Is DVD a wise archival option? Maybe, feds say

Geological Survey's Nick Zihlman, left, says his group's archive of seismic data has saved hours of staff time. USGS' Jerry McFaul, middle, says agencies have reams of data that could be stowed on DVD. NIST's Oliver Slattery, right, describes how he and his colleagues test optical media.

(GCN Photos by Ricky Carioti)

'Most applications take data preservation for granted,' says National Institute of Standards and Technology researcher Oliver Slattery, and that's why he is studying the interoperability and durability of DVD technology.

At the recent DVD 2002 conference in Gaithersburg, Md., Slattery and Richard Harada, executive director of the High-Density Storage Association, described their joint effort to test DVD storage hardware, software and media.

Slattery said they use temperature, humidity and light chambers to accelerate aging of optical media and gauge its lifetime.

Nick Zihlman, a Geological Survey physical scientist based in Denver, said he chose the DVD format to preserve and distribute historical seismic data from the National Petroleum Reserve in northern Alaska. In 1993, USGS became responsible for the reserve's 12,000 magnetic tapes and thousands of pages of archival records.

Filling data requests from oil companies was time-consuming and labor-intensive, and single-copy items were at risk for loss or damage.

Zihlman said his staff first captured the documents onto CD-recordable disks and then onto DVD-R when it became available. They inventoried the data in a Microsoft Access database. The 1981 data from 35 CDs fit onto just three higher-capacity DVDs, Zihlman said, which users can access through a browser interface to a 600-slot jukebox.

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Omid Omidvar, program manager of NIST's Advanced Technology Program, and Chris S. Israel, the Commerce Department's deputy assistant secretary for technology policy, said a strong homegrown DVD industry is important to homeland security.

Although the VCR was invented here, the current U.S. share of that $50 billion industry is practically nothing, Omidvar said. Technological advances account for more than 50 percent of U.S. economic growth, he said.

NIST's Advanced Technology Program funds electronics, photonics, IT, biotechnology, chemistry and manufacturing techniques, all of which could benefit from DVD, Omidvar said.

Noting that many in the audience were toting notebook computers, Omidvar quipped, 'If everything was stored on DVD, we wouldn't have to be here.'

Loads of loot

The Geological Survey's Jerry McFaul said agencies are sitting on gigabytes of data that aren't copyrighted and could be easily distributed in DVD format.

Sam B. Wagner, president of Video I-D Teleproductions Inc. of Washington, Ill., and Jeff Hammond, president of Copper Moon Digital of Arvada, Colo., gave tips for agencies designing instructional DVDs. Program interfaces must be simple, they said, because complexity implies to trainees that the course material will be difficult.

Peggy O'Neill-Jones, associate professor of technical communications at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, said the school's DVD.learn project integrates Web and DVD in multiple ways. She said she and her colleagues have received National Science Foundation funds to develop a Web-connected DVD for teaching physical chemistry.

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