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Hard-core data preservation: The best media and methods for archiving your data

Jon L. Jacobi | March 1, 2016
Daily backup isn’t archiving. If you want your data to survive the decades, you need to use the right tools.

Tape

Magnetic tape is still in the discussion for enterprise. It’s available in very large capacities—a new Sony type can hold up to 185TB. It’s also removable media, so it’s easy to store and handle in bulk. But tape can stretch and break, as well as be erased by magnetic fields. It’s also expensive; the handling mechanisms are finicky; and because data is stored sequentially, random retrieval is quite slow. It also suffers magnetic and physical degradation over time, though the rate is greatly dependent upon the materials in use.

Advice: Consumers, don’t use tape. It’s expensive and there are easier alternatives.

Optical

If you think of optical (CD/DVD/Blu-ray) solely as a means of movie or software delivery, it probably seems antiquated. You might also dismiss garden-variety CD, DVD, and BD-R (LTH) recordable and rewritable discs as unsuitable archival media. You’d be right about that—they use inherently unstable, organic dye-based data layers.

However, there are optical discs that are unquestionably the hardiest, handiest archival media available to consumers. Write-once BD-R HTL (High To Low) can last for 100 to 150 years given a relatively mild environment—i.e., not on your dashboard in Phoenix. Milleniatta’s M-Disc BD-R and DVD+R write-once discs use an even more stable data layer that is rated for 10,000 years. Only its polycarbonate outer layers reduce that to a mere 1,000 years. Note that this is all theoretical, but the testing MOs were rigorous and performed by the government of France (BD-R), and the Navy for the Department of Defense (M-Disc DVD).

Available in 25GB, 50GB, and 100GB (currently very expensive) flavors, BD-R also has enough capacity to handle long-term backup and archival chores. The downside is a relatively slow 21MBps writing at best—substantially slower than USB 3.0 hard drives and SSDs.

If you’re worried about optical drives disappearing, know that optical retains a very strong presence in the archival community, as well as the enterprise, so that should give you some reassurance.

Advice: Despite its slow speed, optical is pretty perfect for archiving your most important data.

Online storage

If I were big on blind faith, I’d just say opt for online storage and be done with it. It’s super easy, convenient, and there are some very cheap online storage services such as Amazon’s Glacier, BackBlaze, Google Drive, and OneDrive. Glacier is extremely inexpensive, at least until you need to retrieve data.

However, there are drawbacks. First off, though the means of delivery may seem magical and your data is often referred to as being safely stored “in the cloud,” in reality, it’s stored on someone else’s hard drives or other media. It’s as safe as a given service has made it.

 

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