Archiving Blu-ray and Other Optical Discs

The Blu-ray disc, by virtue of its high capacities (up to 50 GB per disc) today, and future capacities as high as 128 GB make it an ideal medium for archival storage of all types of data.  CD-R, although only having the ability to store up to 700 MB is a good medium for storage of uncompressed audio files .
In a previous blog, we discussed how to store optical discs.  Many of the tips presented also apply to storage of Archival Blu-ray, DVD or CD media.  However, the purposes of archiving, and some of the approaches to disc storage, differ primarily BECAUSE archiving and mere storage differ.
The purpose of an archival disc (we hesitate to say ‘archival copy’ here) is to provide a pure master of data that is stored on the disc.  This disc will become THE SOURCE (if something happens to other stored copies) of the data that are stored onto it.  The archival discs are the ultimate reference when questions arise about the contents supposedly stored on the disc (for example, if there’s a future disagreement over whether or not a file list is accurate, or if the contents of a ‘copy’ of the archives has been modified, the Archive disc provides the ultimate answer).
An archival disc is not to be used as a production disc – for frequent reading, copying or frequent use.  A set of first generation copies of the archival disc can be created at the time the archival disc is created.  Other copies of the disc will be made from those copies.
Ideally, archival discs should be stored, out of sunlight, in a secure, climate controlled location.  This should be a DIFFERENT location from the one where the copies are being used or stored.  The reason for using another location is to assure that, should something happen at the location where copies are stored (fire, earthquake, flood, etc.), the archival copy would not be exposed to the same threat.   The media should be stored vertically in a protective plastic case.
It may also be worthwhile to store a device that is capable of reading the media along with the media.  It’s important, too, to occasionally confirm that the technologies used to create the archival discs are still supported by the computing hardware that is current at the time you are checking.  For example, if you stored cassette tapes with data created by the original PCs (which had a cassette drive as a storage option), you probably wouldn’t be able to recover the data from those tapes (if, indeed, the tape media was still even readable).  If, sometime in the future, support for the optical discs or the data formats used to store data onto those discs is threatened with impending obsolescence,  you should pay attention to providing compatible readers or to converting the data on the archival media onto media that is supported at that time, so that the data can be retrieved.
It’s also important to have a plan for creating, tracking and managing the archival Blu-ray, DVD or CD discs.  Plus, for the purposes of archival storage and recovery, it’s crucial that you use quality media that is designed to retain its data for decades or longer.  It makes little sense to save a few dollars on media if the less expensive media fails to be readable after a short period of time.

Mark Brownstein is a technology journalist and technology consultant who specializes in explaining and interpreting new technologies, and clarifying how to integrate these new products into current systems. He has been Editor-In-Chief at computer technology and networking publications, has held significant editorial positions at major technology magazines, and is a frequent contributor to various technology magazines. He has written seven books. He is Microsoft Certified, and spends much of his time testing hardware and software products, running his own networks, and learning the best ways to get computer systems running and to keep them running.

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