Online Storage; You Might Need It, But Take Care—It Can Bite You!

You don’t need a back-up drive, you need a back-up plan. Backing up image data is an attitude, not an accessory. I preach the Three Rs of File Safety; to be effective, your back-up storage solution must be Regular, Reliable, and Redundant.

Serious medicine—Swiss Picture Bank ( is designed to protect your images for decades. They employ the Hitachi Content Archive Platform which is supported by three separate backups: a hard drive array located in an off-site data center, a magnetic tape system housed in an actual Swiss bank vault, and a second magnetic tape system stored in an everything-proof bunker in the Alps. Their payment options are unique, too. Under the Snapshot Plan, images are re-sized to 1600x1200 pixels and stored—with guarantee—for 30 years for 3¢ (or 99 years for 6¢) each.

High-capacity external hard drives cost less than a steak dinner these days. And you can buy a name brand 4x Blu-ray Disc writer for under $200. Desktop back-up solutions are inexpensive and abundantly available—and should be part of every prudent back-up system. But it’s dangerous to rely on these technologies alone. Even if you’ve gone whole hog and installed a RAID array on your main PC you are not 100 percent safe—what if a lightening bolt strikes through your roof and fries the whole system to a crisp?

Best practices for long-term file safety might include an online component. Online data storage offers multiple advantages. First and foremost, online data sites provide permanent, archival storage that is highly dependable. All major vendors engage multiple redundancies to ensure reliability. That doesn’t mean having an extra server running a back-up program in the basement. In the case of Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), for example, a network of redundant servers across the US assures that a power outage in one geographic area will not affect subscribers. A separate system serves European countries.

Zenfolio ( expands the concept of online photo storage by adding unlimited storage capacity for full-resolution images, powerful and attractive presentation functions, and the ability to sell prints of your images via partner labs. (Mpix, one of the most popular photo labs, is one such partner.) That’s the big differentiator—you can get into the print selling business by doing little more than uploading your image files. Images are protected by triple redundancies and can be shared publicly or in restricted, password-controlled albums (or hidden from everyone). Annual subscriptions range in price from $25-$100 but you can try the full services for free for 14 days without obligation.

Online storage costs are very low because of the high volume and heavy competition. Plus, online data storage is fully scalable, and that makes it even more affordable. With most online providers you pay only for what you consume and there is no minimum fee.

Your data is instantly accessible and is available 24/7. As long as you have Internet access you can retrieve data files—and that means you don’t have to be tethered to your home network to access images. Access is very, very simple—as simple as opening a folder. And archival backup is often as easy as dragging a folder to a desktop icon.