Are Stone Tablets in our Archiving Future?
by Michael Hay on Feb 23, 2010
Over at the American Scientist web site is a rather lengthy, but fascinating article on information archival and preservation. I highly recommend that you take the time to read this article as for me it really hit home as I transition from an old to a new laptop. Basically I start having all of these thoughts about where is my data, is it in a format that I can readily access, do I have enough copies, etc.? In particular the author of the American Scientist article, Kurt D. Bollacker, draws from the natural world and history (human and person) to illustrate the delicate nature of storing information for a really long time. Kurt states that older media is often very durable, but at the same time if you lack the “secret decoder ring” to decode the encoded information you might have the data, but cannot comprehend it in the least. In the past I related my own woes about not being able to easily keep all of my media content properly backed up, but there is more to it than that and it has to do with feeling that my data is safe. In some sense I want to touch my data and know that hey here it is in that cabinet over there. (Note I cover the emotional hang up of tangible data ownership in the beginning of my series on cloud adoption, which starts here and ends with this post.) Like me Kurt recommends that for really critical information or data users should consider, this is a shocker, printing things out or making real copies of them. This is due to the continued reliance on digital media which, Kurt says, unlike analog storage media does not degrade gracefully.
There are other things going on in the industry as well such as the Instrumental Group making recommendations to the US Federal government that a better media to archive content on for the long term is tape and not spinning disk. The reasons cited include the lower bit rate error of tape, and also the lower environmental consumption associated to the media. The catch that is occurring in many locations requiring the extensive usage of tape for the long term is that backup software is absent from the mix. Instead there is a dependency on file systems or HSM platforms that easily and dynamically move file or file-like objects from spinning disk to MAID to tape and back again when the request is made. So while the tape is still digital we can see that there are serious considerations for looking at media other than disk for long term storage.
I’ll end this post by making a reference back to the title. While I don’t think that we will move into a space where we will use stone again it could be that like the new renaissance of vacuum tubes which is occurring in the satellite and audiophile industries we might be seeing the rise again of some kind of an analog storage technique. I’m not sure what kind of media that this will be, but perhaps an approach that is implicitly self describing like printouts or physical pictures. Kurt also suggests that perhaps we can bring up etchings on metal disks that accurately represent the archived content, which is really a modern day form of a stone tablet.
Comments (2 )
Hi Michael, read the same AS article and found it very relevant and interesting. I’m working on a post on long-term archival as well; given the massive amount of digital information we’re creating in our personal and professional lives, where’s it all going? Good post.
This is an interesting question and I think we all need to take a deep breath and realize that the human race has been dealing with paper archives for literally thousands of years. It took us a while to work through how to handle long term archives of critical paper records like the US Constitution. We are still in the “stone ages” of digital archiving in my opinion. Sure HDS and our competitors all have some kind of solution or offering in the market, but the Information Age is merely an infant and we just haven’t had enough time to think about and adapt to digital information archival yet. We need more movies and novels that inspire us to think about this challenge and hint at ways to solve it. Minority Report comes to mind here as one way to visually store videos…