Following our box in the attic analogy, this type of archive would require us to visit the box everyday to make sure it was OK, check the contents to see that they were still there and leave the light on, permanently.
Magnetic tape is able to store huge amounts of data in a compact space and once written does not require power to maintain. Tape is a popular choice for archiving, though does have some significant drawbacks that do not lend themselves to the ideal of archiving, as represented by our box.
Anyone who has fought to restore data from an old backup tape will tell you just how unreliable magnetic tape can be. It wears with use, can easily be damaged and must be stored in carefully maintained temperature and humidity conditions.
As with magnetic disk, data stored on tape is also subject to corruption so should be frequently monitored if used for long-term data storage.
Though in comparison to hard drives, and to follow our analogy, a tape archive allows the attic light to be turned off, the box itself will still need regular visits to make sure everything is OK.
The final category of archiving technology is optical. In many ways optical most matches our ideal archive as represented by the box in the attic. Using laser technology, data is stored on a disk by changing the physical structure of the disk itself.
Once data is written it is extremely stable and cannot be altered, ensuring both record authenticity and data integrity. Like tape systems, optical disks do not need to be continuously powered so are extremely energy efficient. Optical disks come in a variety of formats so it is important to select one that is designed for specifically for professional data storage. UDO (Ultra Density Optical) is the only optical format with a proven track record for long-term data archiving.
Many organisations are far from perfect when it comes to securely archiving their data. However, with a near universal move to electronic records, companies are now increasingly required to maintain data records for a very long time, often many decades. Like the box in the attic, the best systems are those that simply get on with their role unaided, cost little to maintain, and preserve the family treasures in perfect order for as long as possible, so your data, like the book your grandmother gave you, can be passed to the next generation.
Steve Tongish is the director of marketing EMEA at Plasmon Data, a professional archival storage provider