Back up your hard drives! Right now!

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Is your data playing a vanishing act? Just like a missing sock in the laundry, your files can disappear from your hard drive – and it's more common than you think. Hard drives aren't forever; they can start to lose data in just 5-7 years. Don't risk your digital legacy.

Dave Reilly
Dave Reilly
Senior Asset Librarian & Archivist | Warner Music Group
November 27, 20237 mins
Back up your hard drives! Right now!

I am of the firm belief that my wardrobe occasionally eats items of my clothing. I put all of my clothes in there - my shirts, jumpers, socks, we all know what clothes are… - under the assumption that whenever I next need them, they will be exactly as they were, just as I left them. But then I go to find a purple jumper a friend gave me years ago that I just remembered I had, and it’s nowhere to be found. I realize I haven’t worn a certain gym tee for a while, and am unable to find it. On top of that, some of my clothes have actually been eaten by moths. Still there, but with holes in, and essentially unwearable. If I leave all of my clothes in my wardrobe and decide to not open it again for a year, will I have any clothes left?

Outside of the archiving world, it’s broadly unknown that today’s hard drives tend to begin losing data within five to seven years. Most people are of the belief that data is safe on a hard drive, mainly because no one has told us otherwise. But it’s simply not true, and every day people are losing files, or their data is becoming corrupted, without them even knowing it. Think about if you’re a new band on the block. As I’ve often seen first hand from my artist management days, all of your studio sessions are held on ‘The Hard Drive’, which sits under the bassist’s bed when not in use, sometimes for years at a time.

Your band releases a hit! Congratulations! Suddenly, requests come in for the instrumental version for use on a lucrative dog grooming TV ad campaign, and Taylor Swift wants to sample the drum track for a new single she’s releasing (which will obviously be massive). Quick, where’s that hard drive?? It’s under the bassist’s bed, someone get it and plug it in! Wait…why are the production parts to our single not showing up when we plug the drive in? Why are the drum multitracks there, but the files show as 0kb in size??

Suddenly, you’ve not just lost massive revenue as the dog grooming company moves instead playing, “Who Let The Dog’s Out?” instead of your instrumental, and then Taylor Swift gets Dave Grohl to drum something for her single. You’ve also lost a piece of your band’s history, your legacy. Pieces of the fabric of that moment in the studio when you created magic are gone forever.

Think about if you’re a filmmaker and you’ve made your debut feature, a touching story based on your fractious relationship with your father. “Dad Times” is a hit at the box office! Congratulations! Fast forward to the 10th anniversary of “Dad Times” release, you want to do something special, and release a deluxe anniversary BluRay edition, including never before seen footage. You want to collate the bloopers for a fun end to a Q&A at Cannes. Where’s that hard drive? Wait, why are some of the rushes missing? Why are some corrupted? You’ve not just lost revenue because of the lack of added content you can provide for an anniversary release, and ended that Q&A on a drier note than you’d hoped. You’ve also lost your history, your legacy. Those rushes can’t be recreated if they were only on your hard drive, which is now failing.

Hard drives serve an amazing function, to hold massive amounts of data on (usually) easily portable devices. The access and ease of use is incredible, but their intention isn’t long-term secure storage. At least, they should never be considered the only storage solution. So what options are there? Well, first off, have a backup hard drive, so a master drive and a safety drive. Then back up your data on to a cloud storage solution. If you can, back up your data on to an LTO tape too. Tape is a super safe storage solution for data long-term. Give yourself options so that if one fails, others are available. Also, remember to plug in your hard drive from time to time, even when you don’t specifically need something from it. Hard drives lose data quicker the longer they go unused, so boot it up from time to time to check in on it, see how it’s doing.

Your content is too important to be left in one place, and to be left to itself until the one moment you really need it. Give yourself options, and peace of mind in the meantime. And buy two of any items of clothing you really like! Put the second one somewhere outside of your hungry, moth-laden wardrobe! And probably clean out your wardrobe from time to time, or buy a new one…