Backing up on DVDs and CDs? Think Again

You are an extremely lucky person if you have never lost anything from your computer. As every day goes by more and more of our lives are held on hardware that at any time could fail without notice; photographs, movies, journals, business records, website files, databases, designs, contacts, emails and more.

This might sound like the introduction to a new backup solution but the truth is this is more like a self motivating post. Despite losing photographs, work and many gigabytes of MP3 I still don’t have a reliable backup solution. It is forever on my todo list and never completed, as there is always something better to be doing.

Until my inevitable post describing the loss of my entire digital life, I just wanted to talk quickly about using optical discs (DVDs and CDs especially) for backup; don’t do it.

Most likely you are using more sophisticated methods such as an external hard drive, but if you have any old backups on disc, get them somewhere safe. Why? Simply because optical discs degrade over time.

The lifespan of a DVDr could be anything from 2 years to 30 years depending on the quality, storage, temperature and exposure to light. As anyone who has burned discs before will know, even discs in the same spindle are of varying quality; some work and some don’t.

Without the need for research, debate, analysis or testing it is safe to say you shouldn’t use CDs or DVDs for backup if you have anything but short term intentions. With the amount of alternatives available, it is best just to get out of this habit and look at something else.

A quick overview of alternative methods:

  • Cloud Storage – store your data online at places like Amazon S3 or Dreamhost Files Forever (my recommendation – let someone else worry about the hardware).
  • Dropbox – Great automatic solution, requires no maintenance, but limited in size
  • External Hard Drives – Applications like Time Machine on the Mac make this easy, but still could fail.
  • Crashplan – Looked like a good solution. Similar to dropbox but with more space and scope. When I tried it took too long to upload and drained bandwidth.

Whatever backup system you use make sure it is feasible, automatic and reliable. Most importantly, just make sure you have one! (note to self…)


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