Allocate a Budget to Ward Off 'Digital Dark Age'

Paul Mah

I was reading an article titled 10 Tips to Preserve Data for the Long Haul on Network World when I was reminded of the need to budget for long-term storage. You see, while digital storage has been viewed as nirvana in terms of high-fidelity archival, it is a relatively new format compared to microfilms and other long-term archival methods.While it is true that maintenance cost of digital medium is generally low, many make the mistake of assuming that it is zero maintenance -- which cannot be further from the truth.


In a report titled 'Digital Dark Age' May Doom Some Data, the University of Illinois' Jerome P. McDonough warned that electronic data is considered ephemeral compared with physical books, journals or even pieces of art. The result could be a "digital dark age," where the ever-shifting platforms and file formats render huge swathes of old data permanently inaccessible.


Think about it: Would you be able to make sense of a WordPerfect file or retrieve data from an 8-inch floppy disk today? While a floppy disk is ancient where technology is concerned, are 30-odd years so long in terms of data archival? Far shorter yet would be the lifespan for less popular storage medium such as Iomega's Zip drives, or LS-120 super-floppy disk drive. Compaq's product manager for commercial desktops, James Griffiths, was once quoted as saying about the super-floppy, "We see it as the next floppy standard." That was in 2001 -- I wonder if you've even heard of it.


Also, do you know that certain storage medium such as optical discs -- think recordable CDs and DVDs -- can suffer from a problem called bit rot? Essentially the material in which the data is being stored suffers an irreversible chemical breakdown. And yes, it is actually common enough that they actually created a name for this phenomenon.


There is still much to be learned about storing data in the digital medium. Ultimately though, SMBs will do well to allocate resources to ensure that older data remains viable. In the event of optical and tape media, it will do well to make fresh copies on new discs or cartridges after a certain number of years.

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