How to Store Your Digital Treasures

If your family is like ours, you have thousands of digital pictures, videos, and songs on smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, iCloud, DVDs, CD’s, thumb drives, camera cards, backup disks, and maybe even some old floppy disks. Together they have become our modern-day equivalent of those dusty old photo albums on dark closet shelves – with a few significant exceptions.

Static media like DVDs, CDs, or cards somehow seem mysteriously detached from our emotional care. We simply don’t have the same level of attachment that we do to those dusty old analog scrap books – they are real. The promise of digital photography and music is locked away in those lifeless disks and cards. There’s also the fear that someday, when we want to trip down memory lane, we will discover that our files have become useless or lost due to lack of attention. I believe we would take much better care of our digital memories if we were reminded more often of the wonderful treasures they contain and these days, that translates to convenience.

Not long ago, my sister Emily asked me to help her with some technology challenges. The number of projects and complexity of some of them suggested a trip would be required. It didn’t hurt that Emily and Fritz lived in beautiful Summit County, Colorado, the heart of some of the best skiing the Rocky Mountains offer.

Turns out that Emily’s problems were no different than ours – lots of great pictures stored on a myriad of devices and media, with no convenient way of accessing or protecting them. They had a recent model laptop, an old laptop running at a snail’s pace, iPads, iPhones, DVD’s, external drives, etc. Added all together, their important digital files exceeded 50 gigabits and they had no device capable of storing them safely. Everywhere a laptop goes, so go those treasured files.

To solve our problem, we began a set of ideal goals

  • To centralize all of their important digital media (pictures, songs, and documents)
  • To protect it from loss through dependable backups
  • To organize it for near-instant access
  • To access it from any device from anywhere in the world (with Internet connection)
  • And to accomplish the above objectives with a minimum of cost, complexity, and time.

I first investigated the “cloud” as an option. If you have an iPhone you know that Apple offers you a free account in their iCloud with 5 Gigabits of storage. Pictures you take on your iPhone can be effortlessly loaded to their iCloud if you choose that option and they are viewable from anywhere with almost any device. Amazon Prime offers free unlimited cloud storage that can act similarly.

Both Apple’s iCloud and Amazon’s cloud offers were initially appealing. But with further study I learned of a number of drawbacks. One is that your private treasures are stored on servers that are not owned or controlled by you. While the cloud companies promise to protect your data from loss and from prying eyes, you have no more control over where your data resides and who might have access to it.

Another issue is specific to Apple, but speaks to all cloud services that charge for storage. If you already have large stores of photos and videos on your iPhone you may have grown weary of the messages that keep reminding you that you do not have enough storage to back up your phone and that you can buy an extra 20 Gigabits of storage for just $1 per month or 200 gigabits for $4 per month. Point is, your need for storage will continue to grow as your files do, costing you more money as you go.

Another issue with cloud storage is its speed. Most photo collections are huge chunks of data that must pass through a relatively small pipe from your home – your Internet connection. The transmission to the cloud will require lots of time. Think of stuffing a watermelon through a hypodermic needle. If for some reason you have a falling out with Apple, or Amazon, or Microsoft and want your ‘watermelons’ back, be prepared to invest a lot more time to get it. In fact, you may find the cloud servers will offer you considerably less bandwidth when you are taking the files from them compared to when you are bringing them in.

While at first, the cloud seemed to address all our goals of data centralization, organization, backup, and access from anywhere and from any device, the issues of cost and time kept us looking for a better solution. It wasn’t long until I found what I believed is the very best solution in the form of a little wonder from Western Digital known as My Cloud.

The device is first and foremost a stable and huge capacity hard drive offering 3, 4, or 5 terabytes of storage (a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes) that attaches to your home wireless router or switch (if you have a wired network). Once attached to your network, the My Cloud becomes a data storage hub for any device attached to your network. It even offers the convenient TimeMachine backup functions for Macs. The My Cloud acts like a file server to store every bit of data that is important to anyone and everyone in your home with permissions to control who sees what. You access it just like you would any other drive on your computer or device attached to it.

Now here’s the really cool part. The My Cloud acts just like Apple’s, Google’s, Amazon’s, or Microsoft’s cloud servers, except YOUR data is securely stored on YOUR server in YOUR home – safe and portable whenever you want it. By setting up a secure online account at you are able to securely access the data on your My Cloud device from anywhere in the world that offers a WIFI or cellular data connection on any device. In fact you can provide family and friends an access code which allows them to sign on and view any files you care to share with them.

As with any moving disk failure can occur at any time subjecting you to total loss of your precious data. The My Cloud addressed this concern with a feature called “SafePoints” that provides an automated backup to a second external hard drive, like a Passport, which is connected by a high speed USB cable for real-time, daily, weekly, or monthly backups. Western Digital also offers MyClouds that have built-in redundant drives.

While these methods protect against hard drive failure, there is still the risk of fire or flood that could destroy both your data and its local backup. There are two possible ways to address this risk. The first method would send encrypted backup files over the Internet to a cloud account such as DropBox, Box, Google, or Microsoft Cloud. A cheaper, somewhat less elegant alternative is known as a ‘sneaker’ backup. With this method, you occasionally replace the physical hard drive connected to the My Cloud as a backup drive with a new one taking the other one somewhere offsite or place it in a small fire and water-proof document vault for protection against the worst case.

Protecting your digital treasures does not have to be overly complicated or expensive, but it should be done and soon. Most of us know too well how quickly data can disappear and the last thing we want is to lose some or all of those digital treasures.