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Millenniata M-Disk: The possibility of permanent data archival

Millenniata announces the M-Disk, a new breed of DVD designed to last thousands of years.

An M-Disk doesn't require a reflective layer to be readable by DVD drives--it's actually transparent.
An M-Disk doesn't require a reflective layer to be readable by DVD drives--it's actually transparent. Dong Ngo/CNET

You were born in a great family, had a fun childhood. Then you grew up, went to school, spent an exhilarating time at college, learned a whole bunch, and fell in love. Then you had a job that you loved, got married to a partner of your dreams, and continued to live a happy, exciting, stimulating, and healthy life.

Now, that's a great success story, but guess what? Then you died. And your story, the true details of it, might last a bit longer and would die, too. In a hundred years or so, nobody would have any real idea about your existence, unless you have a way to permanently preserve your story.

And this is the biggest challenge of data archiving, especially when it comes to digitized information, simply because storage devices have so far been developed with a lot more focus on capacity (as in hard drives) and speed (solid-state drives) than longevity. Most existing storage devices are designed to last just a few decades at most.

For this reason, ever since the first computer came into existence, the only way for us to keep our data has been to regularly move it from one medium to another, and once in a while from one type of storage, such as the old backup tapes or floppy disks, to another, such as external hard drives or DVDs. But a person can only do that for so long, while he or she is still alive. At some point, this process of continuous data migration will stop, and that's when the need arises for a medium that just lasts.

Millenniata, an optical company, believes that it has something that fits that bill: the M-Disk, a new type of DVDs that are not like any other DVDs you've seen.

According to Scott Shumway, CEO of Millenniata, the new M-Disk's information-retaining surface is made of inorganic, synthetic materials that cannot be overwritten, erased, or corrupted by natural processes. It's as if data were etched in stone--synthetic stone, that is.

On traditional optical disks, information is "burned" into the disc by creating light or bleached spots where the data is the contrast between light and dark spots. However, the dark spots fade over time, due to natural processes, making the information slowly disappear.

With the M-disk, however, a new technology engraves data permanently, much like when you carve something on a surface of stone. As long as the disk is not exposed to extreme conditions, it should last for a long time, even thousands of years.

The difference between an M-Disk and a traditional optical disk. (Click to enlarge)
The difference between an M-Disk and a traditional optical disk. (Click to enlarge) Millenniata

As the M-Disk is not made of organic materials that dissolve or deteriorate over time, it can also handle the environment much better. For example, you can put an M-Disk in water or expose it to really cold temperatures for a long time without affecting the quality of the information written on it, according to the company. Physically, the disc itself doesn't require a reflective layer, as found in all existing optical discs. Instead it's see-through and yet can still be read by any reader. As it still takes the delicate form of a DVD, though, the M-Disk is still an optical medium that can be broken or scratched, but when taken care of, it has a much higher chance of lasting for a long, long time.

Another good thing about the M-Disk is the fact that it's not so expensive to make. According Shumway, currently the disc is estimated to cost the same as other archival DVDs, about $27 for a pack of 10. The company is also working on a Blu-ray version of the M-Disk.

There's a catch, however. Though the write-once M-Disk (equivalent to a regular DVD+R or DVD-R disk) can be read by any existing DVD reader, it requires a new type of burner for writing. M-Disks has collaborated with Hitachi LG Data Storage to mass-produce the M-Disks and new M-Disk-compatible burners. All of them will be available starting in September. Shumway says the burner will also have Blu-ray burning capability and will likely share the same pricing as other Blu-Ray burners on the market.

Millenniata claims that information stored on its new M-Disk DVD will last for thousands of years; obviously none of us will be here then to verify. But the pricing of the new medium, its burner, the backward compatibility, and the reasoning behind the synthetic stone material seem convincing enough. After all, the reason we were able to learn about the stone age is because there's something left from it: the stone. The M-Disk might just be a new way for us to preserve our information in the most primitive way that's been proven to work.

Now the only question left is, why would you want your personal story to be remembered so permanently? That's an entirely different story.