First Look: How To Etch Your Data Into Stone

Ever since the advent of the floppy drive, data storage has been a key part of every day work and every day life -- allowing us to save everything from documents and spreadsheets to photos and videos.

But that’s also brought with it the mini-heart attack -- you know the feeling -- when you try to retrieve that data and the disk or the drive have been corrupted, damaged or used so often it becomes impossible.

Enter Milleniata, an American Fork, Utah-based startup that has developed technology that, essentially, etches data into stone. To be more specific, Milleniata has developed CD-, Blu-ray- and DVD-compatible disks (called M-Discs) that are covered in a synthetic, stone compound that supports an “etching” process for data.

In the archiving space, it is truly unique.

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Already, the company has received support and partnership from LG-Hitachi, Dell, NASA and the U.S. Geologic Survey. The CRN Test Center has had the opportunity to set up, test and examine an external LG Blu-ray drive that supports Milleniata’s M-Disc technology.

The idea behind development of the M-Disc was that today’s industry-standard disc technology is great for backup and limited-term archiving, but because discs physically deteriorate over time the data itself becomes impossible to retrieve eventually. M-Disc was built so that once a drive burns the data into it, the stone-based disc simply doesn’t deteriorate and thus the data stays preserved. Actually, Milleniata says the disc itself will last “up to 1,000 years.” And, they note, the data really isn’t even burned. It’s “engraved.”

Here’s what we found:

Currently, the only external drive on the market that supports M-Disc is made by Hitachi-LG Data Storage, the joint venture, and we installed the LG Super Multi Blue External Blu-ray Disc Rewriter BE12 onto an Intel-based PC running Windows 7 Professional. The joint venture ships the drive with the LG Burning Tool, a software-based utility that provides wizard-based steps to burn data onto the external drive.

Once that was installed and ready to go, we just inserted the M-Disc. The disc itself looks exactly like a standard DVD or CD, with the exception that it’s dark gray -- the same color as a stone. From the PC’s hard drive, we imported a 400 MB data file into the LG Burning Tool, selected the external drive for output, and clicked the “Burn” button. Within a couple of minutes, our M-Disc was ready.

With the M-Disc in hand, we went to work. We stepped on it with a pair of sneakers, submerged it into both hot and cold water, and then held it under a hot blow drier for 10 minutes. We repeated this three times. We then inserted the M-Disc into the PCs internal DVD drive, opened up the data file, and everything was still in tact.

Milleniata says the M-Disc is created with a layer of stone-based materials that were “chosen with stability and longevity as primary goals.” Essentially, once the materials are layered onto the disc, the data mark that holds the data is a “pit” or groove deep into the layer that holds the data and protects it against the elements.

Which is not to say it’s perfectly ruggedized. If it’s burned to a crisp, forget about it, naturally. And we actually drove a car over the disc to push it to the limit; afterward, while the data appeared to be left intact as well (PCs could recognize the file, and calculate the file size and properties), none of the drives we had in our lab were able to immediately read it. But if standard precautions are taken, as they are with traditional archival discs, Milleniata says the data is preserved.

The drives will begin shipping through North American channels in the next several weeks, and the Hitachi-LG external drives (LG-branded) will be priced on par with similar Blu-ray/DVD drives now on the market, which will run about $120 street price. Milleniata’s M-Discs will price at about $2.99 for individual discs, which is on par with standard archival discs.

The first look at these products and technology was impressive, and with the masses of new data created through all manner of client devices now a widening menu of archival choices is arriving at just the right time. Keep your eyes open for the new M-Disc technology from Milleniata and LG-Hitachi, and give it strong consideration when you’re considering digital archiving.