I’ve been thinking about backups lately. For most of my purposes I’m pretty informal, mostly because my documents generally aren’t all that important, and an occasional copy to another device has sufficed.

But now that I’ve scanned a bunch of photos, bought some digital-only music and am scanning paper and throwing the dead trees away, I need to get a little more serious and organized about backups.

It also occurred to me this week that optical storage is quickly dying. I had thought CD’s and perhaps DVDs (but not likely Blu-Ray; too new and too close to the solid state and network/cloud changeover) would be readable for a few decades. Yesterday I took my optical-drive-free eeePC to my overnight project to read PDF books on a screen bigger than my phone and more convenient than my laptop, and I suddenly realized I could easily live without an optical drive now. CDs and DVDs are on the way out as far as digital storage, and I never really trusted them for reliable backups. They are good for physical distribution, but that’s so passe. When I get a physical CD for work the first thing I do is make a copy on disc for backup, and often I use the online copy rather than bother with the disc. (Surprisingly and encouragingly, more and more clients are using USB flash drives and network storage to distribute PC images. Often I just need a 2GB or 4GB flash drive, put it in a working PC onsite, load the flash drive and then use it to reimage a downed or malfunctioning system. Sometimes I just PXE boot to start an image.) So now I think in just a few years it’s going to be difficult or at least inconvenient to find a drive to restore an optical backup.

(Side note: using the eee-PC in this manner made me realize I want an android tablet when they are available and have the bugs worked out. The screen size of the netbook combined with the touch screen interface of the Droid phone suits most of my mobile tech needs. The keyboard will be a problem; I want a decent physical keyboard to type on, but I like the tablet form factor for reading/browsing. I dunno, maybe a tablet-sized onscreen keyboard will be usable?) (Sidenote sidenote: “dunno” is not flagged by my spell checker.)

So, tape is too expensive for home use, and arranging for offsite tapes is also not likely to happen at home. Writable optical media I never really trusted, and its size makes partitioning backups inconvenient. I’ve never bought into the usb-hard-drive-as-backup idea, and again offsite backup is an annoyance. (One failure in the cheap drive loses too much data, and moving and disconnecting/reconnecting the drive all the time makes me lose confidence in it. And besides, I need the room in the refrigerator for my sodas….)

Today I read up a little on Amazon S3 online storage. I think it costs [warning: outdated info ahead!] $0.10 per gigabyte per month for storage and $0.10 or $0.15 per gigabyte upload costs. Apparently if you need to give someone else temporary access to a file you can generate a web link that will work for two weeks or some other period of time. Apparently you can enable public access and use it as a static web site or static storage for files. (I’ll have to look if there’s download charges…probably.) I had briefly considered using Google Storage a while back, but [fellow forum user] had some issues with it.

I’ve lost my train of thought here. I guess I’m wondering if anyone has toyed with S3. I may use them or another similar service for my important backups. I could use the server I’m using for this website, but their product is virtual machines, not storage per se, and after losing the last virtual server and all its data I’m not sure it’s wise to use it for backup. Also my space is limited.

I’m probably over-engineering this as I do with everything, but I’ll need to organize my data into stuff that needs offsite backup, stuff that I have install discs for, stuff that is downloaded and can be redownloaded, etc..

Three days later…

$0.10 - $0.165 per gigabyte per month sounded cheap at first, then I realized 100 GB is $10 - $17 per month, plus upload/download fees. That starts adding up pretty quickly.

So I looked up the Fry’s weekly ad and found a Hitachi 2TB external for $115. Bought two of them to go along with my 1TB drive. I also have a 320GB external, but I carry it with the laptop for disc images and other large files, so it wouldn’t make a good backup store.