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'Rock-like' optical disc will store digital data for 1,000 years
Aug. 22, 2011
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by Mark Ollig

Chris Erikson, a digital archivist, says even when storing CD and DVD disc collections in special cases and in top-quality archival boxes in temperature-controlled environments; they are still experiencing a loss of 20 to 30 percent of the data stored each year due to optical disc deterioration.

The family photos, music and video files, along with your personal and business documents digitally saved on your computer hard drives, CDs, DVDs, flash drives and tapes; do you sometimes wonder whether they will still be readable years from now?

The sad truth is these traditionally used data storage devices will deteriorate over time and will not permanently save the data.

Barry M. Lunt, Ph. D., is a professor of information technology at Brigham Young University, and proponent of long-term computer data storage.

In 1996, he learned about the ancient petroglyphs (rock engravings) art work in Nine Mile Canyon, located northeast of Price, UT.

Lunt recalls while walking along the rocky cliffs and examining the petroglyphs, he noticed they were not made by any type of painting process. The images were created by etching or chipping away at the outer layer of the dark rock, which exposed the lighter layer of rock beneath its surface.

“That’s permanent storage – optical contrast, light vs. dark. You could store data that way,” Lunt is quoted as saying.

Lunt said he later recalled this memory while researching optical disc storage methods with a colleague.

They wanted to find a way to create optical discs that could store information permanently.

Remembering his examination of the petroglyphs, Lunt realized the needed materials were already available and would last a very long time.

He concluded it was strictly an engineering problem that was delaying a long-term storage solution using optical discs.

Lunt assisted in the creation of an optical disc with semiconductor substrate materials which would allow the data written onto it to last a full millennium.

This length of time was confirmed when using the 2nd edition, December 2008 Standard ECMA-379 optical media archival testing method.

The name of this new optical storage disc is the M-DISC.

The M-DISC is made by Millenniata Inc., an optical company located in American Fork, UT.

This new optical disc is made up of an upper and lower polycarbonate layer, with an inorganic data layer, and an adhesive layer sandwiched in between.

Lunt’s comparison with the petroglyphs comes to mind when the inorganic data layer materials on this optical storage disc undergo a physical change during the writing process.

As the disc’s data layer is treated by a focused laser beam, the extreme heat generated will cause the innermost layers of the advanced metals to melt, or “chip away” from the laser spot, thus creating a void or hole in the data layer.

After this writing process, the melted portions of the disc’s data layer cool down. The material surrounding these newly written data holes form a polycrystalline structure similar to the micro-crystalline structure found in many common rocks.

The digital data is literally etched into an inorganic “rock-like” material – similar to how the petroglyphs were made over 1,000 years ago.

Today’s DVD disc technology uses organic dyes and a common optical DVD disc drive, which uses a low-power laser light to burn or write data file information from a computer onto the data layer of a standard writable DVD.

The data markings on a traditional DVD eventually become unreadable because the organic dyes used will degrade over time due to the natural processes that negatively affect them, including; low light absorption, heat, and moisture.

However, the voids and holes on the M-DISC do not degrade; thus, no data loss.

The US Department of Defense Naval Air Warfare Center Weapon’s Division in California tested five well-known brands of DVD discs rated as “archival-quality” for data failure.

All five failed the testing. None of the data stored on these five discs was recoverable after the exposure cycle testing.

When testing the M-DISC, there was no disc degradation or data loss.

One M-DISC has a storage capacity of 4.7GB, which is equivalent to 100,000 documents, or 1,200 photos, or three hours’ worth of video.

A standard DVD optical disc drive unit cannot write the data onto an M-DISC, so one needs to use the Millenniata M-READY LG Super-Multi Drive made by Hitachi-LG Data Storage. This drive uses a standard USB 2.0 interface and connects to most computers and operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The M-READY drive needs to be used because it incorporates a more powerful laser designed to make the permanent physical etching changes onto the “rock-hard” data layer of the M-DSIC.

Once data is written to the M-DISC using the M-READY drive, access to this data can be achieved using any standard DVD drive.

The M-DISC and M-READY disc drive will be available for purchase over the Millenniata website starting Thursday, Sept. 1. By Oct. 1, both will be sold through online and retail stores.

To learn more about storing your digital information on an optical disc readable for generations to come (or 1,000 years), visit the Millenniata website at http://millenniata.com.


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