The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Funny how I just recently referred back to the problem of preserving historical data in the electronic age, and now I come across this: A Dutch computer magazine, PC-Active, recently put some CD-R discs through an aging test, and found that they started to deteriorate in less than two years.

I don't understand Dutch, so I'm relying on the translation at the link above. I'm not sure how much of an endurance test they put the discs through; obviously weather, storage stability, and other factors play a big part. But it doesn't appear like these record-once discs had undergone any real stress. The results are less than heartening.

As one of the commenters noted, it makes a difference whether you're dealing with music or other forms of data on such storage media. I remember when CDs were just starting to come out in the 80s (not recordable CDs, but standard, garden-variety music discs), there was concern even then over the tendency for random errors to crop up while transferring any sort of data onto them. While those errors typically were small enough that they wouldn't affect the playback of a song, they were potentially problematic for computer programs. This new finding of lack of permanance seems to be in line with earlier issues.

What this means is that, far from backing up music and other files onto recordable discs and then no longer worrying about them, you have to check back every year or so and make new backup copies. On and on and on, for the foreseeable future, with every transfer containing the risk of distorting or deleting some portion of data: A random photo, a couple of paragraphs, a few seconds of song. Pretty much sucks! Hopefully, someone somewhere is working on a more permanent storage solution.