Friday, September 19, 2008

Digital Archives as Profit

OK, as I have written before, I am concerned about the preservation of digital information in light of the rather quick deterioration of such files and the rapid introduction of new technologies and software. Apparently, I was not thinking like a businessman as certain people see this as the perfect opportunity to make some money. There are two major organizations that repute to offer long-term storage and preservation of digital information and collections: OCLC’s Digital Archive™ and Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service). These two services seem to offer solutions to some of the problems that I outlined in my blog entitled “The Question of Digital Durability.” These services do not come free, however, and Amazon’s S3 charges $1.80 per gigabyte per year, while OCLC’s Digital Archive™ costs about $7.50 per gigabyte per year. Digital Archive™ costs over four times as much as storing information in S3! As Peter E. Murray describes in his blog Disruptive Library Technology Jester ( ), there are important reasons for that price difference.
As Murray points out, while Amazon’s S3 does provide an accessible place to store digital information, this provider has some serious drawbacks. S3 does make certain guarantees, but they seem to be limited to the performance of their service, which seems to relate more to the accessibility of the information you are storing with them. There seems to be no guarantee on the long-term preservation of that data. In fact, they explicitly say that the customer is responsible for the security and backups, which are a large part of digital preservation, for the information S3 is storing. In section 7.2 of their Customer Agreement, they state, “you acknowledge that you bear sole responsibility for adequate security, protection and backup of Your Content.” In light of this, when doing business with S#, you are mainly paying for information storage and not preservation.
According to Murray, OCLC’s Digital Archive™ goes a step further than Amazon’s S3 and specializes more in the preservation of digital masters. In the “Our Commitment” statement, OCLC describes what they aim to do: “OCLC is actively developing processes for full preservation of digital assets to ensure complete renderability, regardless of technology changes. This preservation system will likely involve a combination of migration and emulation.” Not only do they protect the information more than S3, they also ensure its accessibility “regardless of technology changes.” This goes much further in attempting to preserve the digital information they are storing for the customer. However, this helps translate into a cost that is over four times what S3 costs.
While the costs labeled above may not seem like an exorbitant amount, when you start dealing with storage in the TB range, as Murray plans to do for his institution, you can quickly run up the costs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the storage of your digital information. This could quickly put this service, especially OCLC’s Digital Archive™ (I love how they trademarked that term already), out of reach for many libraries, which still leaves the problem of storing digital information. However, it is comforting to see businesses attempting to help remedy this particular problem. Perhaps one day soon it will be affordable to store data with companies that guarantee the preservation of the digital information in their care (I guess as long as that company stays in business).

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