The majority of video production nowadays is shot digitally. Footage is recorded either to high speed flash media, hard drives or optical disc. Each recording method has its flaws when it is used as a long term archival solution. Hard Disk Drives (HDD) are inherently unstable because they utilize internal spinning mechanics that need to stay lubricated. The manufacturer’s recommendation for lifetime is generally around 3 years, if continually used. Now, you may think that not using the drive would extend its life, but in reality it’s worse. While the drive is in use the lubricant is continually distributed around the spindle, therefore binding is less likely. When HDDs sit on a shelf there are many more variables that can arise to cause instability with lubrication: First, if the drive is not completely level this lubrication over the years can run from one side to the other, leaving parts exposed. Secondly, if the temperature is not moderated then this lubrication can dry up. Bottom line: if you try to spool up a drive that is inadequately lubricated it will bind and the drive is dead. Just think of a car running out of oil.
There are other dangers to be aware of: HDDs are very delicate and are microscopically calibrated. If this calibration is knocked out of alignment by say a hard bump or even a dreaded drop it can be very costly to fix, if not impossible: head misalignment can scratch platters and also kill a drive (the “click of death”). I think it is safe to say that HDDs, even though they offer a lot of space for a reasonable price they do not fall under the category of safe archiving solutions. So what about Solid State? Solid State Drives are fresh technology that offers dramatic performance upgrades, but sacrifices anything that was reliable about normal HDDs in the process. SSDs have a fixed amount of read/write cycles, and are are semi-volatile; the jury is still out on how long a current line SSD will retain data in archives. Not only that, but to get large enough disk space you pay through the nose: nearly triple the cost of HDDs. You have to remember that archives must last 20-30+ years down the line: if for some reason you need to access your footage, you want to make sure it’s there.
So what about discs like the ones used in Sony XDCAM cameras? While these offer a great workflow, discs of all flavors have their vulnerabilities. DVDs, CDs, Blu-rays, and laserdiscs all use a metallic substance that the laser engraves onto. This composite over time can crack resulting in an unfixable and complete loss of data. Also, they currently are not very cost effective and don’t offer much in the way of storage space. However, I will say that in addition to an archive, using an XDCAM disc as a self-contained project backup is a good idea. This way if you ever need to open up a project you dont have to unarchive it, just pop in your disc and away you go.
Now that you know a couple of the pitfalls to using HDDs, SSDs, and discs as an archive solution, I’ll tell you what we use. Granted, there is no 100% safe archive however through redundancy and secure storage you can get pretty close. The best system that offers cheap cost and proven safety is LTO storage. It’s a tape based archiving solution,using a medium proven reliable for more than 40 years. It costs about $0.25/GB, so redundancy is cheap.
We do LTO archiving for $5.00/GB, and if desired a $18.00/month charge for secure storage. Extraction is a flat $75.