The Billion Year Archive

When planning the retention times for items in your Micro Focus Retain archive you may only be thinking 10, 20 or at most 50 years ahead. In 50 years time who knows what the archive medium may be in use in 2070. Just look back to see how technology has advanced through magnetic tape, optical disk jukeboxes etc to realise how quickly technology becomes obsolete for archive purposes.

Secondly you need to keep at least two copies of your archive store, with at least one of these a ‘safe’ distance from your organisation’s offices so that in the event of a major disaster you still have your backup readily available.

What do you archive – all documents and emails for your organisation?

Imagine what your archive would look like if you required a retention time of 1 billion years; archive backups off planet in the event of the Earth being destroyed in some cataclysm and you wanted to retain (!) the total knowledge of human civilisation.

Well those are the objectives of the Arch Mission Foundation

Co-founder Nova Spivack’s original aim was to put a backup of Wikipedia on the moon. He says that “Any Earth civilisation is going to look at the moon and eventually want to go there. The questions for years were how to do it, and what storage media to use. Anything on the moon must survive diurnal cycles of boiling to sub-zero temperatures as well as massive bursts of radiation: a USB key would be destroyed in a month“.

Consequently AMF have been looking at some extreme archive media. Professor Peter Kazansky at the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre, has invented 5D optical data storage or “Superman memory crystals”. This uses femtosecond laser writing on nanostructured quartz glass, delivering 360TB of capacity per data disc capable of withstanding 1000ºC and with a lifetime of 13.8 billion years at 190ºC which comes close to meeting AMF’s requirements. First demonstrated using a 300kB text file in 2013, storage can be written into the crystals in layers which can be read with an optical microscope and polariser, using machine learning algorithms that interpret polarised light as it is shone through the glass. The problem however is the write speed – 1MB per month originally!

Today, writing to 5D optical can be done much faster – for example, using a new process tested by Microsoft - and the AMF created just five copies of Asimov’s Foundation science fiction series on the quartz, each worth about $1m. The team managed to get one copy sent to Mars in 2018 in the glovebox of Elon Musk’s cherry-red Tesla. Then the SpaceX mission veered off course, ending up orbiting the sun instead of crashing on Mars. “By missing, they actually extended the shelf life of our first ‘Arch Library’ to 30-50 million years at least, before it hits anything,” says Spivack.

AMF are also looking at other high density long lasting media. When these technologies will be available for MF Retain we cannot yet say.



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