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paultwang

Storage Device Shelf Life

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What are the typical shelf lifes of consumer-grade storage device/media such as CD-R, DVD-R, internal hard disk drive, and flash drive? I store my digital archives in DVD-Rs and a large capacity hard drive. I am wondering how long they will last before I have to buy new hard drives and discs to recopy.

 

To be more specific, this is how I "shelf" those archive devices:

 

Archive hard drive: Stored in stat bag, air tight bag, bubble cushion, and a fire safe. Taken out once a month to add new data.

 

Archive DVD-Rs: Stored in a CD bag. No other protections.

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Hello,

 

This is a hard question to answer as different medias made by different companies will have different shelf lifes, if you find your not using the archives that often they are going to have quite a long shelf life and I know I have some commercial CDs from around 6 years ago and they work fine.

 

The fact you store the hard drives with such protection you will find that they will last quite a long time (couldn't put a number on it though).

 

I don't think there is any number you could place on it.

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I believe your problem will be the technology used for your medium will become obsolete before the shelf life actually expires. I have install disks and backups in the back room on 5 1/4" floppy disks which are still readable...but these types of drives are not available on newer PC's. I've got DAT tapes and 3 1/2" floppy and Zipdisks all of which will be useless in a short period.

 

Just be sure to move this data to a newer media before you get stuck with something you cannot access.

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I saw a recent study results (either techdirt, wired or slashdot) that says the user-burned CD's typically last 2-5 years before the everyday heat and such causes it to corrupt. The commercial ones last much longer because of the quality of the CD and the process by which they are made.

 

Not exactly what you asked, but I'd personally stay with what the article said was more reliable - magnetic media. It sure was an eye opener to me as I sit and look at 3 year old inventory CD's for my company. :)

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One never knows... (Results are not typical. Individual experience may vary.)

 

A 3.5" floppy disk that I have totally forgotten for 6 years, still works.

 

All of my old CD archives (4-7 years) still work. (They have been recopied though)

 

I hope USB is still supported many years from now.

Edited by paultwang

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I worked for a backup company.

 

The most reliable storage device is MO. (Magneto Optical). Shelf life easily exceeds 10 years. You can actually bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour and it will still work. Some claim it will last 50 years but who knows?. This is the best and most reliable media and is often used by banks and other large security firms. MO was considered #1 most reliable.

 

CD/DVD -> A little over a decade ago a company tested various cd's and said that average life span, not counting scrachtes is about 1000 reads. A good CD will last 5+ years. It all depends on the dye that is used. Cheaper medias have substantially shorter shelf life. (I've seen media die after <2 years). Trust me, I used to go through spindle of 100 cd's in a day when it used to cost $3 each. It's in the dye and expensive doesn't always mean better. It's hard for me to say who makes the best as I haven't used media to that degree in years.

 

Tape - DLT and Beta (Okibono, which used to be used by the government, but I think they swapped back to DLT) has a typical guranteed shelf life of 10 years. Given proper conditions. (Low magnetic, balanced humidity, low temperature), you are talking much longer time frame. Hiring remote storage facilities like Iron Mountain, they will supposidly provide and ideal environment.

 

Hard Disks - The media itself is pretty long as the platter is made from Aluminum or Glass. The problem is within the electrical mechanisms. Personally, I'd stay away from HD as a long term storage, unless you are talking about a RAID 5 solutions, such as EMC Symetric. Otherwise, stay away from HD due to cost, as well as technical issues.

 

Which one?

Well. Most companies go with DLT tapes. They have a good balance between cost/reliability/performance. But you are talking about ~$1500 for the drive, and around $50 for each tape and they contain roughly 20~40 gigs. (Some claim higher but that's based on hardware compression and that's questionable).

 

For a large data collection at the cheapest cost, DVD would be the cheapest right now. But shelflife is ~5 years. Cheaper media can be less. For a smaller space, consider using something like a SONY MD player/recorder and use it to store files. Each 270meg cartridge is roughly $1.5. Granted it may seem expensive but trust me. Bake it in the oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes, let it cool, then bank the media with a plastic mallet dozen times and shove it in the drive and tell me if it works. Try that with anything else. Make sure to pack it away in a good container and put it in a dark, dry (not super dry as that's static prone) room with a relatively low temperature.

 

Good Luck!

 

Leigh

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Thanks for sharing some of the fact Leigh! Interesting info!

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Leigh, thanks for that info. It's pretty impressive how MO drives work and I'd not even heard of them before. Good stuff!!!

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Picking the backup medium is obviously extremely important. Remember, however, that a 10+ year shelf-life is great for long term storage, but you have to be able to get your data OFF the darn thing when all is said and done.

 

10+ years from now, what technology will we be using to read data? How about 20 years? 50 years?

 

I look back in my parents' basement and there are stacks and stacks of 5.25" floppy disks -- you know, back when they really WERE floppy. Even if I WANTED to get files off those disks, I have no way to read them. Even if I were able to somehow hook up a 5.25 disk drive to my computer, I doubt my software could read the formats on the disks. (Our first computer was an Atari system whose CPU was built into the keyboard. We had an external 5.25 disc drive, and wrote programs in Basic. (Remember the days of line numbers?)).

 

Who is to say that in 25 years you'll even be able to READ a CD ROM or DVD in a computer? And if you did, how do you know that the software will be compatible with Word 97 files (or whatever)?

 

I've got a whole pile of ZIP disks sitting in my computer room at home. Zip disks were supposed to be the new floppy. Then usb key drives came around and I don't think Iomega even makes zip drives/disks anymore.

 

I'll stop rambling now, but I always laugh at these discussions of long-term storage (in the 10+ year format), and I think to myself: if the data is so important that you will want it in 20 years, chances are pretty good that every couple of years you'll be copying it from the old media format on to the newest media format anyway.

 

Anyway. That's my 2 cents.

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if the data is so important that you will want it in 20 years, chances are pretty good that every couple of years you'll be copying it from the old media format on to the newest media format anyway.

 

You are absolutely right, but it's nice to choose a media today that will hold the data until you do copy it to the latest greatest media 5 years from now. ;)

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