In Storing 1’s and 0’s, the Question Is $

LISTEN. Do you hear it? The bits are dying.

The digital revolution has spawned billions upon billions of gigabytes of data, from the vast electronic archives of government and business to the humblest photo on a home PC. And the trove is growing — the International Data Corporation, a technology research and advisory firm, estimates that by 2011 the digital universe of ones and zeros will be 10 times the size it was in 2006.

But the downside is that much of this data is ephemeral, and society is headed toward a kind of digital Alzheimer’s. What’s on those old floppies stuck in a desk drawer? Can anything be read off that ancient mainframe’s tape drive? Will today’s hard disk be tomorrow’s white elephant?

Data is “the natural resource for the Internet age,” said Francine Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, a national center for high-performance computing resources. But, she added, “digital data is enormously fragile.” It can degrade as it is stored, copied and transferred between hard drives across data networks. The storage systems might not be around or accessible in the future — it is like putting precious information on eight-track tapes.

Full story in the New York Times.