The future presents countless interesting and daunting challenges, one of which you might not necessarily expect: data preservation. Is today’s data storage up to the task of preserving information for the decades and centuries to come? Today we explore this interesting concept and some of the options businesses have at their disposal, at least for the foreseeable future.
Even the most rudimentary options for storing information will eventually succumb to the ravages of time. If you write something down on a piece of paper, then store it in a safe, that safe will eventually be worn down over the years, and once the safe gives way to the elements, so too will the paper found within. That information is gone, and there’s no getting it back. Even longer-lasting methods, such as storing thoughts in stone or metal, will eventually fall victim to erosion and oxidation, resulting in the same loss of knowledge and information eventually.
Of course, most modern businesses aren’t concerned with the distant future—they have enough problems to worry about in the next fiscal year—and they’re not carving their data into cave walls or metal slabs. That said, modern data storage technologies are, surprisingly, not nearly as long-lasting as you might expect, or even comparable to the aforementioned efforts used to preserve information in the distant past.
There are presently four mediums most businesses use to store their data, and they include the following:
HDDs are the types of drives that have traditionally been installed on most computers and laptops over the past 30 years. They are still widely used in IT even to this day, and while they might not be nearly as fast, durable, or energy-efficient as today’s solid state drives (SSD), they still retain one key advantage over them: higher capacity storage. HDDs are helpful in situations where you will want to read and write information over and over again, like with video surveillance, media rendering, or centralized file servers.
Like any other piece of machinery with moving parts, however, HDDs are prone to failure eventually. With spinning layers of magnetic plates, these mechanical components will fail as they age, and they are quite sensitive to shock as well. All it takes is one issue with the drive to cause catastrophic failure, rendering any data found unreadable or lost entirely. They can survive for years or potentially even decades on a shelf, provided they are kept in a controlled environment, but this assumes they aren’t in active use—and if you’re not using them, what good are they really?
SSDs are sometimes referred to as flash memory, and they are typically included in mid-to-high-end PCs and just about all laptops. Compared to the HDD, SSDs have speed on their side, and they are much more streamlined in appearance as they don’t require moving parts in order to do their job. Instead of mechanical parts, SSDs use a process called “electron tunneling,” which uses small charges of electricity to store data. This makes the SSD energy-efficient, but eventually, the drive will gradually lose electricity, resulting in data loss.
If you leave one of these drives on a shelf, the data doesn’t fare well either, as, within a couple of years, the internal error correction components will need to work much harder to recover any lost data. The entire drive could be blank after sitting still without use for a decade or two. The electricity eventually peters out, leaving you with a blank device.
Thus, they are effective for your typical desktop or laptop but are not the ideal choice for long-term data storage.
Ironically, the technology that has long since left the data storage landscape is the best solution we have discussed so far in today’s blog: magnetic tape. If you remember using a VHS tape or tape cassettes to write media, then you have some experience with the longevity of this storage method.
This is, of course, assuming you have it in a controlled environment. The process of recording and reading data from magnetic tape is simply not efficient enough for what you need it to do, like restoring data through a backup solution. All that said, magnetic tape backups are remarkably resilient and could last up to a century if properly taken care of, assuming you have a device that can still read it after all that time.
The cloud is similar to other methods of data storage we have discussed so far, as it’s basically storing data on someone else’s computer instead of your own. This goes for all of your Office 365 files, your Google Docs and Gmail, your Facebook posts, and Tweets; someone else is managing the storage space where all of this data lives. Of course, this is an oversimplification, and this environment is kept secure and managed by IT professionals, so you’d expect it to be redundant and accessible no matter what, but at the root of it all is that someone else is using the same technology you would use if you were to store this data in-house: SSDs, HDDs, or a combination of them.
Redundancy is the key factor to consider, as you are less likely to permanently lose data if it’s stored in multiple different locations. This kind of redundancy is costly, especially when you consider the amount of storage needed and the amount of security required to keep it all safe and secure, and the biggest factor of all is that you’re essentially trusting the future of your data to someone else.
Theoretically, any service commonly used in today’s business world, like Google’s products, could be permanently shut down someday. A massive data breach could strike Microsoft and render their entire infrastructure inoperable. While these scenarios will likely never happen, they show just how fragile the current state of cloud-based data storage is for the distant future of data preservation.
The biggest reason why the future is so unknowable in terms of data preservation is because so many devices rely on some kind of flash or SSD-based storage in order to operate. Whether it’s your smartphone, your tablet, your television, or any other electronic device, it has some kind of computer that acts as a temporary storage medium. And if they rely on SSD storage, how far into the future will they continue to operate? Just think about how much could be lost over the years.
Businesses will eventually have to consider whether their long-term data storage practices can withstand the test of time, and time waits for no one. While today’s technology makes it hard to imagine what things will look like in the future without it, this doesn’t make the issue any less pressing. We think the most important thing you can do is understand that modern technology will not last forever, and being aware of this fact can help you build contingencies for when it inevitably does fail.
KB Technologies Managed IT can help your business prepare for the unseeable future. To learn more, reach out to us at (954) 834-2800 today.
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