We get a lot of questions about how long various types of media can be expected to last. I get questions from people surprised that their old floppy discs aren’t working so well these days. And the number one answer I have for you is “Not as long as you think.”
If you can get 10 to 15 years of life out a CD or DVD, you’re doing great. Frequently-used discs may not make it five years. Blank discs can be counted on for about 10 years. Do your best to clean discs after every use and store them in protective boxes away from extreme heat, cold, or damp and you’ll extend their lives.
As for VHS tapes or cassette tapes, if you still have some around and there’s something irreplaceable on them, get it transferred while they still work. Remember, every time that magnetic tape passes through a machine some of the data is being scraped off by the head. Again, they are extremely sensitive to heat and cold. But at this point, if you haven’t been storing them in a good place, it’s probably too late.
What about a floppy disc? If you’ve still got one around, it’s probably reaching the end of its life as well. Like cassettes and VHS, it’s a magnetic storage medium. The more you use it, the shorter the lifespan. If a floppy has not been accessed much and has been stored in optimal conditions, it’s probably good for about 10 to 20 years. The real challenge could be finding programs that work with the files you’ve stored.
What about a hard drive? The average lifespan of a frequently used hard disk can be about 5 years. Flash drive can get you up to 10 years, depending on how many times you’ve used them.
So there’s really no such thing as permanent storage. You’ll want to keep moving data every few years to make sure it’s safely backed up.
I strongly suggest multiple backups for important data. One on a hard disk or flash drive, a copy in an off-site location like a safe-deposit box. Because if God forbid, your house was to catch fire, your backup drive is going up in flames along with your PC. I also suggest a cloud storage back-up as well. Why? What if a tornado or flood hits your town and takes out your house and the bank with your safe deposit box?
Unfortunately, with digital information, there’s no one place to put it securely and not think about it again. Archiving and protecting your documents, photos, videos, and other data is an ongoing process.