Ever since the jargon term "the cloud" became a popular substitute for references to the internet, there has been a push to use "cloud storage" to backup your data. Digital data is "permanent" only if the programs and electronic devices that can access the data are functional and still available when you need to retrieve the stored data. The idea of a backup is that you make extra copies of digital files and store them on different devices such as external hard drives, flash drives and ultimately on someone else's hard drive online.
However, Tuesday, February 28, 2017, was an object lesson in storage diversity. Here is a news blurb from the UK's DailyMail.com:
Amazon caused a massive internet outage after one of its cloud data centers on the East Coast failed, causing major problems for internet users across the globe.
The problems caused thousands of sites and apps to become completely unavailable, while others show broken links and images, leaving users and companies around the globe confused.Amazon is one of the major suppliers of "cloud services," that is they provide online data storage in huge data "farms" consisting of thousands (millions) of computers connected to hard drives. As happened here, if one of these huge data centers crashes, then millions of computers around the world are affected. Technically, there are no guarantees that your online data storage will not just disappear.
Amazon's Simple Storage Service, or Amazon S3, had difficulty sending and receiving clients' data for more than 3-1/2 hours, according to company status reports online.
If you think about all the work you have invested in your genealogy files, you will see that you have a direct relationship between the amount of time invested in accumulating all that information and the degree of loss if it all disappeared. Paper is not the answer. Paper files can disappear for any number of reasons including simply being tossed in the trash and a paper file exists only at one place and at one time. Electronic files require that your "work" be stored in a digital format. But the digital storage devices have the same volatility as paper in the sense that the devices can fail, be lost or be destroyed.
The key to any backup system is diversity. Copies of the data need to be stored on different devices, in different formats and in different physical locations. In additional, digital files are not static. This one of the major differences between digital information and paper. Digital files are "program dependent." This means that the program that created the file is a necessary link to retrieval of the data stored in the file. For example, if I use a popular genealogical program to store my information, that data is now dependent on the future availability of that program. If the program goes away, I must move the data to a new program, if that is possible, or eventually lose the data.
The old genealogy program, Personal Ancestral File or PAF, is a prime example of the problem. PAF was (and is) extremely popular. However, because of the time that has passed since the program was actively supported, many of the files created with the program are stored in obsolete formats such as 3.5 inch floppy disks and even older 5.25 floppy disks. As time passes, access to the floppy disk drives and even to programs that can read the data on the original storage devices becomes less and less available. Eventually, retrieving the data from one of these older files will become very expensive. Of course, this assumes that the files have some value and that some effort is made to retrieve the data.
Online storage is not immune to some of the same limitations that exist with different storage options. The programs that create the data can be abandoned, the servers hosting the online data can crash or be destroyed, and other issues can cause data loss.
What do I do? I have multiple hard disk drives that backup all my essential data. I try to migrate the data from older programs to newer ones as the formats change and as I use new programs. I use an online backup service to back up my computer and all my external hard drives and I store the data in different formats and with difference programs and services. Do I lose data? From time to time, I have had my computers crash, lost hard drives but because I have diversified storage, I have lost very little data for a long time. I learned my lessons years ago.