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Move it or Lose it: Storing Digital Media

Move it or Lose it: Storing Digital Media

The first step in digital preservation of film is transferring the footage using the highest quality technology available, such as our Lasergraphics ScanStation film scanner. But once the transfer is done and you have those nice 2k files with all that dynamic range, how do you back them up?

This raises a complex set of issues for archives and consumers alike, and the best answer we have is a concept Kevin Kelly proposed over at the Blog of the Long Now back in 2008: "Movage." Rather than thinking of your digital data as being in storage, the smart approach is to accept the fact that every storage medium available today will likely be supplanted by something faster, better, cheaper in a few years. That means frequently moving those bits to the latest digital storage format so that they're easily accessible when you need them. Let too much time go by and you may not be able to view them at all.

The only way to archive digital information is to keep it moving. I call this movage instead of storage. Proper movage means transferring the material to current platforms on a regular basis — that is, before the old platform completely dies, and it becomes hard to do. This movic rythym of refreshing content should be as smooth as a respiratory cycle — in, out, in, out. Copy, move, copy, move.
 

We couldn't agree more. Our tips for backup of your film scans are as follows:

  • Clone the hard drive containing your original scan files to at least one additional drive, two if possible. Hard drives are cheap, fast ways of accessing the data, though you should never consider them permanent. SSD drives, while generally lower capacity and more expensive per gigabyte, eliminate some of the most common failure points of traditional platter-based hard drives. Namely, they have no moving parts. No matter what you choose for drives though, assume they will fail sooner rather than later, and frequently move the files around to new drives. Store these drives in different physical locations. Three copies of the files are no use if they're all sitting on the same shelf and there's a fire or some other disaster. Take one home, leave one at the office, store one in a storage facility.
  • If you have an archive and the means to build or buy one, and you require frequent access to the files, store them on a RAID 5 or RAID 6 array. These provide some redundancy in the event of a drive failure. If one of the drives in the RAID fails, you have some time to replace it without losing your data.
  • Some tape backup formats are actually quite good for now. We recommend LTO backups, because the format is widely used, relatively fast, robust and well tested, and has an open roadmap for future development. As with tip #1, keep at least 2 copies, in different physical locations. It's possible to stay up to 2 generations behind the current LTO format, because the current decks are required to read tapes from 2 generations prior. So one strategy for saving money is to buy the previous generation hardware on the used market. You'll be able to read your files on both old and new hardware for several years, and then you can upgrade and migrate to a newer LTO format, but one that's one or two generations behind the current standard.
  • Cloud storage may be the eventual answer. It remains to be seen how well cloud services will work long term. The advantage of these services is that they make sure there's redundancy, easy access and backups so you don't have to. It comes at a price, though, and that price can potentially be pretty high.

There are no easy answers when it comes to the question of storing digital files. We think Kevin Kelly nailed it with his concept of Movage, and that it's a strategy that should be adopted by anyone concerned about access to their digital files.