Reliability of SSDs & other types of storage

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David Sharp
Posts: 55
Joined: 2008-07-06 23:21:27
Location: Paris, France
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Reliability of SSDs & other types of storage

Post by David Sharp »

Hello,

After several years of buying those natty little Samsung SSD storage devices to back up the contents of my Mac, I've suddenly had one fail—and after less than three years.
When these gizmos began to appear on the market, I got the impression that they would be much more durable, as well as more reliable, than the electro-magnetic hard disks that I'd been using up until then. It now appears that that impression was yet another victory of marketing over substance.

Research with key words such as "SSD longevity vs HDD" reveals that neither type of storage will last forever, indeed most can only be counted on for a few years. One of my office drawers is full of no-longer-functioning hard disks. I'm now looking at installing an NAS array, while realising that that also will not last forever.

Whence two questions: If SSD's only last a certain time, what of all the Macs that come with them preinstalled? I've already owned several, and have one that's seven years old, and it seems to be still going strong.
And more generally, what's the best technology/strategy for trying to ensure that one's data can be handed down to one's children (and even their children's children)?
adryan
Posts: 500
Joined: 2014-02-08 12:57:03
Location: Australia

Re: Reliability of SSDs & other types of storage

Post by adryan »

G'day, David et al

Once upon a time there was a powerful civilization devoted to securing bliss in an afterlife and apprising future generations of how they came to achieve it. Among their number was a young genius who, among other things, constructed a prototype quantum computer which not only transformed the discipline of funerary architecture but also held the promise of transmitting voluminous historical records down through the ages. The high priests were on the verge of authorizing construction of the device on a massive scale, and ordering that thenceforth all records be entrusted to it, when a note of caution was sounded by a tired old philosopher who was herself one step away from the promised afterlife. Thus it was agreed that the old-fashioned method of record-keeping would be maintained in parallel with the new, until the new technology had proved itself sufficiently reliable over an extended time frame. And so it is that our present-day knowledge of that civilization is encoded in hieroglyphs chiselled in rock rather than in qubits suspended in a crystal. No trace of the ancient quantum computer has ever been found. Its existence is known only through a recently discovered hieroglyphically dense chunk of rock currently in my possession.

History is littered with other examples of such Ozymandian futility. Think of wax cylinders and cassette tapes. Does anyone really believe that our current digital technologies (encompassing encoding, hardware and power infrastructure) will survive the coming decades? Of course, they may, but how much are you prepared to bet on it? Rock and paper will probably still outlast them. Of the more "technological" solutions, I suspect the Voyager team got it right.

Here then are my suggestions for bequeathing one's valuable data to one's descendants:–

(1) Find a cave and illustrate it.
(2) Emulate the scribes of yore, but use archival materials and creative bookbinding.
(3) Get yourself some gold-plated copper platters and hit Record. Don't forget to include instructions for constructing the Play mechanism. The grandkids will love it! Fun for the whole family.

If you insist on running a digital system in parallel, the first priority is to choose file formats that are likely to be usable or translatable in future. Nothing that is too proprietary; nothing that requires a subscription. From bitter personal experience, nothing FileMaker.

Unless money is no object, be selective in the amount of data you bequeath. If it fits on a smaller backup device, it's more affordable to have one or two additional copies on similar devices rather than have to purchase multiple devices of larger capacity in order to accommodate a record of every keystroke you ever made. Because — as you found — you must have more than one copy, in case of loss or failure.

For what it's worth, I use SSDs for regular major backups, but I use multiple USB sticks for day-to-day backup of important data and storage of irreplaceable souvenirs. Every now and then I check that files are still readable. This suits my needs, but I'm not running an international casino operation.

There is a school of thought that holds that any future generation incapable of extracting data from a present-day USB stick does not deserve the enlightenment contained therein anyway.

You'll excuse me now while I etch a few more autobiographical emoji — I mean, hieroglyphs — on my sarcophagus.

Cheers,
Adrian
MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 2021)
macOS Monterey 12.6
Nisus Writer user since 1996
David Sharp
Posts: 55
Joined: 2008-07-06 23:21:27
Location: Paris, France
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Re: Reliability of SSDs & other types of storage

Post by David Sharp »

Hi Adryan,

I enjoyed your reply. Having had the privilege of visiting the Egyptian temples and pyramids a couple of decades ago, I agree that the pharaohs definitely had the edge as regards long-term data storage. I recall however that once the hieroglyphs were finally decoded, by the brilliant Jean-François Champollion, most of the texts were found to consist of rather dreary lists of crops, tithes, and enemies killed. And of course there was the little matter of the labour methods used to build and inscribe them, which were clearly even worse than the very worst of today's gig economy.

To return to our paradoxical modern times, your advice hits the nail on the head. In case all else fails, the best bet is probably to print out hard copies, on as physically durable a material as can be found.

As for digital files, I hope someone somewhere is working on creating formats, durable media and reliable replay devices that will have some hope of surviving into the future. It would be nice to know about that.

In the shorter term all we can do is to be ready (and able) to renew these pesky magnetic and/or SSD storage devices every few years, in as many copies as possible. I was upset by the glitch with my SSD device, which Disk Utility is unable to repair, because it holds my oldest Time Machine archive, and I had blithely assumed the things were indestructible. My Mac is currently grinding away in an attempt to copy its contents onto a conventional HDD before it fails completely.

Cheers, David
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