory Sticks (OK if used right)
  • Memory cards (like used in cameras)
  • External Disks.
  • Cloud storage (might be ideal for your needs)

For reference:
  • 1 kilobyte (k) is about a thousand bytes (or characters)
  • 1 megabyte (meg) is about a million bytes
  • 1 gigabyte (gig) is about 1,000 meg (or 1 billion bytes)
  • 1 terabyte (terabyte) is about 1,000 gig (or a trillion bytes)

MANUFACTURERS of removable storage:
"SanDisk" (sometimes written as Scan Disk) is, I believe made by Western Digital (WD). I've always had good luck and with WD devices.

As long as you stick with one of the major brands, you should be good. (Memorex, WD, SanDisk, etc.)

There are many 3rd party USB memory stick drives out there. They're so cheap that they become a good advertising medium. They also lend themselves to cutsie holders. Emily just ordered one that was built into a little robot. Really cute. I even made one for her that is in a tiny wooden book.

SIZE considerations:
The question addressed here dealt with backing up a volume of video files.

The size of those files was given as the average playing TIME in minutes. That doesn't tell us much. We need to look at the size in bytes.

Videos take a ton of storage. Only the size in bytes is useful for deciding on a backup method.

USB sticks, memory cards, and external disks suffer the same problem as internal hard disks. They can go bad without warning.

If you have one huge external device you'll probably just keep adding to it. Should it go bad... well, you've lost everything on it.

DVD's have an advantage here. You can burn a DVD and put it away. You can burn two or more copies and store separately. They're dirt cheap.

DVD's use physical storage (microscopic holes burned in the plastic substrate). There's not much to go bad (other than fire or scratches or other physical damage).

Some "backup" software systems (tape and DVD in particular) will have separate COPY and BACKUP options.

BACKUP options may compress the data and that often uses a proprietary method. You might not be able to move these backups easily. You have to RESTORE them using the another option within the manufacturer's software.

COPY is typically reserved to DVDs. This method makes a standard, readable, copy of the files. You can take that DVD to almost any machine and directly read it just like any disk. (WE ALWAYS USE COPY).

For many years this was THE method everyone used. The user had to purchase a tape drive, but they did that.

Tapes were generally unique to a manufacturer. Each had its own format.

Many people used tapes to backup, but they had no idea how to recover from the tape if they needed it! NOT a good solution.

When we started using DVDs they were actually burnable CD's. They were fast and convenient, but limited in size. When DVD's became popualar that became the standard.

We use the "DVD+R" style. These holds 4.7Gb of data. (Other types include DVD, DVD-W, DVD-RW. Each has purposes and restrictions)

As great as DVD's are, Microsoft seems to have lost interest. On Windows XP, DVDs were fast and convenient. On average you could burn and verify a DVD is 25 minutes.

With Windows 7, then Windows 10, DVD's seem to have become slower and less consistent. The typical time to burn and verify is now about 30 minutes. About half of the time the verify becomes very slow. It can take up to two hours!

The benefit of DVD's is that they're still cheap (20 to 40 cents each).

We make many backups. For photos, which we retire from hard disk, we make TWO DVDs and store separately.

We set the burning software to BURN, LOCK, then VERIFY, all in one operation.

With photos, once on DVD, we view every photo on at least one copy and catalog them into another software system. We've often gone back to DVD's that are 10 years old to pull a photo. It's always good (so far).

Computer data and movies use entirely different formats. Most computers will both read and write either the movie format or the computer format. If you're going to play the DVD on your TV/DVD/BlueRay rig, it has to be a movie style DVD. You can tell the software to write that type of DVD.

DVD Downside 1: Limited storage. (4.7 gig). They're fine for my thousands of photos, but movies can be huge files!

DVD Downside 2: the DVD burning software built into Window's is a mystery to most people. We prefer a 3rd party solution. Our choice for a long time has been "Roxio". Before that we liked "Nero Burning ROM".

USB Memory Sticks:
These are pretty good. They're solid state devices (no moving parts). They can have very large capacity. They cost much more than a single DVD, but they're still cheap related to other devices.

We are not sure why, but on our HP Windows-10, the memory sticks are slower than DVD's.

Besides the speed, we find that there's no room to write on the sticks so they must be labeled in some other way.

USB sticks are generally meant to use and re-use. If you use a single stick for backups, you have no fallback should the stick go bad.

In our case we bought 5 sticks. We make master folders named with a date then put a full set of backups in that. We do the same on the next stick, and the next.

When we've made one backup on all five sticks we come back to number 1 and do another round using the date of that backup.

Eventually we fill each stick with dated folders. At that time we'll erase the oldest folder and add a new folder. The five sticks will contain many generations of backups. By rotating, should one stick go bad, we can revert to the previous one.

(DVD's avoid this because they are unique copies. Each is locked after use and never re-used. We can easily write notes on the front.)

These are the ones you put in a camera, drone, or similar device.

There are two sizes: the standard postage stamp size and the micro memory card (about a quarter inch).

These are about the same price as USB sticks. You can buy a bunch.

Almost all devices have a card reader built in. If not, you can buy an external, USB connected, reader.

Card speed varies. We usually try just one example of a brand and size. If it works well, we'll buy more.

Card Downside 1: Cards seem to go bad more frequently than other devices. That's just an impression, but we've sure heard stories.

Card Downside 2: The small size makes them easy to lose. (We know. We've lost several.)

Memory cards come in many capacities from a few K to many GIG. We usually buy several of the smaller ones rather than one large one. That's really important to people who leave their photos on the card. If the card goes bad they've lost months, or years, of photos all at once! If they used several smaller cards and one goes bad they lose fewer photos because the other cards have portions of the trip and they are probably still good.

(We don't keep our photos on the cards! When we return from a shoot we transfer the cards to our computer right away. The computer is normally much more secure. In our case, we frequently move our photos to multiple DVD's and thus have a relatively permanent copy.)

These are very attractive because of the amount of data they hold. You can get one that holds a terabyte or more. That's massive. And even a terabyte will cost, generally, $50 to $100.

External drive also seem to be more durable, rugged and safe. (As long as you are not in the habit of tossing them into a bag or leaving them in a hot car.)

We have a couple of these drives that we plug into our laptop when on the road. Each day we'll copy all of our photos from the camera card to the external drive connected to the laptop. When we get home we plug the external drive into the desktop computer and burn DVD's from there. (We leave the photos on the external drive since it's just for photos anyway. The external drive and the DVD copies backup each other.)

External HD Downside 1: People usually buy one of these drives, since it stores so much data. They leave it plugged into the computer and just keep putting photos or files there. They don't make a backup of that drive so the data is no safer!

RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks): We don't hear about these like we once did. They are more common in large data centers. A RAID will link several disk drives in an array. Data is duplicated across the drives. Should one drive fail, the others have live copies of the data. There are usually warnings and the systems will allow a new drive to be "hot swapped" while the system continues to run.

This is the "latest thing" and can be PERFECT for backup solutions.

Cloud storage is simply storage residing somewhere out on the internet. All you need is internet connectivity to use it. In many cases it even works from your phone.

Cloud storage is provided by various companies: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Go-Daddy, Facebook, Verzion, Dropbox, etc. There are also many smaller companies and specialized companies.

Almost any device you buy these days (computers, tablets, phones, etc.) comes with free cloud storage. Of course, the providers give you the basic amouont of storage; they want you to buy more. But that's OK. Additional storage is amazingly cheap!

The desktop machine we use came with Microsoft's "OndDrive" solution installed. It just shows up in the Windows Explorer screen as well as any other screen with a SAVE option.

These cloud options can be deceptively simple to use. They just present another drive. Sometimes that is confusing and people don't realize where they've put data.

A somewhat common cloud solution is the free DropBox service. This provides a fairly large storage area that just looks like another disk drive with the usual folders and files.

As with all cloud solutions, you can purchase additional storage. We have free account several devices, but our company and some clients have commercial accounts with lots of storage! We share certain folders across all of those accounts.

To illustrate one use of Dropbox:
We set up a DropBox folder for each of several clients. We installed the free DropBox account on each of their computers and linked their folder specific to their office.

When a client has files to send to us they just drag and drop the files onto that shared folder. We can see ALL of the folders and we'd just go pull the files we want. Great way to share.

Dropbox is nice because it will connect to just about any device. We have it on all of our computers as well as our phones.

Dropbox folders appear just like any other file. That means that software we write can also read and write dropbox files.

DropBox also provides a way to send a file to someone else even if they don't have DropBox installed.

Whatever cloud service you choose, you have to study it just a little to understand how it works. They all do the same thing, but they have their own unique features, services, costs, and capabilities.

Mid-Michigan Computer Consultants, Inc.
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Bay City, Michigan
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