Data Protection Acts #1: DVDs

Recent silence has been due to a combination of two major factors, (bloody) Christmas and a serious amount of investigative work. The investigative work stemmed directly from my Dell-inquent Computers.

Having never before suffered from a computer failure, my two recently temperamental Dell machines made me a little more concerned about data backup. As a good little erstwhile IT professional, I have been in the habit of writing out backup CDs/DVDs … occasionally. However, it is amazing how a complete year can drift by before one realizes that one hasn’t actually done a new backup in any one of the past twelve months. Very useful! Being in a euphoric state of retirement, it’s not as if I keep much in the way of mission critical data on my machines but there is data that I’d rather not lose, including a financial control spreadsheet and photographs. The financial spreadsheet could be reconstituted, though to do so would be a pain in the backside, but the photographs are a different issue.

Before digital photography, photographs were less critical; I still have 15 35mm slide boxes each capable of holding 500 mounted slides – lose a digital version of a photo or two and they can be painstakingly scanned back in again. The slide boxes don’t constitute an off-site backup but they seem otherwise secure. Digital photographs are another issue; they exist only in the ethereal electronic world as ones and zeros and if lost are gone for ever. It was our digital photographs that were causing me the most concern.

P1020965 DVDsTwo years ago, before Dell, I had never had enough computer hard disk space to store all our digital images. As a result, I was a very good boy and frequently wrote out our photos to optical media, originally CDs and latterly DVDs. We currently have a combined collection of ~50 disks. Originally, I could fit several trips worth of scanned images, as bmp files, on a single 700Mb CD. With our first forays into digital photography, each RAW image, a so-called digital negative, was now some 12Mb and a CD could hold only a single trip (50-ish images), though frequently a DVD was necessary if we were not hard-hearted enough at the deletion of duds. Since both of us were now digitally snapping away, that is, of course, a disk each. Given our latest generation of DSLR cameras, each new image has grown to some 24Mb and we are beginning to have trouble fitting our more recent, typically longer, trips onto a 4.7Gb DVD.

Our optical disks, however, proved less than completely reliable. Having acquired my Dell desktop last January, complete with a 1.5Tb hard drive, I thought I’d use some of the space to make our photo collection readily available – “on-line”, as it were. I began reading in our disks and storing them on the enormous hard drive. One disk failed to read. [See Cyclic Redundancy Check Nightmares.] I tried on three other computers but it refused to play ball. I’d lost a disk’s worth of images. I did find some recovery software which was partially successful in regenerating a few images but the majority were gone for ever.

Not only are the DVDs not an offsite backup but one failed disk out of 50 represents a 2% failure rate. Clearly, I needed additional data protection. Of course, I’d learnt this lesson last year when the disk failed to read but somewhere along the line I’d omitted to do anything about it. The lesson bears repetition.

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