When rummaging through my vast floppy archives for a few old files that suddenly became critical to what I was doing, I discovered an old 5.25-inch Syquest 88 cartridge. I realized immediately it had the files I needed.

The problem was I took the cartridge with me when I left a previous employer

(with permission of course.), but never did have my own Syquest drive. I thought if I ever needed to retrieve those files, I could easily borrow or rent one.

Was I wrong. We all know now that Iomega competitively put Syquest out of business not long after it introduced its smaller 100MB Zip drives. I couldn’t even find a used Syquest drive for sale on eBay. Fortunately I was able to borrow one to transfer the files to a Zip cartridge.

Crisis avoided. For now.

What happens when Iomega’s Zip drives are obsolete? For that matter, 3.5-inch floppies have an average shelf-life of 7.5 years. I have about 500 of them loaded with information older than that. I’d be willing to bet 3.5-inch drives will be nonexistent in five years (outside of computer museums), so the diskettes will be useless.

Data migration to newer storage technologies is the obvious solution, but for how long? The best hard drives are expected to last about 15 years, assuming you don’t shake them and can still get parts for them if anything goes wrong.

Estimates vary on the longevity of CD-R and CD-RW disks as storage media. Some say five years; others say as long as 100.

You enterprise types might scoff and say these are all consumer technologies and are designed for obsolescence anyway. But are you so sure your data repositories are safe and sound? The estimated life span of those magnetic tapes you have stored in your air-conditioned data bunker is shrinking, as experience proves the media have nowhere near the longevity was originally promised.

Contrast that with such storage media as newspapers, which will keep information intact for more than a century. Microfilm has been determined to last more than 450 years, not to mention books at 500 to 1,000 years and clay tablets at 5,000-plus years.

Practically every new storage technology has reduced the longevity of information, not lengthened it.

One could argue most archival business information is worthless after a few years anyway, but how many want to take that risk and trash your data and intellectual property vaults?

Fortunately, there are R&D labs working on data longevity. For now, though, don’t throw out those handwritten notes you’ve scribbled on that cocktail napkin. They may outlast your SAN.

Charles Whaley, PhD, is a Toronto-based IT consultant and market analyst with Information Technology Enterprises. cwhaley@ITEnterprises.com

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