• When It Comes to Archiving, “Long-term” is Relative

    The topic of long term archiving has always intrigued and excited me, and in the storage industry, it tends to get ignored or pushed to one side like an unpopular cousin at a wedding.

    How long is long? That’s the big question. Casinos keep video for 24 hours in case there is a dispute. Lost property might be kept for six months. You keep financial records for seven to 10 years in case the tax man cometh. Dentists keep your records until you go to a another one. Hospitals may keep records for your lifetime. Genealogists deal in generations. To an archeologist, a generation is nothing. To a paleontologist, archeology is kid’s stuff and a geologist thinks dinosaurs are recent news.

    What is an archive? From that treasure trove of indisputable facts, Wikipedia, I quote “a collection of historical records, or the physical place they are located.” I am going to break up our history into phases:

    Rocks. Professionals can tell us a lot about what happened in eons past from the way rocks have been formed or moved or damaged. They can describe volcanoes and earthquakes, flowing rivers and great oceans. The same techniques apply on other planets and moons. This archive is set in stone (pardon the pun).

    Fossils. Found in rocks we sometimes find evidence of past creatures and plants. Usually these fossils are not the actual specimen but traces left by minerals replacing tissue and bone or moulds hardened over time. I don’t think this is something to rely on for the future as we seem to have fewer tar pits these days and not many of us or our pets will be covered by sediments where they have died. Maybe some.

    Carvings. Ever since man could lift a stick he has left records carved in stone. Some are very comprehensive such as tablets created by the Cretans, Assyrians, Egyptians etc. The languages may be long dead but cryptologists can work out what was written especially when they have help from common scripts in multiple languages such as the Rosetta Stone. This was a royal decree from Ptolemy but it allowed the translation of many tablets which turned out to be invoices, love letters and even graffiti. Cool eh?

    See a pattern forming? All three of these phases so far rely on the longevity of stone. Next time I am going to discuss physical items passed down for posterity.

    Mike Sparkes is author of the blog Obscure Aussie and an IT storage expert based in Brisbane, Australia.

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