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Backup Trends: Quality
One eternal problem with making a backup copy of data is the worry that that extra copy will be unreadable when it is needed. Magnetic media (floppies, tape) can be damaged by stray magnetic fields. Dye-based media (writable CD-ROMs and DVDs) can be scratched or smudged, or encounter contact with something that causes a chemical interaction that damages the data.
Buying the best quality CD-R, or CD-RW, or DVD-R, or DVD-RW. Any data on best floppies? Any data on best flash drives?
The Repeating Quality Trend
There is a quality trend that tends to repeat itself for every new form of backup media. It is dependent more on the nature of technology and economics than on media itself, so it seems likely to continue repeating itself.
When a new type of media first reaches the marketplace, there are generally quality problems. Media recorded by one manufacturer's device may tend to have problems being read by another manufacturer's device. This is typical of different people trying to create devices that conform to a single specification. There are mistakes and misunderstandings. The process of manufacturing the media is still encountering unanticipated quality problems that have to be ironed out.
With any luck, the new media survives these early problems and moves to a kind of golden age. Most quality and compatibility problems have been solved. The media begins to become popular among early adopters in the marketplace, and everyone is making a healthy profit. Quality is at its peak during this phase.
But then success brings its own problems. Other manufacturers see that a healthy profit is being made, and jump on the bandwagon. Inevitably, manufacturers begin competing on price. Once the competition is about price rather than technological advance, the temptation is inevitable to shave pennies here and there until quality begins to be affected.
Disreputable players may even deal in media known to be of questionable quality, knowing that if the market is large enough, they can sustain a high level of dissatisfied customers long enough to make a healthy profit off of them. Even manufacturers with high standards may have to compromise their quality efforts if the overwhelming trend is towards cheaper media. In effect, the marketplace is telling them that it will not pay for more than a certain amount of quality.
There is a tendency to view backed-up data as a completed task. Got your treasured digital family photos backed up? Ah yes, they're burned onto CD-ROM and safely stored in a safety deposit box. Unfortunately, that's no guarantee that when your children go retrieve that CD-ROM decades hence it will still be defect-free and readable.
Dealing with the limited lifetime of backup media has traditionally been something that businesses handled haphazardly and individuals simply ignored. However, it is an issue that will increasingly affect individuals.
Lots of kinds of individual data don't need to survive for 40 years. You may not care about 40-year-old email, you may not want to preserve tax data for more than the legally required seven years, and so on. What's changing is that people are increasingly using computers to store personal, precious memories, in the form of photos, audio, and video recordings.
Why undelete utilities may fail just when you need them most!
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