Hard Times with Hard Drives

sleep driveIt’s too easy to become complacent about your hard drives. Crazy really when you consider they are the guardians of your data, the keepers of everything you value that a few years ago you would have kept locked away in your filing cabinet or in photo albums. And yet you take them for granted. Why? Because they are reliable; you will seldom have one fail on you. Right? Wrong. They do fail and the best question you can ask of a hard drive is not ‘Will you fail?’ but ‘When will you fail?’
Digital photography got going big time around 2001 and since then, as a keen photographer, I have accumulated several tens of thousands of images that I really do not want to lose. Are you in that situation, or something like it? How many back-ups do you have of your photos and how do you store them? Even if you are not too worried about your photos, the same question can be asked about all your valuable document files. (All those books you’ve written; the precious notes and ideas about new books and projects etc.)
Over the years, I think I’ve been lucky – I’ve never had a hard drive in a computer fail on me and until recently I’ve never had an external drive fail. This happy situation is of course what leads to complacency. Sharing much of my time between Tuscany and Phuket, with interludes elsewhere, I tend to bring my office with me. I keep my recent photos and all document files on my computer and they, along with all my older photos I keep backed up on a 1Tb hard drive. And because I’ve read posts like this one in the past and believed them, I also keep everything from my computer and external drive, as well as all of Gail’s stuff, backed up twice on two separate hard drives that I keep under safe storage in Italy.
Warning signs
Nevertheless, when my 1Tb drive stopped working recently, it was a nuisance and I realise with the benefit of hindsight that I should have read the warning signs.
What were they? Simple really – the drive was taking longer and longer to register when I plugged it into my computer. My old BlackMac was also culpable, I think, since it kept randomly ejecting the drive and giving me the ‘if you’re not careful, this drive is going to be damaged’ warning panel. So I should have known it was going to happen, especially since things happen in threes, and late last year I had two memory stick thumb drives fail as well. Of course, I kept meaning to buy another drive and back the old one up again, but when I finally did, it was too late: my not-very-old 1Tb drive was semi-comatose.
I took the drive into a computer store here in Phuket and asked them to retrieve the data and put it on another drive. The equivalent of £30 and week later they called me say that they couldn’t do it and needed to send it to Bangkok. How much do you estimated it will cost? I asked. Around 15-20000 Baht was the answer (£270-350). Ouch. Fortunately, as I said above, almost everything on the drive is backed up in Italy and I don’t need the files urgently, so I declined their offer. I still occasionally plug in the drive in the hope that it might have come out of its coma – the light comes on and it whirs away, and it registers on the Mac’s disk utility, but not enough to repair it.
The Solution?
Anyway, what all this preamble is really leading up to is that I have now covered my bases further by upgrading the free few Gb I had with Dropbox and bought a 100Gb package. At US$99 per year it gives peace of mind. The photos I have with me on the computer – around 30Gb – have taken the best part of a week to upload. Not sure why – my Internet connection here is fast, but now it’s done, it’s reassuring to know that the next time a drive fails (I’m now firmly in the mindset of when not if), everything is sitting safely in the San Francisco HQ of dropbox, or wherever they keep their servers. I’ll do the remaining photos when we return to Italy.

I wonder how many backups of backups Dropbox keep…

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