Going Digital or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud

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Published on 14 September 2023 by Andrew Owen (5 minutes)

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a writer. And like most writers, I’m pre-disposed to hoarding. But about a decade ago, when I moved to a small house in London, I decided I had to downsize. I’m from Gen X, which means I like to own my stuff (music, films and television shows). Before the iPod was created, I was considering buying two Wurlitzer CD Jukeboxes to hold my 300 albums. But I had already ripped all my CDs before the move.

However, I still had about 300 films and television shows on DVD. Mass storage was coming down in price. So I bought a Synology NAS drive with built-in video transcoding. I ripped in MKV format (without recompression). Then I let the NAS do the conversion to compressed formats in the background. At the time, people said I shouldn’t bother ripping at the low resolution format of DVD. But now I have a television with AI-image enhancement, the theatrical release of Star Wars (which was derived from the Laser Disc version) looks great.

At some point in the 1990s, I lost almost my entire file collection to a hard disk crash. I think only one image I created on the Atari ST survives, because it got used on a pirate games disk by the cracking group Automation. Ironically, years later, I was able to recover most of the data from my old ZX Spectrum cassette tapes. So I set up the NAS with a dual redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAID) setup. I’ve had drives die on me, and thanks to being able to hot swap in a replacement drive, I’ve never lost any data. But I live in an area that’s prone to brown outs (power failures). So I also added an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) from Schneider. The drive is also upstairs now, so no longer at risk of flooding.

When I moved to Ireland, I had to put everything in storage until I found a place to live. So I reluctantly decided to get rid of almost all my printed computer books (which I left with my last employer in the UK) and replace them with digital versions. I held off getting an eBook until I could get one with a similar print resolution to the printed page in a cheap paperback. And that device was the Kobo Aura HD. The last time I checked, it was still getting software updates, and I’ve never found the need to replace it.

As for the NAS, I just updated to version 7.1 of the Disk Station Manager (DSM) software. I was two versions behind on version 6.x. Annoyingly, Synology dropped printer support in an update and I had to buy a new black and white laser printer for the first time in 20 years. Fortunately, I was able to expense it. However, this is the last version of DSM that will support my hardware, which means eventually I’m not going to be getting security updates. Which means I need to find a new home for my data.

Currently, besides the RAID, I also have offsite backup to one of Synology’s servers. But it doesn’t include the commercial copyright content. Because it’s large, there’s a lot of it, and it’s probably against the terms of service to host it. So I’m looking at retaining the NAS purely as a media server. My television also recognizes it on the network, so I can stream directly. And because it’s also a private cloud, I can also stream when I’m away from home. I’ve had mixed results with the native software, but it also supports Plex.

But for all the rest of my data, I’ve decided to move it to one of the commercial cloud providers. They’re long-established. They have redundant tape backup. They haven’t had any serious data breaches since they’ve been established. And I want some space back in my home. I’ve got cupboards full of boxes full of papers going back 30 years that I may need one day for a plot device in a novel. But I don’t need the physical versions. Since I got GeniusScan for the iPad I’m able to scan a box folder of content in half a day. And the result is a searchable PDF.

I’ve also given up my physical copies of the old games I used to play (gone to a museum in Germany) and replaced them with digital editions from GoG (formerly Good Old Games). I still have four bookshelves full of books (about half are non-fiction), but like I said earlier, I’m a writer. Despite my interest in retro systems, the oldest system I stil have now is a Nintendo DSXL, which has a cart enabling me to run software for an even older system on it. I still have a PS4 with physical disks, but I’m giving serious consideration to upgrading to a PS5 digital and getting rid of the physical media.

I was still reluctant to trust everything to the cloud without other backups until I had an error on the NAS drive that prevented me from accessing my data. For a couple of weeks I thought it was all gone. And it wasn’t the end of the world. In the end, Synology’s support were able to help me get up and running again. But after that, I decided it wouldn’t be the worst thing to just dump it all in the cloud. There is some content that you should never put in the cloud, but I don’t have anything that falls in that category. And at this point I prefer the convenience of not having to maintain and upgrade my own hardware.