The Elusive Storage Utopia

Today, long-term data storage requires constant oversight. But researchers hope cool new technologies will change that soon.

"Migrate every five years." That might sound like a guideline for dysfunctional birds, but it's actually a software setting that the National Film Board of Canada uses in its digital archiving system.

"The data has to be kept for infinity, so there has to be a migration process," says Julie Dutrisac, head of research and development for the film board in Montreal, which preserves 13,000 Canadian films. "When you get into the digital domain, you are stuck migrating."

Migration, of course, means moving the material to new storage hardware, because the old hardware can't be expected to last much more than five years, or because of expected obsolescence.

"Most storage products have a five-year warranty, and most users are in the practice of replacing their systems every five years, with infrastructures becoming completely transformed, like a snake shedding its skin, in a maximum of 10 years," says John Monroe, an analyst at research firm Gartner. "But it has to be done without changing any data bit. People are terrified about it. It keeps IT managers up at night."

But better sleep may be on the way in as little as five years because researchers are working to develop storage technology that should be reliable for decades rather than years, slashing the need for migration.

Racetrack Memory

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