The media that will preserve your data forever

Our hard drives probably won't last long enough to give our kids or grandkids our photos. So what should we use?


Do you remember floppy disks? What about Zip drives? CD burners, even?

Not only has our media for storing our data changed dramatically in the last couple of decades, storage media have limited lifespans. Magnetic hard drives last about ten years, as do CDs (under ideal conditions). But what if you want to preserve some data--like precious photos, videos, and other documents--for all time? It gets tricky, but it's not impossible.

MakeUseOf highlights five technologies that could make your data live nearly forever. Decades, at least, or centuries.

  • For the next 50 years: magnetic tape (just like IT departments use around the world). These are about three times as expensive as low-end hard drives (about $3.00 per gigabyte) and they require special hardware to read and write to, but they're a tried and true medium for long-term storage.
  • For the next 100 years: archival Blu-Rays. The gold backing could make these discs last 1 to 3 centuries--good enough for passing your legacy down to your great-grandchildren and beyond until they figure out what the next best medium is. Blu-Rays cost about 2.5 gigabytes per dollar, but Blu-Ray players and readers are readily available.

The MakeUseOf article also highlights more groundbreaking technologies such as M-discs and fossilized DNA that could make your data last thousands of years.

For most people, however, Blu-Rays are probably the best bet for super long-term preservation. Just make sure you back up your Blu-Ray drivers and save the hardware needed to read and write to the discs, because 200 years from now those meticulously saved discs will be no good if they can't be read. (And if something transplants the Blu-Ray format and disc technology, you'll have to migrate all your data over to the new one. Perhaps this is why Google's VP warns we should print out our photos before the digital dark age is upon us.)

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