Why should you back up your computer?  Imagine a family member (your wife) curled up in your leather chair, wrapped snugly in a blanket, and sipping on their favourite beverage, while enjoying an evening in front of a nice cozy fire.  How better can life be?  Now imagine that same family member reaching into the family hope chest ,that serves as the room’s coffee table, and pulling out the cherished family photo albums.  Now continue to imagine that family member, tossing each picture into the roaring fire, to be lost forever.  As unrealistic as this may sound, the reality of the situation isn’t.

Our lives are becoming increasingly more ‘digital’ – the typical household now consists of one or more computers, digital cameras, digital music for their IPods and mp3 players, and digital video from their DVD quality video recorder, PVR (Personal Video Recorder) or TiVo Box.  At last count, my wife and I had over 22,000 digital photos stored on our computers, approximately 60 Gigabytes of date (GB).  Although her last trip to the get a few developed, did resulted in another 450  photographs stacked around our house, there still remains over 19,500 digital photographs that could be lost at a moment’s notice.  This number continues to grow by the day.

My Computer is Invincible

This could be you.
This could be you.

Many would argue, “I have had my computer for five years and nothing has gone wrong, why would I need to backup my files”. I will touch more on that later, however what about fire or theft.  It is a rare occasion that a burglar would steal your family photo albums, but throwing your precious laptop into their bag of goodies, and in turn 19,500 of your fondest memories;  your wedding, a tropical vacation, or the birth of your child; the video of his first steps; will be more devastating than the accident itself, a fire is even less forgiving.

This could be seen as an advertisement for your local photo process centre, but what I am going to discuss in this article, and those to follow is much more entertaining.

Storage needs are growing exponentially

I recently purchased a new computer that came with a 750 gigabyte (GB) hard drive, plenty of room to save pictures, music, digital video, and games, your entire life in a box. Truthfully, I cannot imagine ever using up the entire space, but I am positive there are many home users out there that do. The amount of digital content being created and stored by the average consumer is rapidly increasing. Much like my wife, photographs that use to stay in shoeboxes are now stored on the computer. Home videos, TV show, movies, music; all of it is being stored digitally, and most goes onto a hard disk somewhere in the digital home. The size of digital files is growing, too. From the rapid increase in megapixels on digital cameras to the current transition from Standard Definition TV to HDTV, as the quality of the digital media increases, so does the size of the file that stores it.

As an example, it Currently, it takes about 2.3 GB/hr to store Standard Definition TV while HDTV is stored at an average of around 8.6 GB/hr. That means a PVR with a 250GB hard drive can store around 110 hours of standard definition programming but only around 30 hours of high definition programming (2).  With this increase in the amount, diversity and size of data being stored digitally, it is easy to believe that the amount of personal content or home reference data in a “‘well-furnished’ digital home” will grow from about 322 GB per home in 2005 to 1,933 GB by 2010 (1).

 Your Digital Household

Now let’s look at the typical family, the 750 GB monster I touched on above is a single computer, with its own “filing cabinet” or hard drive of information.  Many households have multiple computers (by computers, this is not limited to simply Windows, but extends to Mac OS, Linux, or any other user operating system), and many consumers bring laptop computers from the office.  Each device may be storing its own digital content, and in many cases duplicates across the household.  Let’s extend this to a hypothetical household I will refer to as “The Smith’s”.  Dad has his powerhouse of a computer, with the same 750GB of storage, and like all dad’s that computer is off limits to most, Dad players a few games, but loves is music, and playing around with his digital photo’s, and promises to one day edit the hours of video he has stored on the computer to DVD’s.  Mom is the proud owner of a more mature, less powerful computer,  but still with plenty of storage space with an aging 250 GB hard drive.  Beyond her daily Facebook fix, and online card games, mom loves working with own digital photo archives.  Easily, we can see how a household is quickly bridging that 1933 GB threshold, and how increasingly devastating it would when you inevitably loose a file, a folder or the entire contents of a hard drive.

Added to the mix is the growing world of Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) certified products (I will talk about DLNA in a future article), which allow you to easily share your pictures, music, videos between any certified devices, easy access, and a common location of your media is becoming increasingly important.

Moving Forward

Over a series of articles I will continue to discuss the merits of digital storage, discuss the various solutions, from increasing or adding a new hard drive to your home computer to increase the storage space, external storage enclosures, Media Home Servers, and RAID Devices.  How best do you copy / backup your data, how to you protect your family photos from being lost?

Oh, by the way it would take the following number of disks to backup our approximately 93 standard CD-R’s, or 14 DVD’s to backup our photos. There has to be a better method!
Sources: (1) The Diffusion Group: The DNA of the Digital Home: Trends in Digital Home Storage

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