Do you have family photos and videos stored on ssd or hard drives? Even if you put them in the drawer and do not work on them at all, they will die at some point. Do you know how long they last and what to do to not lose your personal data?
Storing material on a computer is both a blessing and a curse. You can save terabyte from photos, documents and other personal data. But this data is more precarious than you think, thanks to a phenomenon known as bit rot or data degradation. And this applies to ssd but also to simple hard drives.
Hard disks and ssd do not last forever
Take a hard drive and an ssd and bury them along with a book in a time capsule for 100 years. As in movie "Dark Code" with Nicolas Cage. You can bet from now on that when you dig the capsule the book will be legible, but the storage units? …. Good luck.
Malfunctions in hardware storage units do not just happen because they can cause hardware failures. Whether we are talking about ssd or old-fashioned mechanical hard drives, these drives have limited capacity to hold data, even when not working. No, that does not mean you have to keep your computer open all night because you are afraid of losing your photos. Not even storing your full records in a closet for decades is not the best idea.
Of course you can not even start writing the 1 and 0 bits on a stone. And if all of a sudden they all decided to print all their files on paper, the trees would most likely run out. So what can you do to keep your data intact for both you and future generations?
How disks store data (and how they can lose it)
Hard disks use magnetism to store bits (of all aces and zeros) in groups. These bits can, over time, be reversed or demagnetized, which can lead to data corruption if it occurs in sufficient quantity. To compensate for this, hard drives have an error correction code (ECC) that looks for faulty tracks. If they find one, the hard drive fixes it, if possible.
Ssd drives do not have removable components and magnetism, as on hard drives. They use a different method for storing bits. These disks use an insulating layer to trap charged electrons inside tiny transistors to vary the bits between 1 and 0.
Of course there is a lot more technology behind this, but the above description provides a basic simplified idea of how the two types of storage hold your data.
Now let's see how they can lose them over time, as if they are rotting. With hard disks, as mentioned above, stored bits can reverse their magnetic polarity. If several of them are reversed without correction, this can lead to disaster.
The ssd units, on the other hand, lose their data when the insulating layer degrades and the charged electrons leak.
How long it takes to smell bad from rot depends on many factors. Hard disks have the ability to keep their data intact for decades, even if they have been erased. Ssd has been reported to lose their data within a few years when they are in the same state. In fact, there are reports that if data on an ssd is stored in an unusually hot location, it can be corrupted even faster.
But activated, these discs are a different story. They usually work until they encounter typical problems, such as hardware failures or when the ssd have completed their read / write cycles. They can also lose data in the usual ways, such as malware, corrupted firmware, water contact, or any other accidental problem that has nothing to do with the normal end of their life.
How to protect your data from Bit Rot
So what does a home, simple computer user do to store their data and protect it from storage failure? The answer is more or less what computer professionals do.
First, pay attention to the health of the drives you are actively using. One way to do this is to check their condition constantly.
You can also set a limit on how long you will you are using an active hard disk or an ssd. In the past, ssd were not considered as reliable hard drives when in active use, but this is no longer widely believed. Most users expect an ssd to last as long as an average hard drive.
A good general rule of thumb is to keep a storage unit for no more than about five years. This is just an estimate, because some users hold their disks much longer than this. They basically keep them waiting until they are destroyed. If you do this, it would be good to have a reliable backup strategy.
First, let's talk about archiving disks. If you keep data on a regular hard drive or ssd, in a closet or in a safe, it is a good idea to enable it and let it run on a schedule. This keeps them in good condition and reduces the chance of bit rot or other problems.
For a hard drive, you can probably power it at least once a year or once every two years to prevent the mechanical parts from sticking. You should also "refresh" the data, rewrite it or use a third-party tool, such as DiskFresh. Ssd drives are a bit simpler because they only need to hold their memory. You can turn them on for a few minutes about twice a year.
Another option is to consider the case of archival storage media, such as disks Verbatim M-Disc Blu-ray, who are supposed to keep their data for 1.000 years. (We assume, however, that you will probably not be alive to verify what the company is saying, but also not to seek compensation if something goes wrong). They come in different capacities of 25 GB, 50 GB, and 100 GB per disk. Their recording speeds are slower than a turtle's, so you should be prepared for a lengthy archiving process.
Whichever file option you choose, keep multiple copies of your data, in different locations and media, to make sure you don't lose your files.
Back up your files
Backup is something that many people do not think about, but nowadays it is easier than ever to make it. In general, the best backup strategy corresponds to three copies of your data. The first is what you use on your computer every day.
The second is a local copy that you keep on a backup drive, which can be an external hard drive or a NAS box. Windows 10 has a built-in feature called "Backup" that will automatically back up your computer (Settings> Update & Security> Backup). There are also many other third-party tools to back up. Alternatively, you can manually copy your personal files and folders on a daily or weekly basis.
So far you only have two copies of your data in the same place, for example in your home, and if there is a fire or flood in your home both disks will be destroyed at the same time. This is why an "offsite" backup is a great idea.
The easiest solution is to use a cloud backup service. If you are concerned about privacy, you can encrypt your backups before uploading them to the cloud to prevent a service provider or third party from viewing your data. Be careful because if you lose the encryption code, you also lose the backups.
Three copies of your data stored in different media and geographical locations should be enough to prevent the loss of your data. We do not go to the fourth because in the end you will call us schizophrenics.