Bit Preservation: A Solved Problem?

David S. H. Rosenthal

2010, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 134-148

doi:10.2218/ijdc.v5i1.148


Abstract


For years, discussions of digital preservation have routinely featured comments such as “bit preservation is a solved problem; the real issues are ...”. Indeed, current digital storage technologies are not just astoundingly cheap and capacious, they are astonishingly reliable. Unfortunately, these attributes drive a kind of “Parkinson’s Law” of storage, in which demands continually push beyond the capabilities of systems implementable at an affordable price. This paper is in four parts:

Claims, reviewing a typical claim of storage system reliability, showing that it provides no useful information for bit preservation purposes.

Theory, proposing “bit half-life” as an initial, if inadequate, measure of bit preservation performance, expressing bit preservation requirements in terms of it, and showing that the requirements being placed on bit preservation systems are so onerous that the experiments required to prove that a solution exists are not feasible.

Practice, reviewing recent research into how well actual storage systems preserve bits, showing that they fail to meet the requirements by many orders of magnitude.

Policy, suggesting ways of dealing with this unfortunate situation.

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The International Journal of Digital Curation. ISSN: 1746-8256
The IJDC is published by the University of Edinburgh
and is a publication of the Digital Curation Centre.