So you've gotten your stuff copied over, and you can rest easy knowing that, even in the event of a tornado taking your house away, your data's safe. (I might be exaggerating a little—unless you live out on the wide open prairie. Happens.) But while you're good now, you're not good forever.

You might be wondering about where and how to keep all your backup media, how often you'll need to refresh your backups with new media, and perhaps just how to not forget about updating them with new data. This is the final step in your backup strategy, remember—vigilance. Here's what I suggest.

(#) Storing your media

How you should store each format is entirely up to what it can withstand. In general, technology prefers cool (but not cold), dry places. Excess heat and direct light (especially sunlight) should always be avoided—you'll cook the data right off your CD-Rs like that, and the solder joints and delicate components inside an external hard drive don't do much better. You can find exact temperatures and relative humidities, but you're not going around room-to-room with a thermometer, so I'll skip them.

For storing optical media, I hear a lot of people say not to store them horizontally and to use individual plastic/jewel cases. For what it's worth, my pressed music CDs have been stored on racks horizontally for years without issue, and I have a CD wallet of PS1 games, all of which still read and play fine (except for the ones I've scuffed a bit, of course). I have another CD wallet with discs about as old, again, which still play fine.

If you're paranoid, keep them upright like you would store books or vinyl records and use separate cases for each one, but otherwise, heat, humidity, and pressure—keep them low and comfortable.

For hard drives, another thing to consider is the lubricant inside the drive that allows it to spin. Alongside storing it in a comfortable, consistently-temperate location, you should make sure the drive gets regular use (every few months is good, but at least once a year) so that oil doesn't dry out.

(#) Refreshing your backups

Of course, you don't just stop generating data the moment you back everything up. You'll need to maintain regular backups to make sure you don't lose anything. The question of how often depends on the type of data and how much of it you're willing to lose by not backing up frequently enough. It all depends, so here's how my backups work out:

  • Every few months: I have a memory card meant as a "master" Cammy work backup—essentially, the finished files for anything I create get thrown here to make sure nothing I finish gets lost again. This gets updated whenever I remember it exists, basically, as it's just an extra safety copy.
  • Once a month: somnolescent.net gets a full site network backup once a month. I pull down all the files from each subdomain, plus the top-level site, plus databases, and then burn it to a dual-layer DVD-R and copy it to the two externals. Things don't move quickly enough to justify weekly backups, nor slowly enough for it to be a quarterly or half year affair. Each backup is also an extra redundant copy and makes it more likely specific files survive.
  • Once a week (and daily): Our two Somnocraft servers, as we play on them every couple of days and get something new built every couple of days, get copied around at the start of every week. As a line of first defense (say, griefing attempt or corruption due to a server crash), I also have a cron job that runs every day at midnight that creates a local backup of the world and zips it up.
  • As often as needed: Of course, when I finish a story, aside from the web copy, the Works document gets copied to both my computers, a flash drive, and the two externals. Any time I finish a song and have a render to keep safe, or I get a new album into my iTunes library, it gets copied over. No real set schedule for this stuff, just as often as needed.

Computer reminders are the best for keeping on top of your backups. I use Trello's repeating cards function for the somnolescent.net and Somnocraft backups. Every so often, these cards reappear on one of my to-do board's lists, which makes sure I have something nagging me to do it until I do. If you have some other way you remind yourself to get things done, go for it.

Trello's repeating card function
In general, I'd be hard-pressed to find any better "getting things done" organizer than Trello.

(#) Keeping vigilant

Remember—being lazy is the quickest, fastest way to lose things. Small little bits of neglect add up over time, so a few more reminders for keeping your stuff safe:

  • Organize your files!
    • Suffice to say, if your stuff's neat and orderly, you're more likely to copy it all over.
    • If you do a lot of art or music sketches, sort it by month or week to give yourself one easy folder to copy over, rather than going looking for a ton of loose files.
    • Throw loose files in ZIP archives and put dates in the filenames so you know when a copy's out of date.
  • Keep your backups in sync!
    • If you have multiple places data goes, you might occasionally get a little lazy and only copy it to one place, or only update the files on a single backup.
    • True, if it's only short term storage, you're likely not that much at risk, but why chance it? The whole reason you put a backup strategy together was to keep your stuff safe, so keep it safe.
  • Don't keep your external hard drives plugged in all the time!
    • I know it's convenient to always have it there to copy onto, but even if you have it set to spin down, your hard drives still spin up very regularly, multiple times a day. This will significantly shorten the lifespan of the drive.
    • Plug them in only when you're using them, and store them safely otherwise.
  • Get new blanks in!
    • Every year, you should audit your backup media and make sure your stuff hasn't gone bad yet. I'm not saying you need to check every single burned disc, that's just silly, but as your backups age, you'll need to make fresh copies of your stuff eventually.
    • You'll get a few years out of an external hard drive, 10-20 out of a good blank disc, and potentially much longer out of flash media.
    • Buy a new external every 2-4 years, copy everything from the old drives onto it, and make new burns every ten years or so. Every fresh rewrite buys you some more time.

(#) In summation

At this point, it's all up to you to decide what's important, what to save, and how best to keep it safe. It's a scary concept, losing things, but it's easily preventable provided you're aware and take the necessary steps ahead of time not to lose anything. Once you're aware, you'll notice your mindset on how you keep stuff start to change. Always ask yourself if there's anything important on the computer or device you're using that isn't anywhere else, and make sure that it is.

If you think like that, you'll never lose a thing.

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