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« Which Countries were Successful at the Olympics? | Main | Cellular Jerks: Where are your Mobile Manners? »

The Lifespan of Storage Media

Crashplan has just released The Lifespan of Storage Media, a comprehensive guide to how long your data will last.  Designed by Mike Wirth with InfoNewt, this infographic compares the expected lifespans of popular media types used over the last 100 years to save different kinds of information: computer data, photos, videos and audio.  Do your 8-tracks still play?

As each new form of data storage comes on the scene, the market is at first enamored with its compactness, convenience and hoped-for data longevity. But invariably, the reality of physical vulnerability and a limited lifespan remains. Eventually, all media fails, but Cloud backup is forever.

This was a fantastic project to work on, and the data research was the most challenging piece.  We had to find data to support both an average expected life and an extended “with extreme care” life.  We certainly found some contradictory data sources, and ultimately used data we felt was the most commonly accepted in the industry.

Do you have old computer backups burned to CDs, tapes or even hard drives on your shelf?  Don’t count on being able to read the data from them too much longer!  The short lifespan for many of these types of media that people use everyday to archive their personal photos and videos was most surprising.

Thanks to the team at Crashplan for a great project!

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Reader Comments (11)

Interesting infographic, certainly visually compelling, but there's a few things in there that I found confusing or misleading. The data sources are a large part of that.

I'll start with the infographic's design elements, though.
The section for 'The Cloud' contains icons which, at first, I believed were part of a legend, expecting to see them used in the list of media. Turns out they aren't and only apply to 'The Cloud'.
In the next section there is an actual legend, for the two lifespan figures given - but it doesn't follow the same design as the actual bars used (the small zig-zag).
Then there's the actual list - but I can't see any particular reason for the ordering of the elements. It's not based on normal use lifespan, not on extreme lifespan, not on year of introduction (I assume, as the years column is not explained)... Is it random?
The bubbles in the list - while adding some informational trivia - don't seem to correspond with any actual data. E.g. the 'lost in space' remark for "USB Flash Drives" points at the 75-year mark. Does that imply that most people will lose, or have lost, their USB drive in 75 years? Probably not. Similarly, the "Video 'Hits'" bubble points to both "DV Tape" and "DVD" while remarking that "Digital Tape" will decay. DVD is not tape, though.
I would check the sources on some of this, but the footnote references seem to be very much out of order. E.g. "Cassette Tape" refers to footnote 12. But footnote 12 appears to be the URL for "Vinyl Record". That, in turn, refers to footnote 9. Plenty more here that appear confusing.
That's also why I can't figure out what the difference between "Digital Photos" and "Memory Card" is supposed to be. Early digital cameras - not counting those saving to 3.5" disks - saved to Memory Cards just as well. Obsolete formats, to be sure, but technologically rather similar to modern formats. The footnotes for each refer to completely different things.

Then there's the actual data being visualized. I can't question the data sources because, as you noted, numbers quoted tend to vary wildly. However, I think there's no question CDs (pressed, not burned) very much outlast tape under normal use (visualized figures are 3 and 10 years respectively) unless for CDs you count 1 CRC error as the CD being useless while hissing, crackling, loss of upper range frequencies on tape is perfectly acceptable (similar to how "Vinyl" apparently lasts 100 years. Have you listened to a vinyl record even 20 years old lately?)
Similarly, "The Cloud" most certainly does not last infinity; one need only look at the various mishaps at cloud storage providers (Microsoft, DropBox) that cause short term temporary inaccessibility and legal issues (MegaUpload, e.g.) that cause longer term inaccessibility. The data may very well still be there - but it will be on media such as those covered; unless continually refreshed (copied off a redundant drive/network segment to a new drive/network segment in case a drive/network segment failed) it's subject to the same pitfalls.

Hopefully this infographic can be revisited to fix the errors / clarify some points, even if the source data will remain questionable at best; that's something you can't change.. most sources are just throwing out the guesswork by manufacturers and anecdotal data from consumers.
August 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteven
Some professional and quite good computer media are missing:
DVD-RAM and MO-disks.
August 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Felgate
Your article looks great!Thanks for you sharing. I love it.
August 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterהקמת אתרים
it is good and nice post
September 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterautomatically.
Interesting blog! I like it. Cloud storage is getting fame now. After reading your post I will use cloud storage for backing up data. Thanks for sharing your post.
February 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLauren
I must say you have shared very interesting and beneficial knowledge. I am really impressed with your work. You have done a great job.I am thinking of using cloud storage after reading your article. You have completely changed my thought about cloud storage. I want to ad here that now a days backup tapes are modern gadget for storing data. I suggest you to write an article about data backup tapes. Once again i must say that you have done great work. keep posting such beneficial articles.
July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHP C7978A LTO Ultrium
It's pretty ironic that at some point Crashplan got rid of the page on their website and now the URL at the bottom of this image doesn't work. The original blog post, in fact the entire original blog, linked from Mike Wirth's website has likewise gone away. Good job, Code 42.
July 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterScott Martin
Agreed. Companies change blog platforms and tend to lose old content, which is bad for their SEO. It's a poor choice when they refresh a website. That URL in the infographic is supposed to be long lasting.

You can still see the design on Mike Wirth's site here: http://www.mikewirthart.com/projects/the-lifespan-of-storage-media/
July 15, 2016 | Registered CommenterRandy
yeah, link is boken.
October 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commentervangelder
Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful information specially the last part I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this particular information for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.
November 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMonica Vargas
Lifespan totally depends on the usage of the user. Every user has a different style of usage quality so its totally on the user how he will use it. Hard disks have a low lifespan of about 3-5 years, but magnetic disks have a permanent lifespan of more than 10 years. You can also use virtual hard disks in case you need, or you may use any optical drives which have more lifespan and more transfer speed. If you need any help you can go to https://microsoftsupport.co/microsoft-support-uk
June 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDwane Jhon

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