My photos have been 100% digital since the 3 mega-pixel era when pixel-o-saurus roamed the earth. That equates to about 6 years of digital photos I have in my collection. Every year, I feel an increased level of stress about what happens when my computer disk crashes, some piece of software goes crazy, or my house burns down. So as the years go by, I employ more and more exotic means of making myself feel better.
First, I burned CD’s and put them in our Safe Deposit box. Soon that became infeasible as the library got too big. This was complicated by the lack of an “SLA” on recordable media; do you know how long a CR-R is good for? It turns out, no one does. So, I switched to DVD... That works ok, but it’s a hassle to burn DVD’s and drive them across town, so, frankly I do it maybe once or twice a year. My wife Lura reads my blog, so to be precise, she drives them across town, I’ve never actually seen our Safe Deposit box.
This Christmas I sat down to analyze the situation as I always do, “closing out our digital year”. I decided what I needed to do was to move to network attached storage. And because I don’t trust any kind of rotating media, I doubled down and mirrored between the two devices. I started my career at NASA so part of me said buy two different devices using drives from different manufactures, but then I decided I was just being silly.. hmm, still, never mind.
This was an ok solution that will get me through 2005, but I'm still not really sleeping at night. You see, what happens when my house burns down. I will still have the 6 to 12 months of old photos from the Safe Deposit box (wherever that is), but the others will be gone. Oh my god, what about the digital video…
This brings me to an idea I have played with over the last year. I call the idea BackDrop, buts it’s easiest to think of it as ‘reverse BitTorrent’.
BackDrop is an agent that you install on your computer, or embed in your TIVO, or comes built into your network attached storage. You point BackDrop at your folders containing digital assets. And then, forget it.
The BackDrop agent can communicate with other BackDrop agents in the world. My agent takes each digital asset, slices and dices it into hundreds of parts, encrypts each part and throws the parts to the digital wind, landing on hundreds of other connected boxes running the BackDrop agent. All this happens, 24hours a day, seven days a week. When the eminent catastrophe occurs, I install a new copy of the BackDrop agent on a new box, enter my ID and password, and my photo collection is gathered from the wind and reassembled on my new box. It may take a few days, but I eventually get it all back. The idea works because it operates all the time and I don’t need immediate results.
The only real cost of the system is the arbitration engine, like BitTorrent, Napster, etc. Participants supply the data space, probably equal to some multiple of the space that their collection is utilizing. Like real seeds in the wind, some die. So, you need to put pieces in multiple places to insure you get them all back in a timely manner. Each participant is rated for uptime, accessibility, data rate, etc. Similar participants are placed in like groups with higher trust values.
This is a problem that’s getting worse not better. The more digital assets we have the easier they are to lose. However, they are also easier to preserve if we think out-of-the-box.