Over the past few decades, compact and digital versatile disks have become a go-to means for storing large amounts of information. Recently, it’s become a problem, because that information is disappearing.
We recently caught an interesting story on NPR — How long do CDs last? It depends, but definitely not forever. If you have a second, it’s definitely worth a listen, but here’s the gist of it…
As CDs age, they undergo a chemical breakdown. Think of a piece of rusty metal, or some copper that has turned green due to exposure to the elements. CDs experience a similar problem, in a variety of different ways. For example, sometimes CDs break down due to CD rot or bronzing. Basically what happens is this: the protective coating on the edge of a CD erodes, exposing the inner silver layer, which then tarnishes. When the silver is tarnished, the CD becomes unusable, and the information stored on it becomes inaccessible.
So why has it been so difficult to solve this problem? You may think the answer is implementing a preservation method for CDs; a way of storing or maintaining them so they don’t erode. However, the issue is that there is little to no uniformity across CDs. A lot can differ from one to the next, depending on where and when it was created. For instance, not all CDs end up bronzing, only certain makes and models. For this exact reason, it is also difficult to predict the lifespan of a particular disk, or how long the information it contains will be accessible.
At this point, we’re sure you are wondering why we decided to share this with you. Allow us to explain. When we give a mass-scanning client their digitized documents, we occasionally give them the files on a CD or DVD. This isn’t because we don’t know or don’t care that these devices will break down after a while, it’s because it’s often the most practical option for transport. Some of our clients don’t have access to an FTP (file transfer protocol), and if it’s not a business we work with often, a USB (universal serial bus) drive doesn’t really make sense. However, we want to make sure that everyone is aware of the futility of disk storage, and that all documents must be backed up — on a server, or wherever it is that you back up your business’ files.
Look at it this way: putting digital files on a CD is the document management equivalent of taking groceries home in a paper bag. It’s a simple, sensible method for getting the items home, but probably not the best idea for long-term storage.
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