The Three Levels of Data Protection for Data Hoarders

The following post is aimed for photographers and other digital hoarders. Those of us that want to keep various digital assets not just for a few years, but a lifetime, and even multiple lifetimes (passed down, etc.)

There are three levels of data protection: Data resiliency, data backup, and data archive.

Data Resiliency (Redundant Disks, RAID, NAS/DAS)

Data resiliency is when you have multiple disks in some sort of redundant configuration. Typically this is some type of RAID array, through there are other technologies now that operate similar to RAID (such as ZFS, Storage Spaces, etc.) This will protect you from a drive failure. It will not, however, protect you from accidental file deletion, theft, flood/natural disaster, etc. The drives have the same file system on them, and thus have a lot of “shared fate”, where if something happens to one, it can happen to the other.

To put it simply, while there are some scenarios where your data is protected by data resiliency (drive failure), there are scenarios where it won’t (flood, theft).

RAID is not backup.

Data Backup

One of the maxims we have in the IT industry in which I’ve worked for the past 20 years is RAID is not backup. As stated in the previous section, there are scenarios where RAID will not keep your data safe. What will make it safer in the short term is to have a good backup solution. Data backup is not generally a long-term solution, but it is something that’s good to have.

A data backup is a mechanism where files are copied from your active environment to a non-active environment. Probably the best general backup mechanism I’ve seen is Time Machine from Apple. You can designate a drive, typically an external one, and the system automatically backs up files to that drive. You can browse the history of your file and file systems and retrieve something you deleted months ago.

There are lots of cloud solutions now, where your data is backed up to a cloud service like Dropbox, Backblaze, etc. Short term, I like these solutions. I do not like them for long term solutions.

I don’t like them for archive.

Backup is not archive.


Archive is probably what most of us really want long term. Our treasured photos, memories, projects, etc., we want to keep them forever. Not only do we want them to last our entire lifetime, we want to be able to pass them to our heirs.

Over the years and decades, your data will have different homes. Multiple drives or even arrays, copied from one to the other.

I don’t like any backup solutions for archive, as backup solutions are too tied to a particular platform. The best backup solution is putting your files in a file structure.

For photos, I prefer having the JPEGs, raw files, HEIFs, etc., just in file systems. I don’t like them stored in photo management systems like Apple Photos or Adobe Lightroom. These systems change/evolve over time, and it can make accessing them a decade from now difficult. I’ve run into this with Apple iPhotos, which transitioned to Photos a few years ago. Photos will convert an older iPhotos repos into Photos, but it’s not always perfect. It’s just much easier to have the basic files in a basic file structure.

These files will be copied onto multiple hard drives so there are multiple copies, and moved every few years (about 5 years or so) since hard drives have a limited life span.

Archive can often be associated with backup, but I like to keep the two distinct, as I feel there are different strategies between them.


There’s a lot more details that go into these three concepts of course, but I hope this will get you thinking about your long term plan for your treasured files.

One Response to The Three Levels of Data Protection for Data Hoarders

  1. Pere says:

    Archive for me is: 2x local copies on Hard Drives at home, uploaded to two different -manually synced- clouds.

    A few years ago I used to keep the 2nd (encrypted) hard drive in the car or somewhere else but these days with clouds I feel its enough.

    Good point of switching HDDs every so often and not trusting programs. Reminds me of:

    “In 2002, there were great fears that the discs would become unreadable as computers capable of reading the format had become rare and drives capable of accessing the discs even rarer”

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