The Challenges of Archiving

No Silver Bullet: Archive Challenges, Permabits and Petabytes
“Even worse, going beyond 5 years exceeds the functional life of media or recording technology, and maintaining physical readability becomes increasingly difficult. I’d be wiling to bet that a number of my readers have boxes of QIC-80 tapes in the garage or basement with old data on them. Even if the tapes have a 50 year lifespan, do you have any ideas on where to get a working QIC-80 tape drive? NASA just recently went through an amazing project to recover old Lunar Orbiter image data, involving finding, refurbishing and interfacing with 40-year-old Ampex tape drives, an enormous project covering more than a decade to complete. Media life isn’t the problem with long-term data storage, and “archival-grade” media isn’t going to solve your physical readability problems, because the reader hardware will never last as long as the media.”

2 Replies to “The Challenges of Archiving”

  1. Archiving a reader sounds simple but the reader is often the tip of the iceberg!
    Most readers had a lot of electro-mechanical moving parts that wear out. Tape running past heads acts like very fine grain sandpaper, and there aren’t any spares on a shelf somewhere. Tape itself is iron oxide bound to acetate or mylar and even if it has been carefully kept in a controlled temperature and humidity environment, it takes very little time to degrade. I’ve seen old 2″ quadruplex videotapes that shed oxide so badly that you maybe got one chance to run them through the machine, praying that the heads did not clog, and usually they did.
    If its computer data, the problem has to include archiving the computer, operating system, and the backup application that formatted the data. The state of the art has advanced so quickly that most of the manufacturers of vintage storage drives and their attached computer systems are no longer in business. And the computers and OS themselves rely on aging storage systems just to function.
    I was involved in the conversion of some of the old Hollywood movie negatives to digital masters, and the problem remains: What do you store your data on that is guaranteed to be around for a very long time? There is no good answer! In Hollywood they make numerous film prints of the restored imagery, because film is the only medium that is still functional 100 years later.
    If you talk to the manufacturers of CD and DVD media, they tell horror stories of how few years it takes for oxygen to penetrate the plastic disc and oxidize the metallic or dye layers with the data on it. Think of the amount of data that has been stored on that media that will no longer be readable in just a few years, whether the reader is archived or not!
    The only man-made data that has survived centuries is literally carved in stone!

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