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Archiving Digital Data for 100 Years

June 2002 - white paper by Alan Morris, Morris & Ward Consulting Engineers

...Patent Pending...

Editor's intro I've got some books in my library which are about 250 years old. I can still read them because ink on paper is a technology which is still accessible today.

You get used to seeing the letter "s"printed as an "f" after a while, and the English language hasn't changed that much, although we've added a few new words since then. Now consider the problem of digital data storage over a long time frame. When I started my career in the 1970's we archived processor assembly code to paper tape, and then later, to 8" floppies. Things change a lot in storage. A consulting engineering firm, established in 1921, thinks they have a solution. This is the first you're going to hear about it on the web, because they don't have a web site yet.

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Field of the invention

There is a need to store large amounts of digital data for long periods of time in an error-free manner. These data are originally in digital format or are data that have been digitally scanned from original content. The data are to be stored as replacement for storage of the original content, or the data are to be stored in parallel to the storage of theoriginal content. For instance, historians store historical documents and images in archives, and the military, police and security forces store vast amounts of information such as satellite imagery, military maps, manuals, war records and iris recognition files. Still other types of information that are stored in mass are patent records, census records, geospatial records, images collections, and sound records of music and speeches.

Solutions provided by the invention

To provide the solution for long-term, error-free archival storage, the dual problems of backward-read compatibility and of the uncertainty of storage media failure had to be solved. The invention not only provides the solution to those two problems, it also provides the solution for accessibility of the archived data files when files are needed for outside reference or for rebuilding of outside failed on-line search and retrieval systems. The invention also provides for security of the archived data files to guard against fire, earthquake and terrorist attack. The invention provides the solution for archiving all file sizes, from megabytes to zettabytes.

Profile of Morris & Ward

Four years ago our consulting engineering firm had as a client a digital printing firm. That firm printed posters for the National Gallery of Art's sales shops. The Gallery asked the firm to solve a data scanning and storage problem, namely, scan the Gallery's record 8" x 10" Kodachromes and then store, error-free, for 100 years, the digital record of each scan.

We solved the scanning-in problem for the firm, specifying a foreign-made photomultiplier tube ("PMT") drum scanner. Using the scanner, the Gallery's challenge image, Titian's "Doge," c. 1600, was digitized, producing a 4 GB file, with 32-bit color depth.

The Gallery 's concept was that firm would produce a digital equivalency to place into the Gallery's vault along with the Kodachrome and the acid-free paper record of calibrated Colorimeter readouts of the Kodachome's four RGB color wheels (one wheel in each corner), the package to come to light again 100 years hence. What the Gallery wanted was a digital backup in case of the failure of the Kodachrome colors and/or image.

At that time a digital equivalency could either be an optical disc, CD or DVD. Because the equipment for writing and reading DVD's is inexpensive, compact, and ready at hand, we researched the longevity information available on DVD's. The answer was that there were no accurately known time frames beyond 5 to 10 years before disintegration would begin to cause errors.

Also, since we were aiming for 100 years, another type of problem, namely the "backward-read compatibility" problem, would arise. Backward-read compatibility problems have arisen, for example, with reel-to-reel tape, with out-of-date tape cartridges, with the optical sound tapes from the Nuremberg trial, etc. At 100 years hence, even at 30 years hence, there would be no perfectly working machinery, and, more likely, no working machinery at all, for reading the storage media.

We embarked on a program to research and develop technology for solving the now-identified archival data storage problem.

Contact information
Technical Details:

Morris & Ward Consulting Engineers
4938 Hampden Lane #114
Bethesda, MD 20814-2914
tel:- 301-320-4900
..... Contracts:

Howard Ross, Esq
Troutman Sanders Mays & Valentine LLP
1660 International Drive
McLean, VA 22102
tel:- 703-734-4333

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