Archival optical discs like M-DISC promise to last hundreds or even thousands of years. Tape storage lasts a few decades while hard drives and SSDs can last 5-10 years, but it all depends on how well you treat and store them.
While some people had the luxury of writing important things on stone tablets, sadly most of us have preservation needs that go beyond ten lines of text. So what’s the next best thing to keeping your parts cool for ages?
The importance of data retention
It’s easy to think of data retention as something big companies or important people need to worry about, but what if you have information you’ll need ten or even fifty years from now? What if you need to keep information somewhere for someone 100 years or more from now?
For various reasons, you may need to keep data for a long time. Perhaps you have some old documents or records that you would like to pass down to future generations, or perhaps you need to keep financial records and other documents required for legal reasons. Even if you’re trying to preserve your personal memories, like photos or videos, you’ll need to find a way to store all of that.
The key to preserving data for the long term is finding a storage format that you can trust to last. This could mean using physical storage methods, such as high-quality paper or film designed to last a long time, or digital storage options, such as cloud storage or external hard drives.
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The challenges of storing digital data for decades or centuries
If you’re planning to store digital data for the long term, there are several challenges you need to consider.
First, digital storage media like hard drives and SSDs can degrade over time and eventually fail. That means you need to keep making new copies of data long term before your storage devices fail.
Another challenge to consider is the obsolescence of the file format. Some file formats may become outdated or incompatible with newer software as technology advances. That means that even if your storage media survives, there may not be drives to read it, and even if there are, details of the file formats you used to store that data could be lost.
On the other hand, every time you migrate your current data to a newer format to keep it for a few more years, it may deteriorate in some way that won’t become apparent until someone tries to access it one day.
Hackers, malware, and natural disasters can all threaten your stored data, so it’s important to implement strong security measures to protect your information. and to store media in an environment that is safe for that media and offers long-term stability.
Cold storage vs. hot data
In data storage parlance, “cold” storage refers to how infrequently accessed data is stored. Typically this is data held for compliance or other necessary record keeping irrelevant to daily business.
Cold storage is often offline and the media containing the data is stored powered off or separate from the drives that can be read by the relevant press. If the data is kept in cold storage, this can affect its lifespan.
“Hot” data is always being accessed and is typically stored on media that is always accessible and powered on. Unsurprisingly, these media wear out with daily use, so archival data and backups are not a good option.
The best long-term digital storage media
Archival optical discs, such as M-DISCs, are specifically designed for long-term data storage. Unlike CDs and DVDs, they use a special type of data layer made of materials that are resistant to degradation over time, including ultraviolet light and moisture. Two factors are commonly responsible for “disc rot”. These discs can last up to 1000 years or more, at least that’s what the various manufacturers claim. Obviously, it’s impossible to really prove this claim, but they can make an educated guess through proof.
Verbatim M-Disc BDXL100GB
They say these discs will last several hundred years, so you better hope they’ll still have Blu-ray players in the year 2500.
Magnetic tape has been used for decades as reliable, long-term data storage. It is highly durable and can withstand extreme temperatures and humidity. It is also relatively inexpensive compared to other options.
In general, magnetic tape stored in cold rooms with stable conditions of temperature and humidity can last up to 30 years or more, while some high-quality magnetic tapes can last up to 50 years or more.
However, magnetic tapes require specialized equipment to read and write data. That machinery may not last as long as you need, since a tape drive is a complex mechanical device.
Mechanical hard drives have been used for decades as primary storage for computers. They are reliable, fast, and relatively inexpensive.
That being said, they are not designed for long-term storage, and the average lifespan of an HDD is only 3-5 years. If you choose to use HDDs for long-term storage, you should back up your data regularly and replace the drives every few years.
SSDs are faster and more reliable than HDDs, but they are more expensive and not designed for long-term storage, and the average lifespan of an SSD is around 5-10 years. If you use SSDs for long-term storage, you should also make sure you back up your data regularly and replace the drives every few years. If the SSD does not power on periodically, you can still experience data loss as electrical charge leaks from its memory cells.
The last option is cloud storage, which puts the responsibility of keeping your data safe in the hands of a third-party company like Google or Microsoft. These companies have to comply with data storage standards to make sure your data is safe, but it’s not really an option for long-term storage because there’s no guarantee that the company in question will still be around in ten, twenty or fifty years.