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Digital media poses significant challenges for archiving data

Today we really don’t put much thought into the way we store our data. Yet people all over the country and the world save data that is important for many reasons each day onto media that may not last the decade, much less the century.

For a lot of people, the most important bits and bytes of data are more personal in nature. Things like digital images for our children, family and friends -- the sort of data that only 20 years ago would have been on film or a photo produced via traditional processing methods. Today we archive our photos on external hard drives, CDs and DVDs.

The problem with the archival formats we use today is twofold. The first issue concerns whether the media itself will last long enough for data integrity and secondly, even if the media will last for the next decade or more, will the needed hardware and software to read the files be available.

Vita Paladino, director of Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center told The Boston Globe, “Who knows how long they're [digital media] going to last - how much time before the information on a zip disk just goes into heaven, cyberspace heaven."

A perfect example is the 5.25-inch floppy disk. Around the country there are untold numbers of these discs with potentially valuable information on them that may well still be viable. The problem is reading the discs; 5.25-inch floppy readers simply aren’t widely available.

This exact problem poses a significant obstacle for data archivists. Francine Berman, director of the University of California San Diego Supercomputer Center and head of a digital protection taskforce told The Boston Globe, “You can file and forget a book, but our storage media will see the next generation every two to five years, and if we want to keep that material we have to carefully migrate it from one generation to the next."

Archiving digital data and migrating it to newer forms of storage as the need presents will present a daunting task over the next several years to those tasked with archiving it. The world’s data is estimated to reach 1.8 zettabytes by 2011.





"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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