Although data backups, mass storage and data that’s accessed on a daily basis is typically housed in hard disk drive or solid state drive based media, many archival digital records are stored on optical media, such as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. According to manufacturers, recordable optical media lifespans range from 20 to 200 years or longer. However, this doesn’t account for mishandling or improper storage. Even the most robust optical media will become unreadable if it becomes damaged or degraded by abuse or environmental conditions. To protect your archival optical media, adhere to the following guidelines.
Best Practices for CD and DVD Handling and Storage
When possible, stick to the following “dos” of disc handling:
• Before recording a disc, check the surface for dirt, dust or existing damage.
• Use a non-solvent-based felt tip permanent marker to mark the disc on the label side only. Sharpie brand markers are unsafe for CDs (unless they are specifically designed for writing on CD labels).
• Store discs upright (like a book) in a plastic case specifically designed for CDs and DVDs. Discs should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry environment with clean air. The ideal temperature is between 39°F and 68°F (4°C and 20°C) and a relative humidity between 20% and 50% RH.
• Discs should be clean and free of foreign material, fingerprints, liquids, dirt and dust. To clean a disc, wipe the disc with a clean cotton fabric in a straight line starting from the center of the disc toward the outside edge of the disc. For dirt and smudges that cannot be removed with a cloth alone, use a special CD/DVD cleaning detergent, methanol or isopropyl alcohol.
• Leave discs in packaging with the case closed until data is ready to be written or read. Put away discs promptly after use.
Practices to Avoid for Archival CDs and DVDs
On the other hand, avoid the following for discs:
• Do not touch the surface of the disc. Handle the disc by the edge.
• Do not use adhesive labels. Instead, write on the disc using a non-solvent-based marker.
• If discs are to be stored for over a year, do not store them horizontally or stacked.
• Do not expose discs to high temperature or humidity. Avoid rapid changes in temperature and humidity.
• Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight, as the UV rays may damage the disc.
• Do not write on the data area of the disc (i.e. the “bottom” of the disc).
• Do not clean the disc using a circular motion.
Following the above guidelines, your discs should last for decades with the data intact. Of course, for truly valuable data, it is worthwhile to migrate the data to newer, more reliable mediums on a periodic basis. Redundancy for backups, as well as offsite storage of multiple copies, is also wise, since natural disasters such as tornados, fires, earthquakes and floods can eradicate entire archives at a location. For records that are not sensitive or confidential, you may also want to consider cloud-based storage, since many data centers back up to multiple locations with their own backup systems and redundancies
CD and DVD Archiving: Care and Handling
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