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Monday, March 29, 2010

MUST DO: Backup & Archive Electronic Art Files

If you have ever had your computer hard drive or external drive fail, then you know the value of having all your important art files stored on at least two separate medias. That way if one drive crashes you can still recover your files from the second one. For example, each file should be on your computer hard drive plus DVDs, OR hard drive plus an external drive, OR two external drives, etc. And each of those should be located at different sites in case of a catastrophic event (fire, flood, theft, earthquake). A method that many artists use to backup their hard drives is by using an automatic remote backup service over the internet.

Five years ago, I found out the hard way when my external hard drive crashed. I had stored all my art files on ONE external 250 GB drive to make space on my computer's hard drive. A data recovery company was able to recover 90% of the files (was very lucky to recover that many) but my mistake cost me time, the lose of some valuable files, and big bucks ($2500 at $100 a GB). Don't make the same mistake that I made. Backup your files!

Difference between Backing up & Archiving
There is a subtle difference between backing up files and archiving them. Normally when you backup files you are not concerned with saving the files forever. You just want to make sure you have duplicate files in case your hard drive crashes or a catastrophic event occurs. However, to archive art files that are not often used or really important, a person usually wishes to save the files and forget about them until needed many years later.

To archive art and prints for 100 years, they are wrapped in acid free paper and stored in an atmosphere controlled room. Unfortunately there really is no way to archive electronic files for long periods because the media that they are stored on do not have a long life expediency. Read the articles listed below to find out more about the longevity of different medias (CD, DVD, disk drives).* And storing electronic media for a 100 years may be irrelevant because the technology to read those files may no longer exist at the time the art is needed. Therefore, in my opinion archiving art files that are seldom used involves periodically transferring them from old drives to newer ones in order to prevent their loss.

*Data stored on CDs and DVDs can last as little as two years due what is called CD and DVD rot. Of course, most last longer than two years but CDs and DVDs are probably not reliable for long term storage. Read more about it on"CD and DVD Longevity: How Long Will They Last?"

*Some external drive manufacturers will sell an extended warranty for three years but admit that the life expectancy degrades fairly fast beyond that. Some users say that they had their external drives over five years with no problems. I had one fail in 1-1/2 years and another after three years. Several others of mine are still fine after four years. And in case you are wondering, I use many external hard drives (eight at the present). Read more about the longevity of external hard drives on Cnet forum questions and answers "Storage: Is there a life expectancy on external hard drives?"

Automatic Remote Data Backup
The Art of Licensing forums** on and recently have discussed automatic remote data storage sites as an excellent method in backing up hard drives. Some sites are free for limited storage, several cost about $5 per month for unlimited storage, and a few cost more. From the discussions that I have read on the forums, people have varied opinions on which service works for them. Because everyone has different needs, each person needs to make their own decision on which service to use. I suggest that you evaluate each of the backup sites (listed at the bottom of this article) for the following attributes that matter to you such as:
amount of storage allowed,
stores file types you need such as jpg.  (Read Kate Harper's comments in the comment section.)
ease of use,
speed of backup & recovery,
number of computers you want to backup,
backup external hard drives besides computer hard drive. (Only the CrashPlan service will backup external drives beside computer drives.) And,
ability to fine tune what data is backed up. )Some services will not allow you to choose what data you want to exclude.)

Below are a few articles that may help you make a decision on which service to choose. Even through the articles are for Mac users, I think they also pertain to PC users.

A article "6 reliable online backup services for your Mac"

A MacWorld article "Online backup services" that compares seven backup services. Search and link to this article is courtesy of Phyllis Dobbs.

A MacWorld article "CrashPlan review." The reason I included this article is because CrashPlan allows external drive backups and the others do not.

Some Remote Backup Data Services
Amazon 3S: (0.15 per GB storage fee + upload & download fees)
Backblaze: $5 month (unlimited storage)
Carbonite: $4.57 month (unlimited storage)
CrashPlan: $4.50 month (unlimited storage)
DropBox: $9.99 month (100GB storage)
Egnyte: $9.99 month (20GB storage)
Mozy: $4.95 month (unlimited storage)
Jungle Disk: ($2 to $5 per month plus storage fees on Amazon 3S + download & upload fees)
SugarSync: $4.99 month (30GB storage)

**Read "Networking Resource - Art Licensing Forums" to find out about art licensing forums.

Read the comments to this article for more information on remote backup data services.

Comments about this article are greatly appreciated. Click on the comment section below.


  1. FINALLY-someone is discussing this. I did a lot of research and found that Backblaze is the best for mac. There are a million reasons why but I can't remember them all, Some of these services don't accomodate jpgs. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT???? Some you have to sort through files and drag them over. (Who has the time?) Backblaze doesn't require that, it does everything automatically in the background. It also gives you 15 day free trial and a lot of the others don't. Anyone living in earthquake country you should definitely have a remote storage system.

  2. Thank you for this article - didn't realize external drives have such short lifespans! Maybe an online service is better. Question, though - does it cost money to retrieve files from these services? Do you recommend having an external drive along with the online service?

  3. Thanks, Joan, for the reminder and info. I never really thought about the difference between backing up and archiving but you can be sure I will now!

  4. Remember that online services use drives also so that there is no guarantee that their drives don't crash and lose your data. Some of the services cost you to put data on and take it off their drives such as Amazon 3S and Jungle Disk. I don't know about the others. Personally I think it is good practice to place files on external drives even with their short life. However, it is a decision you have to make. But the most important thing is to make sure that your files are on at least two separate medias. Right now I am backing up my computer hard drive onto an external drive but it isn't offsite (a no no which is soon to be rectified) and my finished art has been removed from my computer drive and is backed up onto two separate external hard drives (one is located offsite).

  5. Thanks Joan. My computer needs a minor repair, so backing up has been on my mind. Your article was "perfect timing" for me! The glitch in my mac is a constant, nagging reminder that all my work could be lost in a second. You're a life-saver, thanks.

  6. Joan - great reminder. I recently learned that there is more of a difference between CDs & DVDs than just the amount of data they hold. CD's are meant to last about 5 years, DVDs - 60. I now only use DVDs when backing up to disk regardless of the amount of info.

    Tara Reed

  7. Tara that is what I had also heard - DVDs last a lot longer. But according to the article on the longevity of them (listed above) it depends upon the brand and if they have burn and after burn protection (the more expensive ones do) and also how they are stored.

  8. Apple's Time Machine comes free on an Apple, will automatically back up onto a hard drive, and if you get Time Capsule (the device, $300), it will start backing up your lap top soon as you walk in the door with it.
    Mobil Me is Apple's online server, $79 a year and includes web site, blog and more. Anyone have experience with this for online backing up?
    Thanks Joan, for all of this info.

  9. Hi Joan, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with us! I posted a link from my blog to your blog today!
    Thanks again!

  10. Thanks so much for your valuable information, Joan! I just wanted to add that I have an AT&T business phone & DSL. For $7.00 per month, I have unlimited off-line back up. It's called Backup and Go. It sits behind the scenes and continually backs up the areas that I designate. I used to save backups to floppy, then CD, then DVD. After I had these items fail and go blank, I am thankful for new advances in this area.

    I also store all of my artwork on a second drive in my computer, which is for data storage only. After experiencing the pain of lost data, I appreciate all the valuable advice.


  11. Joan,
    you don't know how many life careers you're saving by your reminder.
    But, after reading the articles marked in your blog I am now confused for what's better. I prefer the automatic storage companies but except their limitations you never know when they'll crash or go out of business or keep you as their prisoner forever with just not getting on time the files that you need .
    Seems to me that your solution of keeping two hard drivers should be, despite their disadvantages, the best thing to do when you also download your files to a CD/DVDs.
    If such backups will keep your files for the next five years
    let's hope that in that time technology will find new ways for storage of long, long life for our digital creations.
    Good and successful day to all members of the group.

  12. OK so much information I did not know before. I ordered an external hard drive. That's a start. Maybe my desk top won't look like my closet.