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Issue Date: May 2004 (es)

Reference archive media offers best of analog and digital storage worlds

1 May 2004

Reference archive media - an archiving solution that captures digital information onto microfilm - is emerging as a strong alternative to other media for the storage of information and records over long periods of time.
That is the word from Paul Mullon, marketing director at document and records management specialist, Metrofile. He says reference archive media presents companies with a hybrid between analog records and digital storage that gives them the best of both worlds.
Paul Mullon, marketing director, Metrofile
Paul Mullon, marketing director, Metrofile
Gartner defines 'long-term' in the context of storage and archiving of documents as a period of 10 years or more. Companies may be legally obliged to store certain records for the lifetime of a customer or the existence of their organisation.
Some organisations such as government departments or universities will want to ensure the integrity of historical information hundreds of years into the future for the benefit of future generations. As a result of the legal uncertainty of the status of electronic documents, the volume of digital records that organisations need to manage and store for the long term can be expected to multiply over the next few years.
Mullon says: "One major challenge of trying to store information in an electronic format for the long term is the rapid pace of technological change across media, hardware, software and data formats. Consider, for example, that much of the data collected from Mars by the Viking probe around 25 years ago is now useless to researchers since it was stored on magnetic data tapes in a format so old that the programmers who understood it are already dead."
Other problems with electronic storage of information include decay of media such as CDs or tapes, as well as the fact that electronic documents can be easily altered from their original form. Storing paper records also presents a number of challenges, not least of which are that paper is expensive to manage, takes up a lot of storage space and is usually time-consuming to retrieve.
Companies have considered a range of options to get around the problems that both paper and digital media present in the archiving of information for the longer term. Most have dismissed the idea of keeping the hardware and software originally used to create and access the data as impractical.
Most organisations and researchers see migrating data onto new formats, hardware and operating system platforms and media as new technologies are introduced as too costly in terms of technology investment, human resources and time to be a viable option. Technology emulation, which has the benefit of preserving the environment and functionality of old technology using a detailed metadata description, is complex to achieve since standards are not in place.
Mullon adds: "I believe reference archive media is the most cost-effective and reliable way of preserving information for a long period of time. Although it is not suitable for information that is accessed often, it has the benefit of capturing digital records as static, human-readable document images."
Most businesses are by now familiar with the benefits of microfilm as an archiving media, says Mullon. Compared to paper, it is cheap and easy to store and manage. As long as a digital copy of a record is needed online, the reference archive will provide proof of its validity and help to give it the trustworthiness of traditional analog document formats.
Compared to the limited lifespan of most electronic media, microfilm can endure for an estimated 500 years and because it is technology-independent, a user in a couple of hundred years' time will probably be able to read records captured in the format, says Mullon.
For more information contact Paul Mullon, Metrofile, 011 458 6300, paulm@metrofile.co.za


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