01.03.2013 (March 1, 2013)

LifeArchive – store all your digital assets safely (part 1 of 2)

Remember the moments when you, or your parents, found some really old pictures buried deep into some closet and you instantly get a warm and fuzzy feeling of memories? In this modern era of Cloud Services, we’re producing even more personal data which we want to retain. Pictures form your phone and your DSLR camera, documents you’ve made, non-drm games, movies and music you’ve bought etc. The list goes on and on. Todays problem is that you have so many different devices, that it’s really hard to keep up where all your data is.

One solution is to rely on a number of cloud services: Dropbox, Google, Facebook, Flickr etc can all host your images and files, but can you really rely that your data is still there after ten years? What about 30 years? What if you use a paid service and for some reason you forget to upgrade your new credit card data and the service deletes all your data? What about the files which lay on a corner of your old laptop after you bought a new shiny computer? You can’t rely that the cloud providers you use are still in business for decades to come.

The solution? Implement your own strategy by backing up all your valuable digital assets. After thinking this for a few years I finally came up with my current solution for this problem: Gather all your digital assets into one place, so that they’re easy to backup. You can still use all your cloud services like Dropbox and Facebook, but just make sure that you do automatic backups from all these services into this central storage. This way there’s only one place which you need to backup and you can easily do backups to multiple different places just for extra precaution.

First identify what’s worth saving

  • I do photography, so that’s a bunch of .DNG and .JPG images in my Lightroom archive. I don’t photograph that much, so I can easily store them all, assuming that I remove the images which have failed so badly that there’s no imaginable situation where I would want those.
  • I also like doing movies. The raw footage takes too much space that it’s worth saving, so I only archive the project files and the final version. I store the raw footage in external drives which I don’t backup into this archive.
  • Pictures from my cell phone. There’s a ton of lovely images there which I want to save.
  • Emails, text messages from my phone, comments and messages from facebook.
  • Misc project files. Be it a 3D model, a source code file related to an experiment, drawings for my new home layout etc. I produce this kind of small stuff on weekly basis and I want to keep them for future reference and for the nostalgic value.
  • This blog and the backups related to it.

I calculated that I have currently about 250GB of this personal data, spanning over a decade. I’ve planned that I can just keep adding data to this central repository during my entire life and to always transfer it to new hardware when the old breaks. In other words, this will be my entire digital legacy.

Action plan:

  1. Buy a good NAS to home
  2. Build bunch of scripts and automation to fetch all data from different cloud services to this nas
  3. Implement good backup procedures for this NAS.

The first step was quite easy. I bought a HP MicroServer, which acts as a NAS in my home. You can read more from this project from this other blog post. Second step is the most complex: I have multiple computers, an Android cell phone and a few cloud services where I have data that I want to save. I had to find existing solutions for each of these and build my own when I couldn’t find anything. The third step is easy, but it’s worth for another blog post next week.

Archive pictures, edited videos and other projects

I can access the NAS directly from my workstations via Samba/CIFS mounts over network, so I use it directly to host my Lightroom archive, edited video projects (not including raw video assets), and other project files which I tend to produce. I also use it to store drm free music, videos and ebooks which I’ve bought from internet.

Backing up Android phones

This includes pictures which I take with my phone, but also raw data and settings for applications. I found out about this nice program called Rsync for Android. It uses rsync with ssh keys to sync into a backup destination, which runs inside a OpenIndiana Zone in my NAS. Data destination dir is mounted into the zone via lofs, so that only the specific data directory is exposed to the zone. Then I use Llama to periodically run the backup.

In addition I use SMS Backup + to sync all sms and mms messages to GMail under a special “SMS” label. Works like charm!

Backing up GMail

gmvault does the trick. It uses IMAP to download new emails from GMail and it’s simple to setup.

I actually use two different instance of gmvault. They both sync my gmail account, but other deletes emails from the backup database which have been deleted from the gmail and other does not. The idea is that I can still restore my emails if somebody gains access to my gmail and deletes my all emails. I have one script in my cron that syncs the backup databases every night with the “-t quick” option.

Backup other servers

I have a few other servers, like the one where I host this blog, that needs to be backed up. I use simple rsync with ssh keys from cron, which backs up these every night. The rsync uses –backup and –backup-dir to retain some direct protection for deleted files.

Conclusions

This kind of central storage for all your digital assets needs some careful planning, but it’s an idea worth exploring. After you have established this kind of archive, you need to implement the backups, which I will talk in the next post.

This kind of archive solves the problem where you aren’t sure where all your files are – they either have a copy in the archive, or they don’t exists. Beside that, you can make some really entertaining discoveries when you crawl the helms of the archive and find some files you thought you had lost a decade ago.

Read the second part of this blog series at Setting backup solution for my entire digital legacy (part 2 of 2)



Responses

[…] As part of my LifeArchive project, I had to verify that I have sufficient methods to back all my valuable assets so well that they will last for decades. Sadly, there isn’t currently any mass media storage available that is known to function for such a long time, and in any way you must prepare for losing a site due to floods, fire and other disasters. This post explains how I solved my backup needs for my entire digital legacy. Be sure to read the first part: LifeArchive – store all your digital assets safely (part 1 of 2) […]

Thanks! I’ll probably buy a subscription on CrashPlan to store my edited videos, rare music collection, photos, email and old archive that I keep from 2000. Before my house got a wide-bandwidth internet connection, and multi-terabytes hard drives were invented I’ve used to make endless archives on optical discs. Last year I’ve spent four days in a row by copying back all the data that was worth keeping – there were several hundreds of CDr-s and DVDr-s, some of them were dead already (in all cases – cheap media died, and more expensive Verbatims and TDKs stayed alive). So I only kept 16 gigabytes of this trash. But it was cool!

Here are some photos and screenshots from these old findings, and the process itself: http://vk.com/album30721_182697499

Now there are 7 hard drives running in my computer, 12 terabytes in total. TONS of raw video data, both edited and not edited yet for years. It takes too much time and (!) effort to deal with all things that I’ve filmed, but I do really have to edit that stuff and keep the final result (and back it up).

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