For small businesses that have been storing data for the long term on CDs the IBM specialist's comments about the short life span of burnt CDs spread a frisson of fear. They could lose their data. Here's an example of such a business' thinking:

A small business business person writes
"Just read a few notes on "storage of digital media on CD-R's that we burn", and are quite concerned. We have so many of our irreplaceable digital pictures stored on these CD-R's. Some of the disks are Sony or Maxell, others are "bargain basement" from Staples or Walgreen's.

"In reading a lot of the literature, there doesn't seem to be any real solution to the problem, since Life Expectancy information isn't something shown on the different CD-R blanks. Even so, the articles say that 5 years is the upper end of that technology, with 2 years on some of the cheaper CD-R's.

"The alternative, magnetic technology makes sense, but what devices are available today for the typical home PC? I haven't seen magnetic cartridge capability for archival purposes in years.

"It would seem to me, from what I've read so far, that the market is ripe for high-grade CD-R blanks of archival quality. I, for one, would gladly pay anything reasonable to have my digital media burned in to a substrate that could last longer than 5 years. I can't believe no company has picked up the ball and run with this...with all the zillions of digital pictures made today that need permanent storage, it would seem a "no-brainer". Your thoughts?"

My thoughts were to wonder why tape wasn't being used instead of optical media. I asked that question and here is the reply:-

Why not tape?
"Tape back up? When was the last time you saw any magnetic tape device being offered for use with PCs? I haven't seen such a device even advertised anywhere. The majority of PCs (from the mass marketers) don't even offer magnetic (floppy) drives anymore. The world has gone totally CD (now even dual layer DVD to store and lose even more data) and I'm sure this is no surprise to you.

"In choosing to burn CD's cost is a factor, as well as speed. But what alternative to CD-ROM is there to off-load 512mb of digital pictures from your camera's memory card or PC hard drive? 400 1.44MB floppies?

"I remember in the old days (I'm talking COBOL and FORTRAN IBM 360 days) we used free standing magnetic tape drives. Yes they held enormous amounts of data on those 2400 feet of inch wide tape, but they were agonizingly slow by comparison to hard disk, for both writing and reading (only in serial mode). Even today's tape media (if something reasonably priced were available) would hold tons of data, but take an inordinately long time to write. Few people I know of would spend an hour or more backing up their files on magnetic tape, when you can "burn" a CD ROM with 600MB on it in a few minutes.

"The UDO disk system at £5,000 sounds like a commercial device that is out of the realm of the typical PC user.

"My thinking is why some big company like Memorex hasn't seen fit to come out with an archive-quality CD ROM blank. I would gladly pay even several dollars a disk (compared to the 50-pack for $7 in Wal-Mart) for something with a life expectancy of more than 5 years. There has got to be a market for CD blanks with Life Expectancy as a selling point."

Back to tape
I think that there is a low-end tape answer to this problem. It is a USB-connect Travan drive from Certance (now Quantum). A Certance CT 20 Desktop holds 10GB of raw data, 20GB claimed for compressed data, comes as a desktop unit and connects via a USB 2.0 port. There is no need to fiddle about with SCSI and it costs around £175 (assume around $308). That is cheap for a tape drive. It isn't the world's fastest device but the tape media should last a lot longer than a burnt CD. You have to trade longevity for speed.

Other low end tapes include Exabyte's VXA, Sony's AIT and H-P's DAT-72 at around £472 (assume around $830).