Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Electronic Records Care: Digital Storage Considerations

In yesterday’s Electronic Records Care on Facebook, we talked about organizing your files of important family records and digital photographs. Now we want to talk about where these files are stored. When it comes to your important digital records, your storage needs can grow quickly.  You want digital storage that meets your capacity needs, will last, is easily accessible but secure from outside threats, and fits your budget.  The main solution options generally boil down to a) a local, external hard drive that connects to your computer by USB or other connection, or b) online-based cloud storage you access through the internet.  Both options have their pros and cons.

External hard drives are physical storage media that connect to your computer by USB port.  They offer quick access to your documents and photos from your computer, can be configured to automatically back up files saved on them, are safe from hackers, and can be purchased in ample storage unit sizes (500GB-2TB+).  They are, however, susceptible to local risks such as fire, water damage, and theft, are only accessible from a single location unless disconnected and moved, and moving them puts them at risk of physical damage. Even the best external hard drives have a shelf-life of approximately three to ten years before they are at risk of spontaneous failure.  They generally have a linear pricing structure, and could cost you approximately $0.10-$0.50 per GB, depending on the quality of the hard drive.

Cloud storage uploads your documents and photos to off-site storage through the internet rather than saving them on a physical drive connected to your computer.  Cloud storage is accessed online by logging into your account with the cloud storage site, accessible wherever you go so long as you have an internet connection.  With cloud storage, your records are kept safe from local threats of fire, water damage, and theft, and are easily shareable.  However, using cloud storage does come with risks.  You have less control over your materials with cloud storage as they are stored off-site, and you may not know exactly how secure the cloud’s servers really are.  Your records could be vulnerable to hackers, access can be slower than with external hard drives, and the access restrictions could leave your family records inaccessible if only one person has the username and password information for the account. Cloud-based storage also involves on-going costs that have to be paid periodically to continue having access to that storage; if prices rise past what you feel you can pay, you may be left with having to find an alternative storage solution in a hurry. Depending on the amount of storage you need and the features offered by the storage service – file encryption, multiple restore points, geographically-dispersed servers – costs could range anywhere from pennies to $5+ per GB of storage.  Some cloud storage options like Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive come with a limited amount of free storage, so if you do not have a need for a greater amount of storage, these free options might be a good choice. 

We generally advocate for a hybrid solution: a physical hard-drive for your main storage needs, with back-up copies saved to the cloud. If something happens to one, you will still have access to the other, and will not have lost anything. We will talk more about this tomorrow, when we consider questions about backing up your digital files.