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Who will Preserve Your Digital Data?

Almost every piece of information we access today is stored somewhere in digital form–think iPod, YouTube, digital cameras, mobile phones, not to mention our personal and professional information spread across LinkedIn, social networking sites and blogs. It’s difficult to imagine life without digital data in this information age. But who manages it? And, more importantly, who will preserve it?

In this month’s edition of Communications of the ACM, the monthly magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery, Dr. Francine Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, discusses the “data deluge” and offers a guide on how to manage and preserve your digital information.

Many people assume that their data will be available whenever they need to access it, but most of us have had a hard drive crash; we’ve seen various forms of storage media such as floppy disks and zip drives become obsolete, some of us have even had problems accessing content in the cloud, as evidenced recently when Gmail was down, so we all know that storage of and access to electronic data is not always without problems.

“Loss, damage, and unavailability of important digital business, historical, and official documents regularly make the news further highlighting our dependence on electronic information,” writes Berman.

Storage: How Much is Enough?

According to a 2008 IDC white paper, 2007 marked the “crossover” year, when there was more digital data created than data storage to host it. The IDC report also projected that by 2011 the amount of digital data created will be more than twice the amount of available storage.

Bottom line? We don’t produce storage capacity at the same rate we produce digital information.

Who is responsible for Data Preservation?

Increasingly, policies and regulations are being set to regulate large data sets and digital information within large organizations across the world; Sarbanes-Oxley promotes responsible management of digital financial records, HIPAA looks after digital medical records (US), and the Joint Information Systems Committee and the British Library (UK), as well as the National Library of Australia (AU) are among some of the organizations that support the preservation of digital information across the globe.

While most people agree that certain digital information is preservation worthy or of historical value to society, what about the digital pictures you took on your last holiday? Who is in charge of preserving them so that the next generation can access them?

In a nutshell, you are. While the Communications article ends with Berman’s top ten recommendations for data preservation, here are three things you can do right now:

  1. Make a plan: Determine who is going to be in charge of your digital data once you are no longer capable of looking after it.
  2. Make multiple copies: When it comes to valuable data, store it in different formats at different locations
  3. Migrate to new technologies: Don’t wait for storage media to become obsolete, migrate to new technologies and formats as they become available.

Finally, with some cloud services offering free data storage, it’s worth considering moving some of your data online. Take a look at our write up on online storage services for ideas on where to start.

Image credit: Data Storage Old and New – Thanks IanS

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