The Long Term Data Storage Conundrum

long-term.jpgWe have a problem everyone. You know all those fantastics photos you took of your family that one holiday at the beach with your digital camera? Remember that awesome party you had with your friends at that ski resort, remember all of those digital photos you snapped? You do, and you want to remember it forever because it’s special, you also want your future children and grand children to see vivid images and videos of your life when you were young and careless. Well the real problem is that unless you’re using some kind of state-of-the-art long-term flawless storage solution the chances of your future grand children looking at digital pictures of you when you were a child is slim to none. Why is that so?

The answer is remarkably simple, up until the mass commercial viability of digital cameras everybody used 35mm film for still photos and tapes for videos, if you had your 35mm film developed with the best chemicals those pictures that you took 25 years ago still look like they’re in excellent condition today and it’s a good bet that they’ll be like that for another 25 years, those old 80′s VHS tapes you have are probably only now starting to fade, but they’re still watchable.

This is the problem, at least in this case the technology of yesteryear seems to be a better long term solution for storing pictures, not so sure about the video though but I’m willing to bet that you’ve still got old pictures of your great grand parents from prior to World War 2 sitting in a metal box somewhere, I’m also willing to bet that those photos are in relatively good condition even though they’re black and white and a little torn.

Okay let’s get to the gist of the issue, digital storage is useless, at least not without continuous and regular maintenance of the solution is that you’re using. Hard Drives from any manufacturer are simply not designed to last 50 years, you’ll be lucky if you get 10 years use out of them, depending on your usage. All of those digital pictures and digital home videos you have stored on your hard drive will be lost if you don’t perform regular backing up to new digital media and to new hard drives every few years.

So why not use DVD’s/ CD’s/ Bluray? You’re kidding me right? They have about as much reliability as using dough for tires on a sports car. They will fail and become unreadable just a few years after burning them. The US Government released a study a few years ago where they age-accelerated CD’s from different manufacturers to determine what kind of lifespan they will get out of each, the results weren’t promising and saw failures across the board from all manufacturers, obviously this is an issue that the US Government is taking very seriously, the whole point of this study was because they wanted to start digitizing the entire works of the library of congress. It all boiled down to the quality of dye that was used when stamping CD’s. Personally I’ve had perfectly working CD-R’s fail on me just a few short months after creating them, so why would I rely on them to store family pictures and videos? That makes no sense especially if I want my grand children to see the pictures 50 years from now. Short term storage I can understand but long term? Absolutely not.

Today we see companies releasing products that hope to provide a stop-gap or interim solution to this issue. We see redundant data storage arrays available in the shops, things such as the HP Mediasmart Home Server and the Drobo and while these are awesome gadgets to have the question we have to ask is will these last 10 years? How about 50 years? How will my grand children see these pictures 50 years down the line if they find a Drobo (labelled Family Memories) sitting in the attic and want to attach it to their PC’s but discover that their computers don’t have the ancient USB2.0 interface? So they ingeniously unplug the hard drives from the Drobo only to discover that spinning disk technology went out of fashion when Solid State Memory became the in thing and that there’s no SATA interface in their ultra-modern PC’s. What, will they now have to go to a museum of early 21st Century memorabilia to look up family memories? Not gonna happen!

So what are we looking at here? What solutions are there that guarantee that my grandchildren will be able to see my digital media in 50 years?

  • Do we print out all of our digital photos and store them in photo binders and then in big boxes?
  • Do we continue to use CD’s/DVD’s and have annual reminders to copy them to new media?
  • Do we use Drobos and redundant storage arrays and mirrored drives and every 5-8 years copy the terabytes of family memories to new storage arrays?

The real issue here is that:

  • Today’s technology is non-permanent, it’s way too temporary
  • Hard drives don’t last
  • Media doesn’t last
  • You can’t rely on online storage, no matter what they try to tell you

The real solution here is:

  • ????
  • ????
  • ????
  • …well,there is no real solution.

Excuse me while I go put my Mr Sad face on.

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7 thoughts on “The Long Term Data Storage Conundrum

  1. Great post! I was thinking that you could you use digital picture frames that is self contained with a long term battery or use a very low power source. With a rom memory you could permanently store information forever.

  2. Pingback: Preserving for the future « Fuzzylogick

  3. In response to uft36, using ROM wouldn’t be such a bad idea if there were a cheap way to store stuff to ROM. As far as I know you need expensive equipment to do it, it’s not like Flash memory where every computer in the world has USB ports. But it’s a pipedream, flash memory is the cheapest stuff next to bootlegged DVD’s on the planet right now so it’s the best foreseeable solution for now. The only thing they need to prove is how long flash memory will last before the physical entity starts failing.

  4. Actually, They now make DVD-R that the Dye layer is a composite microscopic layer of gold, they are really expensive, “about 5 dollars a piece”.

    As many know, Gold does not oxidize, and as long as this disk is not exposed to excessive heat, sunlight, or moisture, as with paper based photos and video tape, will last longer than DVD Technology.

    Make many, Many copies, at least one is sure to survive until a truly Archival form of storage is provided by moern Technology.

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