Disclaimer: I have to say that I totally disagree with an article published yesterday in the Adelaide Now web site in Australia. Unfortunately, mis-information bounces all over the Internet and some people will actually believe this stuff. I feel that someone needs to write a rebuttal. The article in question was written by Claire Connelly of the News Limited Network and is published at http://goo.gl/8QmQ1. The article quotes Canadian information security consultant Robert Slade.Mr. Slade is making public claims that historians will be facing a black hole when it comes to studying the 20th and 21st centuries because much of our digital history is stored on technology that no longer have devices to read them. He says the information stored on everything from floppy disks to CDs, mobile phones to cameras is at risk of being lost forever.
I will insist there are some serious flaws with Mr. Slade's theories. He conveniently overlooks processes that have been in place for years. Data has always been copied and updated by all well-managed data centers since the days of 80-column punch cards.
In fact, I believe future historians will be overwhelmed with information from the twentieth and twenty-first century, primarily because of all the computerized information that is being preserved. I will suggest there will be more information available in the future than from any other previous period in our history.
First, the article quotes Robert Slade as saying, "Right now, the only solution is to continually transfer information from one device to another as old technologies die and other forms of media take their place." In fact, what he sees as a problem strikes me as a solution. He seems to think that no one will copy the information to modern devices when, in fact, the opposite has already been true millions of times. Ask any data center manager who works for the government, the military, insurance companies, aircraft manufacturers, automobile manufacturers, or almost any other industry. Data preservation hasn't been perfect but neither has paper preservation.
Preservation and duplication of paper has been a problem for centuries. Such media is delicate, requires a lot of space, requires expensive climate control, and easily damaged. It is also not easily copied. Microfilm was a huge improvement but now microfilm is old-fashioned and is disappearing. While copying microfilm is not easy or cheap, larger organizations with the required funds and manpower have been copying microfilms for years. However, all of them are now abandoning microfilm as the required supplies are disappearing and cheaper, better solutions are now available.In contrast, electronic media is easily copied to even more modern media within seconds for preservation. Making copies is cheap, easy, and can be performed in seconds with minimal manpower required. Multiple copies can also be stored in multiple places in order to protect against fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and the other disasters that have destroyed so many archives in the past.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all with the article is Mr. Slade's distrust of the cloud. Again quoting from the article, "And don't think cloud storage is a solution. That carries with it all kinds of problems, Mr Slade said. Cloud service providers can lose, corrupt or make mistakes with data. Even worse, what if the company goes bust?"
Mr. Slade apparently doesn't know much about the cloud. It is designed as a resilient repository of information. In any modern cloud-based solution, multiple copies are kept in multiple locations, often around the world. The information stored in the cloud is probably safer than storing it on fragile paper or microfilm stored in only one location where it is subject to the disasters mentioned earlier.
I will agree that a bankruptcy of a cloud provider would be a problem, although a minor one. All well managed data archives use multiple cloud providers to store information as well as additional copies stored locally. If any one provider suddenly goes bankrupt without warning, the data can still be retrieved from other sources being used by the data center.
Tell me, Mr. Slade, do you also place all your eggs into one basket?
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