Does Anyone Really Need A 1,000 Year DVD? - InformationWeek

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11/13/2009
08:20 PM
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Does Anyone Really Need A 1,000 Year DVD?

A company is producing archival-grade DVDs that it claims will last 1,000 years. It's a catchy marketing claim, but can the underlying technology really serve a useful purpose?

A company is producing archival-grade DVDs that it claims will last 1,000 years. It's a catchy marketing claim, but can the underlying technology really serve a useful purpose?From Computerworld's coverage of startup Cranberry LLC, which is marketing an interesting new form of optical disc technology: Cranberry's DiamonDisc product holds a standard 4.7GB of data, which roughly amounts to 2,000 photos, or 1,200 songs, or three hours of video, but the media is unharmed by heat as high as 176 degrees Fahrenheit, ultraviolet rays or normal material deterioration, according to the company. DiamonDiscs contain no dye layers, adhesive layers or reflective materials that could deteriorate.

While only future generations may be able to prove DiamonDisc can last 1,000 years -- never mind that DVD players will probably have been long forgotten by then -- Cranberry claims its technology has been proved by researchers using the ECMA-379 temperature and humidity testing standards to outlast the durability of competitors that claim a 300-year shelf life. You will pay a premium for those extra 700 years: a single DiamonDisc, which Cranberry will burn for you, will cost around $35. An archival-grade Kodak DVD, by comparison, costs around $6.

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Cranberry also sells its burners, which cost around $5,000 -- including a supply of 150 DiamonDiscs.

The DiamonDisc is sure to get some attention as a long-term archival medium for both consumer and business data. But is this a case of the wrong technology appearing at the wrong time to make any difference?

At first, I was inclined to say yes. After thinking this over, however, I'm a bit more optimistic.

Two of the biggest challenges here involve data capacity and performance. A standard dual-layer DVD holds less than 10 GB of data, and a Blu-ray disc holds around 50GB in a dual-layer configuration. The maximum write speed for Blu-ray media is a little over 50Mbps.

Neither of those specs will win any prizes -- SATA hard disks blow away optical discs in terms of both capacity and performance -- but they really don't look so bad compared to tape-based archiving systems.

And I don't care how deep your salt mine happens to be. Magnetic tape is a lousy long-term storage medium.

Every small business is aware that not all of its data deserves the same archival treatment. Some data isn't worth archiving at all, but other records are worth keeping for as long as a company stays in business. It's hard for any human being to plan ahead in terms of centuries, but sometimes that is exactly what might be required.

Any long-term digital archive will have to deal with obsolete technologies: If your company's data vault contains any 8-inch floppies, good luck finding hardware capable of reading them. Ultimately, 1,000 years is a stretch for any technology that isn't named "paper."

On the other hand, if I had to name one playback technology that might have a shot at surviving for at least a few centuries, the optical disc might be it.

If Cranberry can push its prices down to a more reasonable level -- or if competitors can force them down -- its technology just might carve out a niche as a long-term archival solution. The company might, however, want to think about focusing more on business users; trying to pitch this technology at folks who want to pass down their digital photos really sounds like a losing proposition.

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