Friday, July 25, 2008

Safety First

QUESTION: How important is it to have safeties?
You just backed up your session files. A suggestion is made to make safeties of the backed up session. You think about it but don’t want to spend the time or money. Besides, nothing will happen to your back ups, right?

Wrong. In today’s busy and complex world, Murphy’s law rules. Even, if you do everything right and follow all the suggested NARAS guidelines and best practices, stuff seems to happen unpredictably.

Here is a real life example. The names have been omitted to protect the well-prepared. A well-known band had done extensive recording sessions at our studio over a period of several months. They had the good sense and foresight to also create safeties in the form of AIT data backup tapes besides the Firewire backup drive. They sent their main backup Firewire drive to their archivist, which is what they normally do. They went on tour for a while and recorded some additional material at multiple studios. Soon it was time to submit all their tracks to the label. Unfortunately, the archivist suddenly passed away before the back up drive was returned to the band. The drive could not be located at the archivist’s residence or workplace. No one knew where the drive was. Panic ensued at the management company because thousands of dollars worth of recordings was at stake. That is when we received a phone call. Luckily, we had kept the safeties for the band and they were returned to them. Nothing was lost and the album came out without a hitch. Thankfully, this is a story with a happy ending.

However, there are many things we take for granted that can potentially result in a not-so-happy endings. In this age where overnight delivery is the norm, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that FedEx is not infallible. They are almost always reliable, but if an oversize road case can disappear without a trace, a backup drive could get lost as well. Worst yet, if it is not packaged properly, the drive might get to the destination, but the data may not. You may not be able to avoid it, but you definitely do not want to send important items during the year-end holiday season if you can help it.

Even if you do what other Fortune 500 companies do in safeguarding data, nothing is completely foolproof. In 2005, it was reported in the news that Iron Mountain, the firm that specializes in off-site data protection and electronic vaulting services, lost computer back up tapes of Time Warner and City National Bank, supposedly in transit.

The unthinkable could happen as well. On June 1, 2008, part of the Universal Studios backlot went up in flames, which included the film vault building. A statement from Universal indicated that nothing irreplaceable had been lost, since the studio still had the negatives of its library safe and secure in a Philadelphia vault. However, nearly 100% of the archival prints (circulating high-quality decades-old 35-millimeter theatrical prints) were destroyed in this fire. While not original masters, these are the copies made for screenings at repertory theaters, art museum retrospectives, film festivals and film school classrooms. Making new film prints can cost $5,000 or more each and take months to produce. Given the cost, many of these oldies will never be reproduced again in print, especially for less popular titles. They are lost forever on celluloid and will now only exist on DVDs. It wasn’t just films that were lost. The fire claimed about 5% of Universal Music Group's recordings, primarily big band and jazz recordings on the Decca label that was just being stored there.

This tells you how important it is to store multiple copies in multiple formats at multiple locations. Are you in good hands?

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