Archival DVDs and CDs:

My office is undergoing some changes in regard to PC equipment; most of the units came with a Zip drive, and replacement units don’t have them, leaving these people out in the cold. Few people at work have any sort of a backup system or archiving system; I have to, because I work a home a good deal of the time, and because my web work demands a lot of archiving backups of hundreds and thousands of files of all sorts.

Anyway, the folks at work are trying to figure a replacement for the Zip drives, and here’s what I wrote:

I personally find Zip drives to be cranky to deal with; I’ve always been a great believer in optical media (such as CDs or DVDs), because anything that’s magnetic-based media (floppies, Zip drives) are (1) dependant on the magnetized particles on the plastic surface to hold up over time, use and banging around (not to mention degaussing with other magnet stuff), and (2) have a thin sheet of plastic mechanically involved with some sort of machinery (which can grab it or it can foul in some manner). Also, Zip and floppy disks can get hung up in a drive and Not Come Out a zillion different ways.

The usefulness of a CD or DVD is that (depending on what you’re doing) you use it as a backup of whatever you’re doing. You edit stuff on the PC’s hard drive, and copy it off onto a CD or DVD for reference; there are also CDs and DVDs that will let you rewrite them over and over again. For example:

  • Monday: I work on a report, and save a copy to a rewritable CD.

  • Tuesday: I took that rewritable CD home, copied off the file to my hard drive and did any revisions or adds, and saved it back to the rewritable CD to take in the next day to the office when I was done.

  • Wednesday: I pull a copy of that file off the rewritable CD and back to my hard drive for further revisions…

et cetera, and so on.

For my own uses, I tend to use a flash drive all the time for transfers because it’s smaller, and you can edit the stuff directly on the flash drive. Smaller also means you can lose the durn thing easily, so I carry it and any other flash drives around in a case that’s a little bigger than a deck of cards. Harder to lose. And every so often, I back the contents up on a DVD to make sure that there’s a backup. Flash drives can break, depending on a variety of things.

As to size of flash drives: I use a 2 GB one, and really, with prices of the things being what they are (you can stroll into Microcenter or Frys and pick up a 2 GB for less than $35) that’s what I’d recommend. Heck, I even saw a Frys ad offering up a 4 GB for less than $50! That’s a lot of storage for data. I tend to keep a set of small rescue programs on my flash drive, in case I have to use it to write up something on a trip or whatever.

What we probably need is a policy that says – you need to have your stuff backed up to a DVD or CD from your PC, because won’t do it. backs up server stuff, not what’s on a PC. And hard drive crashes happen.

True enough. Now, the question is – what sort of CD or DVD media will hold up over time? The information on this changes all the time; I hear new reports yearly. But some information seems stable now:

  • An optical disk is basically plastic with a metal film of some sort. The information is stored by a laser burning tiny bits of dye that are embedded in that disk – some of the dyes are more stable or work better or last longer than others. Commercially distributed DVDs are stamped out metal stuff, and not burnt, and will hold up a lot better.

  • These plastic and metal disks don’t like a lot of things. Caustic chemicals that eat them up. Very bright light that damages the dyes. Heat. Abrasives that scratch up the surface. They don’t like being physically abused in general. Regardless of how good the materials are in a disk, they can be mistreated to the point of destruction.

  • When not in use, they should be in a secure case and properly marked as to what’s in them. A Sharpie won’t damage the surface of the disk, and so long as you use the side that the information’s NOT burned on, you should be fine. I suggest that you use something that has good contrast, like basic black, and a clickable one (if used right, less likely to dry out or lose a lid).

  • Keep the case (jewel cases) with the disks out of heat and light. Room temperature is best.

  • After that, look for a quality manufacturer that uses good, durable materials (especially the dye used for the laser’s burn on the disk) for the discs. You generally won’t find these in your local store. Most people want the cheapest thing around, and aren’t thinking about long-term issues with these disks.

  • Cheap, no-name disks are pretty worthless for storing something. I only use that sort of thing for a CD copy I intend to leave in the car or with my seven-year-old’s DVD player for on the road. I never use the original disks in such situations; they won’t take the abuse. With the cheap stuff, if it does go to pieces, it’s just a copy, and it doesn’t matter.

  • Rewritable discs are for temporary storage, not long term. Ever.

  • A really good idea is that if you have stuff stored on a disc for archival purposes, if it’s REALLY important to you, make a duplicate set of copies of the essential things and arrange for the set to be in the hands of a trusted friend or relative way out of town. Fires and natural disasters will take out discs, but a backup at Aunt Edna’s house in Kansas will be there just in case.

The best information (in technical detail) I have on the relative quality of the stuff manufactured is on these links:

The short version is that these will last at least 50 years with proper treatment:

  • Verbatim (probably the one thing you could find in a office supply store)
  • Taiyo Yuden (internet sales only) (reasonably priced, shop around)
  • Mitsui MaM Gold or Silver (internet sales only) (expensive, but the Silver is rated at 100 years lifetime and the Gold at 250+)

Note on any of this that it’s unlikely that your great-grandkids will be using the same stuff to store digital information that you do. You may have a wonderful set of movies of your kids, but your descendents 150 years from now may not give a care enough to transfer the stuff to whatever they’re using then.

Places to buy the stuff on the internet (shop around for the best prices):

Jim Rittenhouse's online journal