Storage Wars Of A Different Kind

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I’m at war with myself. Well, perhaps war is too strong of a word. Let’s tone that down to “in conflict” with myself—over drives. A few weeks ago, I decided to do some end-of-summer housekeeping in our edit bay. I went through every hard drive that my company owns. I took screen captures and created a file folder using screen caps of file and folder structures to see what material actually resides on each drive. I threw away dozens of old projects that were past their expiration date, which were generally mostly projects that we produced more than a decade ago. I kept what could turn out to be irreplaceable interviews with talent who have died over the past decade (I have some good archived interviews with a lot of Golden Age of Hollywood stars and other people in the entertainment business) and travel footage I shot in exotic places, even though some of it is SD or only 720p. But many projects that were mundane, for clients who are no longer in business, projects for companies that no longer exist, things like this, I trashed.

We Have How Many?

The first thing that struck me as I went through the archives was the sheer number of drives we own. It’s kind of ridiculous. Let’s just say it’s over 200 hard drives, and leave it at that. A LOT of hard drives. Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, we were buying stand-alone hard drives for storing material, big clunky ones that hardly held anything, just a few hundred gigabytes of data, each with their own big storage box, manual, box of cables and a separate power supply. We have stacks of these drives. They take up a lot of space and gather a lot of dust, but I have wanted to store them in a relatively temperature-stable environment, so they have been in our office/edit bay, taking up a lot of room.

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A few years ago, I was struck by the waste of buying stand-alone hard drives, so I did some digging around and discovered bare drive docks. We then bought a bare drive dock from Other World Computing; it’s wonderful, and you can buy bare drives for much less than stand-alone drives. The bare drives cost less and take up much less storage room than the stand-alones. That first OWC dock was USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 I/O only, not the most efficient at moving huge amounts of data around. We recently upgraded the bare drive dock to a new dual-bay model with Thunderbolt 2, which has been great.

Exercising A Drive?
I take all of the drives out once a year, hook them up to a computer to boot them up, rotate the platters, and distribute lubricant on the platter axles and make sure that the heads can still read the data off of the platters. Amazingly, some of these drives are approaching 15 years old and they still read. Hard drives are generally considered to have roughly a decade of semi-reliable performance. Anything past that, and you’re probably living on borrowed time, frankly. This all works into a topic that we’ll cover another time, how almost everything you’ve shot on any video format, short of film, won’t be around long enough for your grandkids to view someday. We have an extreme long-storage problem, which is even worse in modern digital formats than it was in the analog tape era, but that’s a subject for another time.

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Recycling Bits

Some of the more modern drives that I trashed material from are still only a few years old. So I erased the drives and have worked them back into rotation, storing footage we’ve recently shot, instead of buying yet more drives. My conflict is that I went over receipts from this past year while prepping for business taxes and I came to the realization that I’m spending too much on hard drives. One of the main reasons is that we shoot many projects for our clients and end up archiving their raw footage for years sometimes. This has the occasional benefit of clients calling us months or even years after a project has been completed, asking us if we have a back copy of the footage from XYZ project. It makes them very happy when we can say, “Yes, we archived that footage; how would you like us to ship you a copy?” I have to say this only occurs perhaps once every year or two.

As a businessperson, I’m beginning to realize that we need to revise our policies and procedures with storing client footage. Perhaps we’ll tell all of our clients that we’ll archive the raw footage for one year from the end of production. That way, if they need a copy of the footage, it will be there for them, and if they don’t need the footage, we can both “move on with our lives.” We’re going to implement a new policy that, after a year, before recycling the hard drive, we’ll offer to sell them the archival drive for what we paid for it for them to archive in their place of business. In this way, the client can make the decision if archiving all of their raw footage is important to them. If not, we can erase and reuse the drives, and can largely stop buying nearly as many hard drives as we have in the past.

The Internal Conflict

Where this begins to frame an internal conflict with me is that I’m a hopeless pack rat. I like having extensive and well-catalogued archives, so deleting and clearing the material off of old drives is painful because, in the back of my mind, there’s always the potential that we could use that footage we shot back in 2007. The challenge is that video assets take a long time to properly inventory and break down into shot-by-shot descriptions. There are literally dozens of incredibly innovative and efficient video archiving programs out there, but the one issue that has always plagued us is who has the time or personnel necessary to enter all of the metadata that makes these programs something worth using? We have a fairly huge video archive, as well, so in order to make archival software worth using, we would have to hire a dedicated person to do nothing but sit down with hard drives and go through them to archive each clip, capture thumbnails of the footage and make sure all of the data entered was accurate.

On The Fence

I know that we have valuable video assets buried in our hundreds of drives—beautiful footage shot in exotic and unusual places, one-of-a-kind interviews with all kinds of interesting people within and outside the entertainment business. However, without carefully entered keywords or job title names, though, it’s almost impossible to locate and utilize the footage. One side of me, the archivist, wants to buy the software and invest the time into carefully logging and keywording all of the footage we’ve shot over the past decade. This would take a considerable time investment to accomplish. Time is money. With that same time, I could be contracting clients to drive more business, investing time into pursuing new client leads. In the end, it really comes down to looking back or forward. I don’t have a neat bow to place on this blog. I didn’t decide which direction I’ll go in—investing in our existing archives as a potential revenue source versus looking forward, keeping the archival material but not investing the hundreds of hours it will take to catalog and keyword all of the footage. Stay tuned.