If you have been storing your digital photographic images on CDs, think again. There is new news from Computer World that says CDs aren’t good for archival storage.
The problem is material degradation. Optical discs commonly used for burning, such as CD-R and CD-RW, have a recording surface consisting of a layer of dye that can be modified by heat to store data. The degradation process can result in the data “shifting” on the surface and thus becoming unreadable to the laser beam.
“Many of the cheap burnable CDs available at discount stores have a life span of around two years,” Gerecke said. “Some of the better-quality discs offer a longer life span, of a maximum of five years.”
The biggest problem, if you continue to use CDs or DVDs as a storage medium, is that it is really difficult to tell the difference between low and high quality discs. Check with manufacturer’s websites for specific information about the quality and durability of their discs.
This is even more confusing and frustrating for photographers determined to develop consistent and secure storage and backups for our photographs in digital form. Hard drives also have a short life, as do flash drives and many other storage mediums. The only format that has consistently proved long-term and fairly safe are magnetic tape drives. While they don’t last forever, they can last, according to the article, with a “life span of 30 to 100 years, depending on their quality.”
The article sums up the future of digital storage this way:
But he’s quick to point out that no storage medium lasts forever and, consequently, consumers and business alike need to have a plan for migrating to new storage technologies.
Professional and amateur photographers are going to have to make a plan to migrate over several different kinds of mediums before a more permanent medium is found. This means increased expenses and time consuming effort every few years that needs to be incorporated into your plan and budgets. Let’s hope they come up with something more stable soon.
I will do some research on what techniques and hardware are available for quality magnetic tape storage and report on it soon.