Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/23/millennial_disc_series/

Startup crafts DVD-Rs for the 31st century

1,000-year storage

By Rik Myslewski

Posted in Hardware, 23rd July 2009 15:02 GMT

A US startup has developed a new DVD-R technology that it claims will be readable for 1,000 years.

Millenniata's tag line is "Write Once, Read Forever" - and if forever can be defined as 40 generations, that's exactly what its Millennial Disc Series promises.

Millenniata president and CEO Henry O'Connell told The Reg that the Millennial Disc Series is designed to eliminate the need for governments, financial institutions, libraries, and others to regularly refresh and rotate their digital-data collections.

"At the present time there is no digital media that can preserve data for more than a few years," said O'Connell.

The problem with current optical technology is that it uses a chemical system to write the data-carrying pits into DVD media. Such a chemical system inevitably results in what's known as "data rot." Chemically based media degrades after a few years, even when the media is stored in light-proof, temperature-controlled - and quite expensive - vaults.

Data rot isn't important for that DVD you burn to share your vacation videos, but it's a nightmare for archivists devoted to preserving the increasingly digital store of the world's information. The expense of refreshing large data collections - both the replacement media itself as well as the labor involved in constant data rotation - is considerable.

Millenniata's solution to the inevitable data rot experienced by optical and other storage media is to etch the data-carrying pits of a DVD into what O'Connell referred to as a "carbon layer with the hardness of a diamond" on the Millennial Disc Series' M-ARC Disc, resulting in information that will last "as long as you'd have information on a granite stone," he said.

You won't, however, be able to pop an M-ARC Disc into your existing DVD-R drive. Writing to it requires Millenniata's M-Writer Drive, which lists for $2,500. The M-ARC Discs themselves currently cost $12, but O'Connell claims that "there's no reason" why that price won't drop significantly in the near term.

Although that $2,500 M-Writer Drive DVD-R drive, manufactured by Pioneer, may sound pricey, the cost savings over time and the peace of mind that total data survival would afford should both be quite significant.

The Millennial Disc Series's data etching is not the first optical system that promises extended longevity. The anti-corrosive properties of gold are the basis of the current crop of archival DVDs and CDs, such as Verbatim's UltraLife Gold Archival Grade DVD-R, Memorex's Pro Gold Archival CD-R, and Delkin's Archival Gold DVD-R. Gold-based discs, however, are rated for "only" 100-to-300 years.

While that may sound like a long time, the Rosetta Stone and the Code of Hammurabi beat gold-based discs hands down. And O'Connell claims that his company's M-ARC Discs will have the same degree of longevity because they are, in effect, also etched in stone.

M-ARC Discs are stable from minus 100° to plus 200° centigrade. "We dunk them in liquid nitrogen as part of our testing," says O'Connell. Light doesn't effect the M-ARC Disc. Neither do electromagnetic pulses. "There are no environmental concerns we've identified at this point," he said.

Readable by what?

Thousand-year readability is all well and good, but such a claim immediately begs the question, "Readable by what?"

Information preserved on the granodiorite of the Rosetta Stone and basalt of the Code of Hammurabi have one tremendous advantage over digitally stored information: They are designed to be read by the human eye.

And we can safely surmise that one-thousand years from now, the human eye will work pretty much as it does today.

That's not true with optical media. Case in point: In honor of the 900th anniversary of the 11th-century English census known as the Domesday Book - written on parchment in 1086 and still readable today - the BBC launched The Domesday Project to detail life in England in the 80s.

Unfortunately, the Domesday Project chose to use a specially produced laser videodisc player, the Phillips VD415 LV-ROM, dubbed the Domesday Player. When the VD415 and its support systems were no longer produced, the Domesday Project was domed...uh, doomed.

Millenniata's O'Connell is aware of this conundrum - a "chicken and egg" problem, as he describes it. However, the Domesday Project was a one-off effort, while optical media is in widespread use in archiving systems.

O'Connell said that he recently spoken with data archivists at JP Morgan Chase, who told him that the company currently stores 26.4 petabytes of data. O'Connell was stunned and asked "When do you expect that to double?" The answer: 14 to 18 months.

"There are collections that number in hundreds of millions of discs," he told us, referring to his conversations with the US Department of Defense, the Library of Congress, the British Archives, and many others. "If we abandon them, we're losing information that we can't afford to lose." The rapid increase in digital media "Is a flood at our doors."

However, the manufacturers of DVD readers and developers of the software that control them will need to continue to help manage that flood. "We're one part of the puzzle," O'Connell says. "We're one element in the data strategy. What we're doing is giving options that didn't exist before."

If the the Millennial Disc Series works as promised, it will solve the data-rot problem, and slam the ball firmly back into the hardware and software providers' court. The market is there - M-ARC Discs can be read by standard DVD players - it's up to the reader manufacturers to take advantage of it.

While the 1,000-year claim can be dismissed as mere marketing hype, the need for non-degrading optical archiving material is quite real. And we'll find out just how real Millenniata's contribution is when the Millennial Disc Series makes its debut in Washington DC on September 1st. ®