M-disc founder explains how it keeps data for 1000 years

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This week we have Barry Lunt, one of two founders of Milleniata, the creators of M-Disc. The company may be gone, but the format lives on. Most modern DVD and Blu-Ray drives can write to M-Disc, and Verbatim still sells it. Barry explains to us why they decided to make M-Disc, and why it’s different than any other optical product. He also offers a shocker: a study done many years ago that shows that recordable DVDs are nowhere near as good at holding onto data as they claim. There is a lot of good info in this episode. Hope you like it.


[00:00:37] W. Curtis Preston: Hi, and welcome to Backup Central’s Restore it All podcast, I’m your host, W. Curtis president, AKA, Mr. Backup. And I have with me as always the guy who’s doing a really poor job of talking me out of buying a Tesla Prasanna Malaiyandi. it going Prasanna?

[00:00:53] Prasanna Malaiyandi: I’m good Curtis. Now, to be fair, I never tallked you into buying it. I’m just

[00:00:58] W. Curtis Preston: I told you that your job was to talk me out of buying a.

[00:01:03] Prasanna Malaiyandi: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it’s for reasons that you want right where you wanna try some new technology, it could make sense. Plus, I know that you’ve been also a little stressed about your car that you currently drive.

[00:01:19] W. Curtis Preston: yeah, yeah. There’s that? Um, it’s not sure, not sure how long it’s gonna be. Uh, and well, and also I’m. I’m getting the case of FOMO, cuz I got a new car for my wife. So, um, you know, maybe it’s just, it’s not FOMO. It’s just, uh,

[00:01:36] Prasanna Malaiyandi: It is a bit of it is well, it’s only jealousy and FOMO. If you never get to steal the car from her, you know,

[00:01:47] W. Curtis Preston: yeah. Yeah. I’m sure she’ll get many more miles on it than I will.

[00:01:51] Prasanna Malaiyandi: or you should tell by the way, it’s about six weeks delayed. Um, don’t worry about it. It’ll eventually be

[00:01:59] W. Curtis Preston: Yeah, well, honey, I, yeah, sorry. The, uh, the car’s not gonna be here. It’s um, it’s yeah, it’s

[00:02:05] Prasanna Malaiyandi: they had an issue with shipping. I’m sorry. And don’t worry about that new car that’s in their driveway. It’s totally fine. It’s someone else’s car don’t know whose that is.

[00:02:13] W. Curtis Preston: Uh, yeah. Why does my new car have 10,000 miles it already?

[00:02:19] Prasanna Malaiyandi: Oh, Curtis.

[00:02:20] W. Curtis Preston: The Tesla is like a LTO, uh, tape drive. Like it costs a lot to get into it, but then the media is cheap.

[00:02:30] Prasanna Malaiyandi: that is probably true.

[00:02:31] W. Curtis Preston: yeah, it’s a little bit like that. Um,

[00:02:33] Prasanna Malaiyandi: you, you just made a reference to LTO tape with the Tesla. I can, I, I can see people like turning over and watch Elon Musk is now going to tweet you. being like, I cannot believe you compared.

[00:02:46] W. Curtis Preston: Yeah. I think, um, Elon paying any attention to me is highly unlikely, but, you know, we’ll see. Um,

[00:02:54] Prasanna Malaiyandi: for our listeners, if you feel like you want to get Elon to respond to Curtis about this, please tag him on Twitter, along with Curtis. And let’s see if we can get Elon to respond.

[00:03:06] W. Curtis Preston: yeah. Good luck with that. Uh, that, that wouldn’t, you know, it wouldn’t hurt the, uh, you know, the listenership of the podcast. I’m sure. But, um, yeah, so I compared a Tesla to an LTO tape drive. And I think it’s a pretty good comparison, but, uh, speaking of inexpensive media, we have, uh, an exciting guest today.

We, we have talked about, uh, M-Disc before. Our guest today is a full professor at BYU, having been there since 1992, uh, also having taught at Utah State and Snow College. Prior to that. He was a design engineer for IBM in Arizona. He is one of two co-founders of M-Disc, which we have talked about on this, uh, podcast a couple times, welcome to the podcast, Barry Lunt.

[00:03:54] Barry Lunt: Thank you very much. Good to be with you guys.

[00:03:57] W. Curtis Preston: So, uh, um,

[00:03:59] Prasanna Malaiyandi: but before you get into it, Barry, would you say, would you say Curtis’ analogy was accurate?

[00:04:07] Barry Lunt: Oh, you want me to opine on that? Well, actually I quite liked it. I think there are some similarities.

[00:04:16] W. Curtis Preston: And like LTO, uh, Tesla has a lot of haters.

[00:04:21] Prasanna Malaiyandi: yeah.

[00:04:23] W. Curtis Preston: There’s a lot of people that, that like it, you know, and the people that like tape. And people are like, you know what? It’s it’s like M-Disc, right. There are people that are big fans of M-Disc, and then there are people that just, well, they don’t, I don’t think M-Disc really has any haters.

I think there there’s, there’s some non-believers and I

[00:04:41] Barry Lunt: For sure.

[00:04:42] W. Curtis Preston: can talk about that and, um, I want to, um, so we’ve covered M-Disc. Prasanna, do you have episode names and numbers?

[00:04:53] Prasanna Malaiyandi: Yes, we covered M-Disc in, uh, let’s see, episode 160 “Is M-Disc the ultimate archive medium for SMB and home users.” So go take a listen. That was kind of Curtis’s and my take on M-Disc based on information that Daniel Rose Hill had shared with us. Barry, uh, like Curtis was saying, you kind of have the people who love M-Disc and you kind of have the haters who may not be there.

I think there’s actually a third group, which is probably a significant group of people who don’t even know M-Disc exists.

[00:05:25] W. Curtis Preston: and I think that’s a, I think that’s, that’s the biggest group. Um, and, and I was in that group

[00:05:31] Prasanna Malaiyandi: yeah, both of us work.

[00:05:33] W. Curtis Preston: yeah. Up until Daniel. Um, you know, I, I, I mean, at this point, My, my day job is one of, of doesn’t have anything to do with optical media. I should probably throw out our usual disclaimer, Prasanna and I both work for different companies.

He works for Zoom. I work for Druva. This is not a podcast of either company not sponsored by them or, uh, anything like that. Uh, and, um, the opinions that you hear are ours. If you would like to join us on the podcast, please do so. Just reach out to me @wcpreston on Twitter. Or WcurtisPreston@gmail

Also please rate us ratethispodcast.com/restore. So thanks to Daniel, which is, uh, you know, he calls himself a term. I hadn’t even heard before backup anorak. We had him on the, on the podcast and he turned us on to M-Discs. So what I’d like to, so, so first let’s just do a quick. You know, summary of what, how you would describe M-Disc today.

[00:06:35] Barry Lunt: Of of how I would describe it.

[00:06:36] W. Curtis Preston: Yes. Somebody’s never heard, they, they know what a DVD is, right. Or they know what a Blu-Ray is, but they don’t know what they don’t know what M-Disc is. So how, how would you describe that? You know, relatively shortly.

[00:06:48] Barry Lunt: Yeah. So, uh, if you die, And a thousand years from now, your great, your, your descendants want to learn something about you and they find this something up in the attic. If it’s digital, which everything is today, it will have nothing on it. All, all digital media degrades with time. And then a thousand years, it will have nothing on it, except for the M-Disc.

The M-Disc will still be readable. And we suspect that people will have a way to read the disk because it’s easy today. It’s cheap in thousand years. I can’t imagine that would be difficult. So the, the data that was recorded thousand years ago will still be there.

[00:07:24] W. Curtis Preston: And so it is an optical medium, but it’s dif it’s different than the op than the other optical mediums. How.

[00:07:34] Barry Lunt: It is different in what we call a recording layer. You know, you have polycarbonate, which is the base material for the optical disc. And then you put a layer of material that is light sensitive so that you can use a laser to actually change the nature of that material and record your ones and zeros.

Most of the, uh, well, all optical discs, except for the M-disc use a recordable dye and that dye is organic, which means that it degrades with time. And of course it has to be light sensitive, which means if you put it in the light, the light’s going to erase it relatively quickly. Within a matter of years, depending on how intense the light, ours is only light sensitive in that it absorbs light, but it’s like stone.

It’s like using a laser to etch pictures in stone. Once they’re there, you cannot remove them. You have to physically destroy the disc in order to remove the data. It cannot be rerecorded.

[00:08:22] Prasanna Malaiyandi: So basically all the CDs DVDs that I have in my closet from things that I’ve burned, they’re probably useless now because they were burned probably like 20 years ago.

[00:08:33] Barry Lunt: Yes. If you burn them, it’s, uh, highly likely that the data’s not there. Now, if you buy them in the store, they’re not recordable discs, meaning the data has already been recorded and it’s recorded on them by a very different method. It’s a stamping method. And then, uh, we deposit a metal reflective layer on top of that, and that’s very permanent.

The N I S T did some studies and they showed that it has a lifetime of about 1500 years on these permanently, uh, stamped discs. So that that’s good, but you can’t record those.

[00:09:05] W. Curtis Preston: We brought you on to talking about the M-Discs, but the only if I want to call it competing, there, there is something that, that I’ve, that I’ve heard about. People talk about an archive quality DVD. What do you know about that?

[00:09:23] Barry Lunt: Quite a bit. We did a lot of studies when we had the, when Milleniata was a, a going enterprise. And we did a whole lot of studies that I’ve published on the comparison between those. And of course the Naval weapons research center did an independent study for us because they were concerned about storing data for a long time.

And they published their results independent of the company. And basically they looked at the very top archival quality recordable optical discs and compared them to the M disc and ours went out by a long, long, long ways. Our, all of theirs died during the test. Ours actually slightly improved. We won’t, we don’t claim that it improved because we can’t see how it could, but it, it, our disc did not get worse at all.

[00:10:06] W. Curtis Preston: how, how do you get, uh, how do

[00:10:10] Prasanna Malaiyandi: How would you improve it?

[00:10:11] W. Curtis Preston: cause if it, you know, I would assume that it’s like a hundred percent, that’s like baseline. So how do you improve from that?

[00:10:19] Barry Lunt: that’s a really good question. Um, digital data is, you know, we like to think of it as ones and zeros. And when you read it back, we turn it into ones and zeros. But in reality, what you do is you change the optical properties of the disc. So in some places it reflects well in other places, it doesn’t.

And we call those ones and zeros. Well, it turns out that every time you read data back, no matter what you stored on hard disc. Optical discs, LTO tapes, whatever you or flash drives, whatever you store it on. When you read it back, it doesn’t come out. Perfect. And so we fix that on the fly, using what we call error correction coding.

Well, we can simply look at those errors as they come in and see them before they’re fixed. So clearly if I have. 20 errors and a competing disc has 50 errors, then mine’s better, but they’re both correctable. And therefore in the end, they wind up with zero errors because they’re all correctable errors, but eventually you reach a point where there are too many errors and you no longer can correct the model.

And so the disc fails to read correctly, but that’s how we assess the quality of the, the data is looking at the errors before they’re corrected.

[00:11:26] Prasanna Malaiyandi: That makes sense.

[00:11:28] W. Curtis Preston: Yeah, that, that does the, uh, that’s, that’s how you get better than, than a hundred percent because, because a hundred percent really isn’t a hundred percent, that’s the

[00:11:36] Barry Lunt: That’s right.

[00:11:37] W. Curtis Preston: still. And, and I, I don’t think, I think the average, it person understands that, but which that’s generally our audience, but I don’t think the average consumer gets that at all, but.

I look at things like this, especially something new like this, I mean, it’s new to me. I know it’s been around. How long has it been around.

[00:11:54] Barry Lunt: 2008

[00:11:55] W. Curtis Preston: Yeah. So a a while, right?

[00:11:58] Barry Lunt: a while.

[00:11:59] W. Curtis Preston: I can’t believe that I it’s literally half of my backup career it’s been out and I hadn’t heard of it until Daniel.

Um, But again, I, I spent most of my time in tape and then went into disk and in the world where I live in the idea of a device, that can only hold, um, you know, a certain number of gigabytes, uh, you know, not very exciting. The other problem, historically, with, with the areas where I typically did backup in recovery, what, well, there’s a couple, one, one of the big one was, is throughput. right. And optical has never been very sexy when it comes to throughput.

[00:12:40] Barry Lunt: No, it has not.

[00:12:42] W. Curtis Preston: yeah. Great on long term archiving, but, but not so much in, uh, throughput.

[00:12:48] Prasanna Malaiyandi: What made you want to create M-Disc Barry. Like what was sort of the reason behind it?

[00:12:55] Barry Lunt: I love telling this story. Um, 2005, I was thinking about my pictures and of course we, uh, If you back up about 30 years, people thought pictures were very, very valuable because you’d, you’d pay for the roll of film. You’d print ’em off and you’d put ’em in a photo book. And people always said, if my house is on fire, the first thing I’m gonna do is get my children out.

And then number two, my, my photo albums, because they were very valuable. Well, that’s how I felt about digital pictures when I first started getting ’em and that was about 2005. And so I had a hard drive full of them, and I knew the hard drives are prone to catastrophic failure. And so I thought, okay, what should I back it up onto?

I thought about optical discs. I knew that they didn’t last a long time. I thought about flash drives. I knew they weren’t permanent. And I thought about. Uh, magnetic tape and I didn’t have really a good option there because getting into it, it’s a bit on the expensive side and I knew that there was nothing permanent.

I thought, gee, if I care about storing my pictures for a long time, I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who does. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a permanent digital data storage medium. So that’s when I remembered, well, you know, I’ve seen petroglyphs. I had taken my son and a bunch of other 16, 17 year old Scouts down to a place called nine mile path, about an hour and a half from where I live to do some camping.

And while there we looked at some petroglyphs made by the Fremont Indians. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago, still visible today. And I realized that they were made by a process different than what I understood that is their etched. The, the outside layer of the rock is dark from the exposure to the weather for centuries and millennia.

And then they just took, uh, some sharp object and etched away that top layer and exposed a light layer. That’s optical contrast. And I thought, well, that’s how optical discs are made. You have light spots and dark spots. And then I thought, well, we could use an optical disc and put a rocklike media on it, dark and then ablate it with the laser and have dark spots and light spots and record data permanently.

And so I thought, wow, that’s cool. So that’s when I started visiting with my chemistry friend, Matt Linford, and he, and I said, uh, yeah, we think this is worth researching. Let’s do it. And then a couple of years later, we found a couple of the guys that were interested starting a company. Uh, Henry O’Connell and Doug Hanson.

And that’s when we started Milleniata. So that, that was about 2005, 2006 that we started the enterprise.

[00:15:12] W. Curtis Preston: I’m coming into this, like from the back end, like by the time I find about M-Disc, the M in M-Disc isn’t around anymore. So I was like, so I was confused and you know, how is this, you know, I mean, I’ve since learned the answers to that question. So, so the company, as I understand it, the company itself didn’t succeed, but the, but the medium did, is that, is that a fair summary?

[00:15:37] Barry Lunt: That is yes. In the process of, uh, the many different things that the company tried in order to stay afloat. They licensed the production of the media to Verbatim, and Verbatim has continued to produce the M-Disc. And so as far as I’m aware, they’re the only company that produces it today under licensed from the company millennia.

[00:15:57] W. Curtis Preston: Gotcha. How is that different than. Um, cuz that, cuz my understanding is that the original company isn’t around anymore. Is that not a correct understanding.

[00:16:10] Barry Lunt: that is correct. The company’s not around anymore. Uh, we went into receivership a few years ago and so we don’t have any proceeds, but, but at the time we were making the discs ourselves and Verbatim was also making them

[00:16:22] W. Curtis Preston: okay. Gotcha. Okay.

[00:16:24] Prasanna Malaiyandi: So basically they have the IP to make the technology right.

[00:16:28] Barry Lunt: because we licensed it to them. Right.

[00:16:29] Prasanna Malaiyandi: So we talk about the media, right? Barry. That’s like only half the equation. Right? How do you get things onto that media? Right. I guess is like a critical aspect. And I know we were talking or joking earlier about Tesla comparing it to LTO tape drive, right. And the cost being so high upfront, what does M-Disc require in order to actually be able to use the media?

[00:16:53] Barry Lunt: Wow. Huh? That’s a pretty deep question, but I, I suppose our technical audience is ready for something like that. Uh, in order to record a one and a zero on the disc. You have to turn on the laser at a certain intensity, leave it on for a certain amount of time and then finish. And it’s not a question of just turning it on and off.

You have to do a, a start and then an end. What we call a castle. So you have to get the, have to get the, uh, media to ablate. The recording layer has to be ablated. You have to start it and then you have to continue ablating it, but then you have to stop it so that you get a mark that is consistent in length.

Let’s say they want three ones. Well, if my four ones needs to be exactly. 33% longer than my three ones. Exactly. The same is true for my two ones needs to be 33% smaller. And to get those marks to be there consistently is extremely difficult. And then we don’t do it. Well, we get what we call jitter, which is variation in the time domain, which means we get errors bit errors.

It increases our bit error rate.

[00:17:54] Prasanna Malaiyandi: Which is the last thing really you want for like a disc you’re gonna

keep for a thousand years, right?

[00:17:58] Barry Lunt: Clearly you want extremely low bit errors. So we just had to work with developing what we call a right strategy. Well, the write strategy, it turns out. For the DVD had to be unique. And so we had to develop it and then we had to, uh, include that write strategy in the drives that, that recorded and read back the DVD.

Well, when we developed the Blu-Ray version of the M-Disc, it turns out that one of the write strategies for one of the various types of media for the Blu-Ray version already worked for ours. So we didn’t have to have a different kind of drive. So originally you had to have special drive for the DVD, but for the Blu-Ray you didn’t have to.

And so now you can record on any M-Disc with the right DVD drive, but you can record on any Blu-Ray M-Disc with any drive. And then of course the good news is once they’re recorded, you can read them on any DVD player or any Blu-Ray player in the world.

[00:18:55] Prasanna Malaiyandi: wow. So that, because unlike LTO tape drives, right. Where you have to, I know Curtis you’ve talked about, yes, you need a certain type and make sure it’s compatible and all the rest it looks like with M-Discs. It’s pretty much anything as long as it can read a Blu-Ray should be able to at least read that disc,

[00:19:11] W. Curtis Preston: Typically not even all writeable DVD and Blu-Ray media were always readable in all drives. Um, So, but, but you’re saying this one is,

[00:19:26] Barry Lunt: This one is

[00:19:26] W. Curtis Preston: information on that is little outta date, but, um, you’re saying no problem here.

[00:19:33] Barry Lunt: no problem. There are plenty of read strategies and the read strategies all work with the M-Disc, thankfully.

[00:19:38] W. Curtis Preston: Okay. Okay. So, um, and, and this does bring up a related question though. Cuz when I was, when I was researching this, I. Again, you know, go big or go home. I was looking at the hundred gigabyte discs. Right. And, um, I was like, uh, just interesting, based on the application, I might use it. I might not need the hundred gigabyte disc.

Right. Because it is a write once, by the way, I can keep appending. Right.

[00:20:08] Barry Lunt: You, you can keep appending until the disc is full. You can keep append.

[00:20:12] W. Curtis Preston: Okay. So, I found an incredibly inconsistent, um, Verbiage on various Blu-Ray drives as to whether or not they supported the larger medium. Do, do you think, like would all Blu-Ray drives support the larger medium, or does that, do I have to find a specific one that would support that?

[00:20:40] Barry Lunt: You would have to have a specific one that supports that.

[00:20:42] Prasanna Malaiyandi: I remember I was having. Twitter chat message thread with Daniel about this. And he was saying, because he lives in Israel, right. That getting the higher density disc is actually a lot more expensive. And so he is like, yeah, I basically ended up, I think goes what, 5 25 and a hundred, I think terms of the size of those.

He’s like, yeah, I got like the middle one, because that was just the cheapest per gigabyte cost for right now.

[00:21:11] W. Curtis Preston: what I, what I found for me acquiring it via, you know, my favorite South american themed, uh, internet retailer. Um, is that they were, it was generally about the same, like in terms of dollars per gigabyte. So it was just buy what you thought worked for you, and obviously depending on which supplier you go with.

Right. But, um, the, uh, but I was frustrated on the whole support for the, for the hundred gigabyte thing. So I, I, my, my, my research will continue, you know, it’s interesting, you know, I heard your story, the origin story, if you will, of, of, of M-disc, I, you know, I know what happens when you assume, but I assumed that, you know, you’re, you know, I’m guessing you’re LDS, you’re, you know, you work for BYU.

I figured there was an LDS angle to this, um, the, that, because I know that, um, the church. Uh, is, is big on preservation and all of that sort of stuff. So I, I, I concocted in my head a completely different origin story. Um, does it, does it have, is there any connection to your university?

[00:22:30] Barry Lunt: Not really the, there there’s an abtuse connection in that we felt that the church might be one of our early customers. Uh, as you mentioned, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints really does care a great deal about storing things permanently with their, their granite vaults in the little Cottonwood canyon, up in salt lake and so forth, but they don’t use.

Unproven technology. They only use something that has been proven and been around for a long time. And the course, uh, the M-disc, of course was not proven at the time. We don’t know if it’s been adopted, at least to our knowledge. It has not been adopted by the church. Uh, but no, that it wasn’t initiated by the church.

We just knew that they might be an early customer.

[00:23:13] W. Curtis Preston: It was kind of hopes.

[00:23:15] Barry Lunt: We were

[00:23:15] W. Curtis Preston: Uh, yeah. Yeah. Um, the, yeah, so that’s an interesting aspect by the way, cuz you know, the conversations that I’ve had on Reddit with what I’ll call randos, um, to borrow a name from, uh, or, or word from the younger generation, random people on Reddit. Um, it’s the, there are those that. When they hear about in this case, M-disc being rated for a thousand years, when they hear about tape being rated for 30 years, when they hear about Blu-Ray being rated for whatever. all understand that that that’s via, you know, advanced aging technology, obviously M-Disc wasn’t invented a thousand years ago and it hasn’t been tested for a thousand years. Since, since most people haven’t participated in advanced aging techniques, um, you know, maybe help us understand that part of it a little bit.

[00:24:15] Barry Lunt: Yeah, I, I love to talk about that. My chemistry friend, Matt Linford, uh, is one that’s even stronger in this area, but, uh, he has helped me make sure I understand relatively well. So let’s back up, uh, a few decades to where paint. Is being, uh, used nationwide primarily here in this country and various companies are saying, well, our paint is better than your paint.

Well, how do you know that it’s better? Well, okay. Let’s, let’s take a surface. Let’s paint it with our paint and your paint and then let’s abuse it. Well, how is paint abused? What causes paint to degrade? Well, we know that sunshine and rain and temperature variation, all of those are pretty tough on paint.

So let’s put it in a chamber where we put bright lights on it. We raise temperature and lower the temperature and. Put rain on it and then let’s test it. Well, that’s fun. And that’s cool, but how do we tie a science to it? Well, the really good thing is this guy named arinias and another guy named iring.

Both came up with equations that tell us exactly what the degree of degradation is as a function of the materials being used and how that relates to real time. So let’s say that I degrade something in a, in 20 hours of this abusive testing. What does 20 hours of abusive testing mean? So, all we have to do really is identify what kinds of factors cause the recording layer of the M disc to degrade. We already knew enough about polycarbonate and we know what causes polycarbonate to degrade. So that means that if we put ultraviolet light on the, and, and regular light on the, uh, disc and the recording layer, if we put it in temperature, high temperature and high humidity, we know exactly how much degradation will cause thousand years of degradation.

That’s accelerated aging. It’s a science that was developed by the paint industry. And now we it’s been extended of course, to all sorts of industries, including optical discs.

[00:26:08] W. Curtis Preston: Interesting. So you’re basically just sort of borrowing it, it, by the way, I had no idea that it started with the paint industry. Had

[00:26:17] Barry Lunt: That’s fine. So, so that’s what the Naval weapons research center did down in China Lake, california. They had this chamber and the chamber had a lot of bright lights and it had temperature control and humidity. So they put all the discs in there, including ours, including the very best optical discs and just tortured them under very carefully controlled conditions.

And then tested them, put ’em on a reader. See what the error rate, what happened to the error rate. And of course you watch those error rates climb and climb and climb on all the other discs until they completely failed when no, they were no longer correctable where our disc was just going, Hey, this is nice.

This is like a walk on the beach,

[00:26:53] W. Curtis Preston: Interesting. I walk on a very hot beach, but yeah,

[00:26:55] Barry Lunt: a very hot, very intensely lit beach, but nevertheless, not a problem.

[00:27:00] Prasanna Malaiyandi: So after they did all this testing, do you know if there are other government agencies or other groups who are using M-Disc for their archival media?

[00:27:12] Barry Lunt: At one time. I know the library of Congress was, uh, looking at it. And I also know that all senators and all congressmen were given an M disc drive so that they could record things on them.

[00:27:24] W. Curtis Preston: I’ll give the good and the bad, right? So the good is this all sounds great. Right? And, and I’ll give the bad, and then I’m gonna go back to the good, the bad is that. This combination of things that we said earlier of like the business aspect of it, right? Like what, what would happen tomorrow if Verbatim’s like, you know what?

We’ve been making this for, you know, X number of years now, and there’s only three guys that are buying it. It’s some guy named Daniel out in Israel, keeps buying a bunch of copies and then nobody, nobody else is buying this thing. Uh, we’re just gonna stop making it. So that, that, that’s the worry I do understand the good is that.

That doesn’t mean that because of, because of, you know, how it was designed, that doesn’t mean that what you’ve done is in any way degraded. Right? You can still, you will continue to be able to read an M-Disc that you’ve written. I I’d say that the only worry would be that you would get enthused about something that then might be suddenly, um, you know, snatched away.


[00:28:25] Prasanna Malaiyandi: stockpile.

[00:28:26] W. Curtis Preston: yeah. but, but. If there are large governmental or, or, you know, commercial concerns that are in any way using M-Disc, I would think that that would, and none of that was really a question, Barry, I don’t know. I don’t know how you want. how you want to comment on that.

[00:28:45] Barry Lunt: We would love to have had large customers using large quantities of discs. And I know at one time, uh, one company was developing an optical disc, uh, cabinet that would store thousands of optical discs. And they would be, uh, what we call cold storage. So, you know, you store it on them and then just keep it there for a long time.

So, uh, but that apparently didn’t catch on. And so we’ve never found a. Single entity that purchased large quantities of the M-Disc.

[00:29:15] Prasanna Malaiyandi: I was thinking just about like Daniel’s use case, right? He had a very specific use case where he’s like, Hey, I’m creating all these videos. I need to store them somewhere. I can’t upload it to the cloud because it, my internet sucks and it’s too expensive. And M-Disc is one of those things that he sort of latched onto and sort of educated us on.

I’m just wondering, are there other people who just don’t know it exists going back to the initial thing we were talking about, right. Those three groups, right? It just seems, there are a lot of people who don’t know it exists and the fact that it’s not really that expensive to start using it either.

[00:29:54] Barry Lunt: Yeah, that’s a great question too. And I attended a number of conferences that were related to archival. So the archival. For like eight it’s eight years. I believe I presented papers at the archival conferences, two different ones. And you meet people there who care a great deal about storing things for a long time.

And all of them are concerned about the fact that digital data is not something that. They can store it permanently. They all have what they call cycles. So they’ll take it and copy it onto something new. And so they’re always refreshing it, putting on a new media type, just because that’s the only way to keep it persistent.

And a number of the times that I went there. They would say, well, there’s one exception and that’s the M-Disc, but we don’t know much about it. And their studies they’re being millennials. And of course we have a vested interest in bragging about ourselves. And so you can’t, you can’t, you have to doubt our validity.

That’s the perspective. Anyway, uh, they say, well, they themselves say that it lasts a thousand years plus, and they do cite this one study by an independent agency, the naval weapons research center, uh, but who knows. And so the most of the response that I got. Well, we don’t know enough about the M-Disc. We haven’t seen a proven track record.

And in the meantime, we know we have processes, allow us to preserve our data for the next five years. And so we’re okay.

[00:31:17] W. Curtis Preston: Mmm.

[00:31:19] Prasanna Malaiyandi: But as your data keeps growing, though, it’s like at some point copying forward that data, every time. You’re gonna spend all your time with your tape drive, just moving data from one to another, rather than actually backing up anything new.

[00:31:33] Barry Lunt: Then you’re exactly right.

[00:31:36] W. Curtis Preston: Yeah. I mean, I, I think, I think you might be being a little hard on the tape and optical folks that aren’t M-Disc. When I hear you talking about like optical dying after 10 years, you know, you talk about, you say your, the M-Disc is good for a thousand years.

Well, they say that optical is good for a whole lot longer than you’re talking about. And, and LTO tape, for example, rated for 30 years. Right. Um, not, not dis right. Disk is a different problem and certainly not solid state, but, um, you know,

[00:32:14] Barry Lunt: I wanna say something about those numbers. When they rate life expectancy, they almost always are giving you the maximum, the best life expectancy. They’re not giving you the mean, and they’re not giving you the minimum. And so what you hear is them bragging about their media.

Well, of course they would do that, but we’re, we’re saying that our shortest life expectancy is a thousand years. In other words, you won’t have problems until a thousand years. Let me cite a study that I did back in 2012 published at the conference. So these are, this is a published, uh, optical disk life expectancy a field report from the, uh, is ISM/ODS 2011.

That’s the international symposium of optical media and optical data storage. And what we did was we studied the total of 26,500 optical discs stored by two different libraries. And these were recorded professionally by these libraries and then stored in optical storage boxes in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.

So these are non circulating discs. You can’t check them out they’re backup purposes only. And what we did is we checked and looked at what is the percent of files that can’t be read on these discs brand new versus five years and three to seven years out and so forth. We had some that were three years old and some that were up to 14 years old.

And here’s the bottom line. 2% of the files per year are starting to fail. So every year you lose 2% more of your files. So that’s with the very best optical quality archival quality stored in pristine, absolute best controlled conditions. We’re losing 2% per year of our files.

[00:33:59] W. Curtis Preston: Just to make sure I understand this is not something that would be caught or fixed by error correction.

[00:34:06] Barry Lunt: No these files that were unreadable had so many errors that they couldn’t be read.

[00:34:12] W. Curtis Preston: that, that is shocking. But I’d love to take a look at that study. Um, you know, maybe we could do another episode on cuz that’s, that is certainly does not match what the optical and I can, I assume that you’ve done a similar study with M-Disc.

[00:34:29] Barry Lunt: Um, we’ve not had a library that has used the M-Disc for, uh, 14 years. no, we’ve not done a similar study with the M.

[00:34:38] W. Curtis Preston: Okay. It would, it would be a very interesting

[00:34:41] Prasanna Malaiyandi: Do you,

[00:34:42] W. Curtis Preston: to, to do.

[00:34:42] Prasanna Malaiyandi: I know it’s probably not a good sample size, but given that M-Disc has been around for a while now, have you actually gone back and looked at those very first M-Discs that were burned? If you will, to look at the. to see what the error rates look like.

[00:35:00] Barry Lunt: Wow. What a good question. Yeah, we would love to do that. I’d no longer have the funds to do that kind of research because the company was funding my research I don’t have the company anymore, so no, I have, I’ve not done that, but I would love to.

[00:35:14] W. Curtis Preston: Gotcha. Um, yeah, it’s interesting. I, I, the verbiage that you said that the conferences that they go to, that you went to, and, and they said, there’s this one company, you know, millennia that, but we don’t know much about that, but we know what we have and we know what we need to do. And we have a process built around that.

Right. Um, And cuz that matches a lot. So a, another guy that’s been on the podcast, uh, the, uh, Jeff Rochlin. So we had him on here about how Hollywood archives data. And I happened to be in his, uh, he, at the time he was, um, head of it for Disney Feature Animation. And I was in the, um, Um, I was in his data center when they were archiving.

Um, Dinosaur, I believe was the, the movie and they chose to archive onto DVD, but not Blu-Ray, which was available at the time, because it was a new unproven technology. Right. Um, And, uh, and by the way, that’s a lot of DVDs

[00:36:28] Barry Lunt: oh yeah.

[00:36:28] W. Curtis Preston: cause those are 4.7 gigabytes, right?

That is a lot of DVDs. He had this, he had this, like, it was a robotic DVD, uh, you know, machine that, uh, he could basically somebody’s job was to put in all these DVDs and then wait for the export to, to finish. And then they would take all those DVDs and put ’em out. And now what I’m hearing you say is.

That was only like 15 years ago. And that, that stuff’s, that, you know, probably degraded to the point that, you know

[00:36:59] Barry Lunt: 2% per year. Yep.

[00:37:01] W. Curtis Preston: 2% per year. Um, well, you know, to be honest, did we need to save a hundred percent of Dinosaur anyway? Um,

[00:37:08] Prasanna Malaiyandi: not at all. Curtis.

I guess for people who want to get access to M-Discs and the drives, right, is it just a matter of looking up where verbatim sells their M-Disc purchasing, uh, in whatever the appropriate size they’re looking for and just making sure they have a compatible Blu-Ray.

[00:37:30] Barry Lunt: Yes.

[00:37:33] W. Curtis Preston: Yeah, it seems pretty straightforward. Uh, and I did quite a bit of research on, on Amazon. There was no shortage of vendors that were selling M-Disc capable Blu-Ray drives. The only challenge I found was in. Um, finding ones that had the, the 100 gigabyte or the 50 gigabyte stamp on them.

Um, I’m sure your, your answer to this will probably. I have no idea how to answer that question, but I’m asking anyway, um, there, there are some people out there that have, that are using the M-Disc and that they, they were critical of some of the Blu-Ray drives that write to.

Um, and it’s like, well, what would make a good drive versus a bad drive when writing to M-Disc? Do you have any idea what that might be.

[00:38:38] Barry Lunt: Oh, yes. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of variation in how the write strategy works on the laser, the, the interface between the laser and the media itself. Can cause quite a bit of variation because there’s movement of the head, both laterally and vertically. And then of course the media is not always a hundred percent consistent across the surface of the disc.

So you’re going to have areas where the laser works more effectively or less effectively. And so you wind up with, uh, what we call headroom. Uh, headroom is the distance between how good, how well a disc operates uh, without failing and how perfect it could be if everything worked perfectly, that’s the headroom that you have to work with.

So you always want a disc that works yet has room for improvement, fewer errors, in other words, and that is all a function of the physics of the recording process. But as soon as you get below that headroom, you’re suddenly starting to run out of room. And now you’re, you’re recording with so many errors that you will not be able to read it back, uh, with a hundred percent corrected error.

[00:39:40] W. Curtis Preston: But I’m, I’m not sure. Maybe, maybe you heard a different question than the one I thought I asked, but. Because I don’t think that’s an answer to the question I thought I was asking.

[00:39:50] Barry Lunt: Sorry about that.

[00:39:51] W. Curtis Preston: that’s fine. I’m talking about the drives themselves. Like what would make a good Blu-Ray drive versus a, not as good Blu-Ray drive.

And I.

[00:40:03] Prasanna Malaiyandi: Yeah. For someone looking to purchase a drive. Yeah. How can they figure out which one

[00:40:08] W. Curtis Preston: because the, the price difference is like there are $40 drives that do M-Disc. There are $150 drives that do M-Disc. What’s difference between a $40 Blu-Ray drive and $150. Blu-Ray drive. Marketing.

[00:40:24] Barry Lunt: I clearly did not answer the question you asked and I apologize. So the, the answer to that is I would have to test the drives myself. I would have to take a bunch of standard media and record on each of the, the drives and then see what my error rate is in the read back, because you’re right. Uh, I can’t tell when I look at the brand, I can say, well, that’s a reputable brand.

Is this brand $150 versus. $60. Is it worth that much more? I don’t know. And until I do an analysis of the discs that it writes and, and look at how many errors there are on that disc. When I read it back, I won’t know the difference, but is it possible that a $160 drive will have fewer errors when I read it back than a $40 drive?

Yes, it’s possible. But can I say that? No, not without testing.

[00:41:11] Prasanna Malaiyandi: And then I think the other challenge will be quality control too, right? Because that $160 drive, right? You might have a batch that looks amazing and someone else buys the exact same one and they just got a crummy batch. And so now you get more error rate or bit errors than before.

[00:41:25] Barry Lunt: Bit errors. Exactly.

[00:41:28] W. Curtis Preston: All right. Well, my research continues well. Uh, yeah. Um, it’s been fascinating, Barry. I am encouraged and excited about this medium. It’s new to me. So I, I want call it new medium. It’s not that new. Um, and you know, I, I have the same concern that you do, right? The same concern that started the creation of M-disc.

I, I think about it all the time. I think about how that, um, you know, We, we, we used to get a box of letters, you know, from an attic somewhere. And you learn stuff from somebody from a hundred years ago, there are no boxes of letters anymore. That’s gone.

[00:42:14] Barry Lunt: that’s.

[00:42:15] W. Curtis Preston: right. That that’s, that’s just, that’s just not gonna happen unless somebody hands over the password of my Gmail account or something.

Right. But, uh, and assuming my Gmail account is around. 10 years, but, but the photos, the photos are a real thing. We, we really don’t. We really don’t as a, the current society is so we’re, we’re so used to very reliable pieces of technology until I drop it. Of course.

[00:42:44] Prasanna Malaiyandi: Or wash it.

[00:42:46] W. Curtis Preston: and yeah, or wash it, shut up Prasanna.

You don’t know what you’re talking about. Um, I’m on my second set of. AirPods here, by the way, due to a little trip in the wash.

We don’t as a, as a society just, we don’t do a good job of preserving the stuff that used to automatically be preserved for us. Right. I think if you want to start going down the route of properly preserving, even just for yourself properly preserving important. Photos and videos that you think you would like to have in 20 years? I can’t think of a better way to do that than M-Disc.

[00:43:30] Barry Lunt: Yeah, they, they will be there. The disc will have the data. I, I like to tell other people that say, well, the cloud’s a solution. Well, the cloud is a very nice solution. As long as you continue to pay your annual subscription fee. But when you die, they don’t preserve it because they love you. They preserve it because you pay them.

So once you stop paying them, they will not preserve your data. It’s not going to be there.

[00:43:53] W. Curtis Preston: No, it’s not gonna happen. Well, Barry, thanks. Thanks so much for coming on.

[00:43:59] Barry Lunt: Thank you, Curtis. Thank you. Thank you, Prasanna. It’s been great to visit with you both.

[00:44:03] W. Curtis Preston: Thanks Prasanna. Um, I, you know, do you think, do you think we covered this? Alright. This week?

[00:44:09] Prasanna Malaiyandi: I think we did a good job. And thank you, Barry, for answering our questions. Honestly, at this point, I’m like I have a bunch of things, pictures and other important stuff, sitting on disks and other things I’m like, maybe I should go pick up an M-Disc drive and some media Curtis, when you finish your research, just tell me what you buy so I can buy the same thing.

It makes it easier.

[00:44:30] W. Curtis Preston: Well, I’m gonna buy 10. Apparently. That’s what I need to do. I’m gonna buy 10 Blu-Ray drives. Um, and then I, you

[00:44:37] Prasanna Malaiyandi: You don’t, you know, an easier solution for this.

[00:44:40] W. Curtis Preston: what

[00:44:40] Prasanna Malaiyandi: We should just ask Daniel what he bought, because I bet you, he did the research and.

[00:44:43] W. Curtis Preston: I hate it. I bet. I bet you, you are right. Uh, Daniel, but if I know Daniel, he probably bought the $150 drive. Um, yeah. Anyway. All right, well, thank you very much to the listeners. We’d be nothing without you be sure to subscribe, uh, so that you can restore it all.

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