Storage Safety: points to ponder

The most widely used forms of optical media ar...

The most widely used forms of optical media are DVDs and compact discs. Shown is a CD-ROM (left) and a game in Nintendo’s proprietary optical disc format similar to a MiniDVD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a person who dabbles in technical issues regularly, my quandary may seem a ‘bit of a surprise’. But, I think the issues involved are rather more complicated than they first appear.

Like most of the ManyRoads’ readership, I am involved in genealogy. Stated another way, I gather a lot of family history and pictures. Although the materials I have accumulated may not be important to others, the documentation is crucial to me. After having gone through all the trouble of finding my information, I want these materials to outlive me as well as today’s fragile storage technologies. Let me explain.

Like many of you, I rummage the world over looking for clues, images, and histories for those times and places where my family’s forebears lived. This means I gather huge numbers of ‘electronic’ documents. In an effort to increase the size of my horde, I convert most of the documents which I have in non-electronic form into electronic format for easier retrieval and more compact storage. All of this to say, I have gigabytes worth of electronic media.

Like many genealogy-types, I also want to share and protect my data. One of my most useful and accessible data stores is ManyRoads, itself. All of my electrons are here for me and my family, the world over, to access and read. Large amounts of ‘my horde’ is made publicly accessible, as well. From a data security perspective, I back-up my databases and files regularly, onto both fixed media (like disk drives, usbs, dvds, etc.) and onto cloud-shares. So what then is the problem, you might ask. Well quite simply, it is the volatility of electronic and optical media, as well as the ravages of time. It seems all storage mediums, including paper itself, are either fragile or ‘short-lived.’

As I said, I want my “stuff” to outlast today’s technologies and degrade minimally over time. The bottom line is, I want to beat entropy.

So, how can that be best accomplished? Here are the options as I see them:

  • Typical/ common optical media (like CDs and DVDs) tend to have a life expectancy of between 3-7 years.
  • Solid state Storage devices (like SSDs and USBs) have a life expectancy of 5-7 years.
  • Ferric-oxide based storage (like hard-drives) have a life expectancy of 1-5 years.
  • Paper is easily destroyed and lost but it can have a very long life expectancy assuming it is not destroyed and ‘someone’ is able to find ‘it’. As a result, paper has a life expectancy from minutes to 1000+ years.
  • Millenniata Media (such as the M-DISC) can be very long lived. According to a US Navy China Lake study: “None of the Millenniata media suffered any data degradation at all. Every other brand tested showed large increases in data errors after the stress period. Many of the discs were so damaged that they could not be recognized as DVDs by the disc analyzer.”

According to an M-DISC ZDnet.com article:

“But will you be able to read it?
Will anyone be able to read your thousand year DVD in even 50 years? Good question.

The LP record – LP stands for long play – is 65 years old this year. Even though the CD began replacing the LP beginning 30 years ago you can still buy turntables LPs.

Optical technology is both simple enough and common enough to be re-created 50 years from now. Given the billions of pieces of optical media now in existence, there will be a small but vibrant market for optical media players for the next several decades at least.”

Sadly no discussion on this subject would be complete were we not to, however briefly, contemplate the potential impact(s) of Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) or an EMP- burst. If you are a fan of the TV series “Revolution”, you probably already ‘understand’ the EMP concept. The fundamental dilemma involves ‘what happens when the lights go out’- and they stay out? For those looking for something a bit more descriptive and detailed than a TV show rendition of EMP, there’s a good description of EMP on Wikipedia.

In the end, there may be no ‘real’ long term solution;it seems we simply have to pick from a set of sub-optimal options. In that case, the best approach might well be to use Millenniata Media, and hope that the Monroe Republic fails and the 12 necklaces are easily rediscovered by the ‘good guys’.

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