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Do we really need to “apocalypse-proof” the world’s digital data?


PowersSmallJ.jpgBy Chris Powers, Vice President, Data Center Development Unit, HP Storage


I recently heard On the Media’s “Digital Dark Age” podcast where they imagine humans losing their digital data, a “digital dark age” if you will. They warn we need to be far less complacent about the real danger of losing our digital data. They talked about a real-world example of loss when NASA lost more than a million reels of data in the 1990s—including the 1969 Apollo Moonwalk video and Earthrise, the iconic picture of our planet floating above the surface of the moon. All were either destroyed or rendered unreadable.


The long history of data preservation

Rosetta_Stonge_ATSB_shutterstock_205050373_O4Oct.jpgThis podcast has stuck with me, as it’s occurred to me that we might be getting a little too doomsday about a subject that isn’t actually new: data preservation. Firstly, before there was a written word, literally, no one was capturing any data on a stone or device. But we didn’t lose language. I’m sure that no one would have ever imagined how modern-day humans would use the Rosetta Stone. Did they imagine that it would be used hundreds of years later as a device to decipher (translate) old data?


Then there is the ongoing debate about how many copies of data are ideal (or too many) coupled with the trials and tribulations of data migration. Consider how early manuscripts, specifically the Bible, were copied and recopied, by hand in an effort to provide greater access (and preserve) the contents. This was not a random process, for the Benedictine Monks defined a methodology by which someone would write something, and they would count the characters including spaces, and if the count did not match a predetermined value, the whole thing got chucked. Not a perfect process, but certainly a useful one, if not always super-efficient.


Today we talk a lot about having a “consistent copy.” And we’re big on capturing data on data, so much so that a lot of technology schemes are put forth to do just that. I am not sure how many people understand the Dewey Decimal System but it was a system that grew and expanded beyond anyone’s imagination for keeping track of books.


No need for doom and gloom

So if we look at history, we had the same issues of wondering about how we’d preserve our data. And we didn’t know then and we don’t know now. And that’s not necessarily a matter of doom and gloom.


If you really think about it the best long-term storage tool today is a book. It’s immutable, you can’t change what is written on its pages. If you could keep them around for millennia, as we have other books, time would march on and future-humans would not know, at first glance, what they were communicating. But old_books_ATSB_shutterstock_135114548_04Oct.jpgas we’ve always done, we’d sort out a way to understand their contents because we’ve always been able to decode the written word in some form or fashion. By the way, with books there are often many copies, and some have lasted a very long time. They’re quite immutable in fact. Conversely in digital archiving, there is one single golden copy. After a summer of noodling on this pod cast, I have come to disagree with the digital dark age vision of the future. And as a guy who works for a technology company, I now believe we have to challenge the whole notion of a single golden copy of anything.


Think about it, the way digital copies are made today, aka back-up copies, the data is reconfigured in some form or fashion. It’s like writing a book in code. And in some ways old books are in code, if only because of the passage of time they lose relevance, meaning to modern societies etc. But we seem to be able to de-code old books and manuscripts. So as we have always done we should be able to read the modern data using different means, or in technology lingo, different types of applications.


We always find an answer to data protection challenges

We didn’t know what we would do to pass on language before the written word, or what purpose the Rosetta Stones would have for us; or how the Dewey Decimal System would hold up and expand to great use. We found an answer to our data preservation problems when those problems arose.


Back to the NASA story; they didn’t know what to do when they realized the tapes that housed their precious data weren’t any good. And when they decommissioned the hardware, a lady put it in her barn. Years later they got creative, and were able to pull the data off of these tapes.


Humans have always been, and will always be, creative. So it is with our data preservation challenges too: we will figure them out when we get there, wherever “there” is. And perhaps we should be careful about a single copy of anything because that makes "apocalypse-proofing" data a lot harder.



FlashGuideJ.jpgFor modern data storage challenges, you may need to evaluate your options, please consider downloading this informative All-Flash Buyer’s Guide for the Tech Savvy Buyer.  learn all the questions you should ask any potential vendor when purchasing a truly enterprise-class flash solution.




DPGuide.jpegYou might also want to download The Data Protection Playbook for All-Flash Storage with key considerations to keep in mind when evaluating your data protection options.


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