Doomsday Vault for Data


Tucked away on the remote Norwegian archipelago Svalbard exists the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, aka the “Doomsday Vault,” which houses the world’s most important crop seeds. Up until recently the vault was in relative isolation among its arctic surroundings, but as of last week the vault has a new neighbor. The newly launched Arctic World Archive aims to provide a secure long-term data storage option for everyone from governments to private individuals, to keep their data safe. The archive is run by Piql, a Norway-based preservation company whose focus has been to “challenge the industry standard within image and display technology.” The Arctic World Archive is located deep within a mine where the temperature ranges from 14 to 23 degrees with just the right amount of humidity, which, according to the archive’s project manager Katrine Thomsen, are the ideal storage conditions for the data that it contains.

While the archive’s design and security are high-tech, the format of the archive is entirely analog. Data submitted to the archive for storage is printed onto rolls of ultra-durable photosensitive film. Once the data is printed onto film, the rolls of film cannot be edited and are not susceptible to hacking and other types of cyber attacks that digital data susceptible to. Piql describes the process of converting data to film as “carving the data into stone.” Aside from being located within a demilitarized zone, The Arctic World Archive is located at such a depth that Piql claims that it is impenetrable to even a nuclear attack. According to Piql, retrieval of the data is easy:, you simply scan the film using one of their scanners or magnifying lights much like using a camera, and you get your data back. According to NRK―Norway’s National Public Radio―film allows for long-term preservation which NPK claims to be at least 500 years, with Piql claiming the potential for data storage up to 1,000 years. The Arctic World Archive currently houses important historical documents from the National Archives of Brazil and Mexico but welcomes data in many forms, including text, images, sound. According to Thomsen “in the long term our solution is much more affordable than other digital storage solutions.”

Ryan Marino, LIS-653-02, Spring 2017

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by Hugh McLeod

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