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January 16, 2006

IBM: caution urged on media lifespans

A new report from IBM Germany has highlighted the risks organizations face regarding long-term data storage, warning that burned CDs have a lifespan of less than five years. This news will surprise many as, while burned CDs do not account for a vast amount of the overall backup/archive estate, both business users and consumers perceive this media to have a considerably longer storage lifetime.

By CBR Staff Writer

IBM Germany has issued a report warning about the short lifespan of burned CDs.

Kurt Gerecke, an IBM physicist and storage expert, has warned that the lifespan of burned CDs (both CD-Rs and CD-RWs) is between two and five years, after which time the degradation of the dye on the surface of the disk is liable to render it unreadable.

Gerecke’s report has emphasized the difficulty faced by IT managers in selecting appropriate storage media for the increasing volume of information that must be kept for extended time periods. This includes medical records, building safety and security records, and contractual information for long-term agreements, such as Public Finance Initiatives.

The report noted that it is also difficult to identify the quality of a burnable CD, and, because there is a lack of standards to address media quality, users have scant information available to guide them. Generally speaking, selecting a reputable brand name over a cheaper unbranded variety helps, but will still not support longer-term storage needs.

In the professional storage market there are a number of options available. Gerecke recommends magnetic tape as the best choice for long-term storage, asserting that these will last from 30 to 100 years. However, there are again few standards, and older tape can deteriorate when not maintained correctly. Newer media such as ultra density optical (UDO) disks promise a lifespan in excess of 50 years, and UDO disk maker Plasmon uses a scientifically recognized, multi-point Arrhenius test procedure to evidence the longevity of its products.

It is clear that many organizations are under-prepared for the longer-term consequences of the data explosion we have experienced over the past 10 years (a phenomenon set to continue at alarming rates). Relying on a single instance of backup and archive media for the lifetime of data, be it CD, tape, or disk, is certainly not sustainable, and careful thought should be given to migration strategies that will support extended storage periods that can be matched to the organizational requirements for the information involved.

Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (

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