My recent column on the need to migrate data from obsolete media to more modern types garnered many responses. While there was general agreement on the need to move to more stable media, opinions varied on how to best meet this challenge.
Perhaps the most stable data recording media in history are simple rocks. Reader Foster Crocker of Unisys pointed out the viability of the Rosetta Stone, which is approximately 4,000 years old, contains data in several formats (languages) and does not require any hardware to access data.
While stone tablets are not likely to show up in your data center soon, there are companies that are addressing the fragility of storage media. IT managers should also follow some guidelines to safeguard archives.
Protection of any storage medium can prolong its viability. It is generally accepted that an environment of 59 degrees with a relative humidity of 40 percent is ideal. Exposure to magnetic fields, dust and light can prematurely age media. Guarding against rodents and theft should also be considered.
Off-site storage is an option to explore. Market leader Iron Mountain has extensive facilities for storing data in a controlled, secure environment. In crucial situations, redundant data centers can be built to guard against the loss of your primary facility.
Conscientious system support requires a recognition that all media can fail due to simple wear and tear. When coupled with the inevitable vagaries of age, it must be assumed that your data archives will inevitably fail.
The Saskatchewan Council of Archives makes the following sound recommendation: “A statistical sample of all electronic records in storage should be read annually in order to identify real or impending catastrophic information loss.” Never assume that your archives are viable. Periodic testing is the best way to be certain that your safety net doesn’t develop holes.
Companies with extensive or critical archives should create a data archivist position to manage the copying, migration and conversion of digital data. Colleges that grant degrees in library science often have courses that cover this specialty.
Be certain that your tape backup programs are configured for rotation of your media. Not only do you want to ensure that data is stored on more than one tape for redundancy, you also should create provisions to retire tapes after a certain number of write/erase operations.
The limited life span of any magnetic medium makes disk storage technology a compelling choice. For example, Plasmon manufactures a 30GB 12-inch WORM drive that uses a disk with a glass substrate. The vendor guarantees these disks for a a minimum of 30 years. Ricoh company officials claim that its Platinum CD-R media should last 200 years. Jukebox devices can provide terabytes or petabytes of storage for demanding networks.
Another interesting product is the HD-ROM being developed by Norsam Technologies. Utilizing electron beams and durable media made from silicon or metal, this device permits the creation of image archives that can be read by humans using specialized optics. With a density of 200GB per disk, massive archive systems are possible.