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I am not a sysadmin and have no experience in the field and am not sure if this fits the serverfault site so I thought I'd ask about it here first.

I was wondering if there's a way to make a piece of content last for 100 years for example. This leads to questions like:

  • Is there a permanent storage media (googling I found MDisk, but was wondering if there's some sort of disk drive that can last ridiculously long)
  • How will the internet work then ? Will people still use TCP/IP ? If not, what are the options ? (use a long lasting device that also somehow beacons instructions or have write sort of script that keeps itself 'online'(learns new protocols ?too sci-fi?))

Think of a digital 'time-capsule'. What would you use/what do you recommend ?

I must admit this is not constructive at all and there is no easy answer, but before downvoting please:

  • advise on the best way to formulate this or best place to ask this
  • let me know if I need to close/delete this
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    100 years ago, "computers" were (gigantic) glorified calculators that used gears. 100 years from now, computers will probably be as different from today's computers as today's computers are from what the 1910's had to offer. So I recommend not trying to solve this fundamentally unsolvable problem. If you want to make your data last for 100 years (for whatever reason), you need to keep moving it to newer and newer systems and formats, so it's in an up-to-date form when you die, and someone else (presumably) takes over the task. – HopelessN00b Apr 4 '13 at 16:34
  • @HopelessN00b Interesting, maybe I should think of a digital rather than physical solution ? Would having data stored on a cloud service work if it gets moved to a newer cloud solution every once in a while (can't expect AWS to last 100 years for example, but perhaps the internet and cloud services in general might still be in some form or another) ? Would there be a way to sort of 'automate' that ? – George Profenza Apr 4 '13 at 16:44
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    Side note: You probably want to avoid anything digital at all. The items we have from 100+ years ago are all very basic technologically speaking. There might be CDs that last 50 years, but finding a CD drive might be hard. There are plenty of 20 year old formats that I don't have the equipment to read anymore (5.25" floppies spring to mind). But paper, we have 1000 year old paper that's still around (carefully preserved). I'd pick a material more substantial than paper, but just pointing out the nature. – Chris S Apr 4 '13 at 17:34
  • Right, like Chris points out, don't go digital. In addition to finding equipment to read the media, you also need software to interpret the format, and there are some proprietary data encoding schemes from the early days of computing that have been lost. And on an even more fundamental level, who's to say that we'll still use binary-based (base2) computers 100 years from now? – HopelessN00b Apr 4 '13 at 17:40
  • Digital is fine, but you can't just dump stuff on a drive and leave it - you need to maintain it. My archives have gone from CD to DVD to hard drives and are getting close to needing to move to bigger hard drives. File formats are an issue, anything beyond images, text, and PDF is questionable. I think I can still convert my oldest MS-Word 5.0 (for DOS) documents, but I haven't done it yet and it'll be a pain... I'm never gonna bother with whatever old Wordperfect and Lotus Improv files I've got. – Ward - Reinstate Monica Apr 5 '13 at 3:51
  • I think there was a similar question on superuser. At some point someone suggested stone tablets ;p – Journeyman Geek Apr 8 '13 at 1:56
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At least part of your question is sort-of on topic for Server Fault -- "What storage technologies would you recommend for long-term archival storage?".
I have no problem with you opening that question on the main site (check if it's been asked first, I know we've talked about long-term archiving in the past), but you should really be able to phrase your question in the form of a practical (business-oriented) requirement/problem that you face - For example if your job involves digital archiving of records with really long retention periods.

Conversely, At least part of your question is totally off-topic for Server Fault ("What will the internet be like in 100 years?") -- Frankly that's territory for futurists, and they're wrong as often as they're right (I'm still waiting for my hovercar). Speculating on technology that is "on the horizon" is dicey enough, but if it's still beyond the horizon we can't get into that game.

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There was a digital preservation SE site at one time but it didn't get very far. You may find some people who deal with this sort of thing on Libraries and Information Science too.

  • +1 Thanks for the Libraries and Information Science link, I'll look there as well for similar posts/solutions. – George Profenza Apr 4 '13 at 17:20
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    @GeorgeProfenza: Ideally you would ask an archivist, but they often work out of the Libraries and/or Information Sciences areas. Of all the SEI sites that's probably your best bet. FWIW, the archivist I've talked to recommends refreshing storage mediums every couple of years and (nearly half joking) that stone is the only proven long term storage medium. Paper being a distant second. – Scott Pack Apr 13 '13 at 15:26
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No matter what you do there will be some occasional maintenance, replacements and updates (weekly, monthly, yearly, every 5 years, ... depending on the storage technology).

As others (and yourself) pointed out in 100 years our current technology will be completely incompatible, so every so often you'll have to upgrade the storage. Depending on the technology there will also be regular just replacements as things fail or age.

With the information given what I'd do would be upload it all to Amazon Glacier and make sure I'm on the relevant announcement lists to get notified in 5, 10 or 20 years when they discontinue or change that product. If the data can fit on a reasonable number of harddrives I'd also keep one or more copies on regular SATA drives and then have an annual reminder to test that they still work (downloading from Glacier or another copy if they don't) and that the drive technology will still be reasonable for another couple of years (so you don't suddenly have to hunt for a SATA adapter or whatever).

  • Thanks Bjørn, had no clue about Amazon Glacier, looks quite handy for what I need (+1) – George Profenza Apr 5 '13 at 21:45

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