3. Obsolescence & Physical Threats

Information created and stored digitally is at risk for loss in two important ways: obsolescence and physical damage. Obsolescence can affect all facets of the archival storage function, including hardware, software, and even the arrangement of the data in a stored file. The damaging effects of obsolescence can occur in an alarmingly fast pace. Digital information is also vulnerable to physical threats. Like obsolescence, physical damage can occur to multiple components required to create, store, and access digital information, namely hardware and media.

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Reality Check

  • A file format may be superseded by newer versions, which may no longer be supported by the current vendor or relevant standards body.
  • Storage medium may be superseded by newer and denser versions of that medium, or by new types of media—smaller, denser, faster, and easier to read.
  • The device needed to read a storage medium may no longer be manufactured. Read more on format and software obsolescence.
  • Software used to create, manage, or access digital content may be superseded by newer versions or newer generations with more capabilities using the most current technologies.
  • Computers of every size and scale are continually superseded by faster and more powerful machines that can store and process more and more content.
  • Vendors of all technologies compete, emerge, merge, and fade making it even more difficult to maintain digital content over time. Read more on hardware and media obsolescence.
  • Computer components and media can physically fail due to human error, natural events, and even just the passing of time. Read more on physical threats.


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