Preventing Trainwrecks

Preventing Trainwrecks

We’ve received questions about the site outage that one of our competitors suffered in the past week. We thought that we would address some of the issues that were raised:

What is a long term archiving solution?
When people talk about the longevity of digital they are really addressing two main issues: 1) will the file format be readable in the future, and 2) will the physical device to which the data is written last the ravages of time?

The answer to #1 is almost assuredly yes. Many of us shoot with JPEG, some shoot with RAW, some store Photoshop files. The JPEG standard is well-known and well-implemented and there will always be software to read it. The same is basically true with other image file formats as well. Even though there are over 400 RAW formats, they all are very similar to TIFF, and the file format can be “reverse-engineered.” This is why Photoshop and PhotoShelter, for example, can open your Nikon or Canon RAW files.

The answer to #2 is the clincher. CDs/DVDs have questionable lifespan. Despite the claims of the manufacturers regarding the longevity of plastic, a simple scratch on the surface could make the media unreadable. Many people copy images onto hard drives then store them in a cool, dark place. But drives are mechanical devices that will eventually fail. If the drives are not spun up every 3-6 months, it’s possible for the head or spindle to lock. The data will presumably still be there, but the recovery costs can reach up into the thousands of dollars.

RAID is a good solution, but if/when a drive in your RAID dies, you have to replace it quickly. If you have two or more failures in your RAID set, the data is useless. And of course, the more drives you have in your RAID set, the higher probability that you will suffer a failure.

The reason why we think PhotoShelter is a great solution is that it is a “managed storage” solution. We proactively monitor the data, and swap out drives when we detect potential failures. PhotoShelter is also geographically redundant, so a catastrophic failure in our New York datacenter does not affect your images in our California datacenter.

We do not outsource the management of the technology that runs PhotoShelter because we are a technology company. We are not a marketing company that outsources technology creation and maintenance. We take technology very seriously, and we think our experience in the field speaks for itself.

Not knowing the specifics of our competitor’s site outage, it would be presumptuous to make assertions about how it could be avoided. However, our engineering team is the same team that previously architected and built some of the largest sites on the Internet. Building redundancy and fault-tolerance is something we mandated for PhotoShelter from day 1.

We certainly do not take any joy out of a system failure — particularly when those affected are freelance photographers that are merely trying to make a living, and trying to find a tool that streamlines their workflow. But we do think that a subscription-based online service needs to take its technology seriously, and you can rest-assured that we do.

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