If you’ve spent a considerable amount of time ripping, archiving and possibly tagging your precious music library, the last thing on earth you want is a storage disaster. Unfortunately, spinning hard disks are not the most secure way to store your music collection for an extended period of time. In the computer industry, failure rates of harddisks are specified by MTB which is the mean time between failure. It turns out that on average, you can expect about anywhere from 5-10 years of lifespan. Of course these are all best-case scenarios and largely depends on ambient temperatures, mechanical factors and the number of read/write operations.
How do you handle these problems?
Since there’s no perfect solution (yes, solid state disks can fail, too), I personally recommend following a simple pattern that you can easily implement. My experience shows that backing up stuff sucks. You feel pretty motivated on day one but most people quickly give up later down the road.
A good backup plan for our purposes as audiophiles with music server setups should be easy to follow (“set and forget”), reliable and offer quick restore operations in case of failures. You definitely don’t want to spend several days getting your system back up and running.
Ideally, I would start with a local backup system. Mac users have long been spoiled with Time Machine which simply takes care of a versioned backup. All you need is a separate powered USB hard drive or NAS having ample storage space. Windows users can rely the built-in backup program or purchase a third-party tool such as Acronis True Image. I’ve had great experiences with Acronis when I was still a Windows user. Not sure whether that has changed. Whatever solution you choose for your local backups, make sure they are dead-easy and require little or no interaction. Our focus here is on full automation. You must however check the integrity of your backups from time to time just to be safe.
Next, I personally use an off-site copy of my entire music collection. I simply created a snapshot of the backup disk to yet another external hard drive that I currently keep locked up in a safetly locker at work. If my home burns down or if I lose my local backups, I can quickly get back whatever I had. Again, you should test the functionality of that external drive from time to time. I plan to replace the harddisk in 2-3 years by simply cloning the contents of the existing drive.
As a third layer of protection, I’m using cloud backups. My personal favorite here is CrashPlan. They offer unlimited cloud storage for less than $50 per year which is really inexpensive. In addition, CrashPlan runs on Mac OS, Windows and Linux so your favorite OS is. If you’re a bit paranoid like myself – you can even specify your own local encryption key for your data so no one can spy on your personal data. There’s also a really handy app for your smartphone which allows you to download or view a file from anywhere. I’ve also tested their direct competitor Carbonite but didn’t like it as much. Google and Dropbox have also started offering more storage but I don’t trust their security. Uploading for massive music library to CrashPlan is a major pain for the first time depending on the upload speed / bandwidth of your ISP but once its complete, it runs perfectly fine in the background. If unexpectedly all other methods fail, I can just lean back and download everything from my “cloud locker”. I might lose a few days of musical enjoyment but the extra peace of mind is totally worth it. Cloud storage is also a great extra layer of safety for your family pictures or any other valuable documents, not just music.
I believe my system works for me and runs completely automatic. You are of course free to pick your own strategy. How are you backing up your data? Let me know in the comments below.