Can Your Data Storage Avoid A Digital Doomsday? - InformationWeek

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3/31/2010
03:23 PM
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Can Your Data Storage Avoid A Digital Doomsday?

Your small business may stand the test of time, but what about your data? As existing storage technologies mature and new ones enter the picture, that question is just as hard to answer as it ever was.

Your small business may stand the test of time, but what about your data? As existing storage technologies mature and new ones enter the picture, that question is just as hard to answer as it ever was.A recent New Scientist article entitled "Digital Doomsday" takes the long view -- the very long view -- on this topic. It asks what would happen if a catastrophe endangered the digital data sources upon which modern civilization depends.

That may sound a bit flighty when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts IT issues that your small business faces, but the article makes some surprisingly relevant observations on that count.

Let's start with an obvious question: Just how long can you count on various forms of storage media to work when you really need them?

Hard drives might sound like the most fragile option, but the answer is more complicated than that. One expert notes that his organization had no problem getting data off a drive that had been powered down since the 1980s. Yet with drive storage densities climbing ever higher, today's modern drives may be less robust than yesterday's dinosaurs -- although it will be years before we know for sure.

Optical disks, even when they're carefully protected, are surprisingly vulnerable to the aging process. Digital media specialist Joe Iraci says that most optical disks aren't reliable after just five years, although special archival-quality media may last for decades. The five-year limit also applies to magnetic tape media, including those often used as part of tape-based backup and archiving systems.

Finally, flash memory-based storage, including memory cards and SSD drives, might be less reliable than you think. Even though they don't employ moving parts -- a key weakness in traditional hard disks -- at least one manufacturer warns against trusting flash storage for longer than 10 years.

Don't Miss: NEW! Storage How-To Center

Obviously, it's way too late to turn back the clock and stick with filing cabinets full of paper as a long-term data storage solution. That means it's important to recognize that any digital data storage medium has a limited shelf life and to plan accordingly.

In some cases, your company might decide that it makes economic sense simply to write off older archives and to assume that they will eventually be unusable. In others, you should put a plan into place to review and refresh your long-term storage media on a regular schedule.

Otherwise, sooner or later you might find a Digital Doomsday scenario lurking in your own company's backup and archiving systems.

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