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Future-proofing digital storage

Hacking scandals, vendor lock-ins, format changes causing costly migrations and legacy problems for data owners … a perfect storm is brewing in digital storage solutions. Eurostars support for a series of ground-breaking projects, led by Piql AS,  has helped deliver a future-proof, open optical technology and services for ultra-secure data storage and long-term preservation. Their efforts are catching the world’s attention.   

Ensuring future access to today’s digital data is a formidable challenge, according to the Norwegian firm Piql AS, which has carved out a niche handling visual files and complex data in all shapes and sizes.

With exponential demand for data-handling and increasing concerns over security, future accessibility, data loss, as well as the costs associated with migrating, converting and storing it, Piql saw a huge opportunity.

Together with European partners, it secured Eurostars backing for  R&D projects to develop and later test and deliver a reliable holistic system for ultra-secure, long-term storage and indexing of digital data.

Eurostars has enabled us to engage with research and development partners in Europe that we normally would not have approached

“In this case, long-term is not the typical, say, 10-year contract you might see today that ends with a nasty migration to a new system. No, this is more like 10 lifetimes worth of security, anywhere from 500 to 1 000 years,” says Piql’s founder and managing director Rune Bjerkestrand. The resulting Piql Service is today marketed to end users (data owners) through some 16 partners in more than a dozen countries. Piql itself has grown nine-fold from two employees when it started in 2002 to 18 today.

EUROSTARS’ sustained investment in this solution started with ARCHIVATOR (E!4863), MILOS (E!7360) and ASTOR (E!8822) and carries on today with PRESERVIA (E!9892). The breakthrough came when MILOS took the proof of concept to production-scale tests, which confirmed the data could maintain its integrity for 500 years or more. For this, the team drew on R&D support from six academic and SME research partners in Norway, Germany and the UK. Sample data was supplied by the Swedish National Archives with expertise from Germany’s Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance.

The inner-workings

The Piql System, as it stands, includes hardware for writing and reading data on the storage medium (piqlFilm), film packaging techniques (piqlBox and piqlBin), a fully automated management tool (piqlVault) and a web-based system for data storage and retrieval. Both the storage medium and the packaging have a documented lifetime of 500 years.

Under the current project, PRESERVIA, the plan is to boost the security with new authentication and immunity solutions (against viruses and hacking), and tools to make the whole package more environmentally sound.

“The security and authenticity will be gold standard,” according to Bjerkestrand. “The new features will open up completely new markets and broaden the scope for long-term storage of diverse digital objects, from ancient manuscripts and historical documents to artefacts, films and images that shaped our existence and carry our cultural DNA.”

This new functionality is also based on results and ideas emerging from the MILOS project. “The work will be key to future-proofing storage and access to digital data, especially for governments, institutions, but also companies,” notes Katrine Thomsen who manages Piql’s Eurostars projects.

“Eurostars has enabled us to engage with research and development partners in Europe that we normally would not have approached. This has clearly been to the advantage of our work, “she adds.

In the vault

In a related development, Piql has recently teamed up with Norway’s state mining company to provide fail-safe physical storage facilities in an abandoned mine deep in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. This Arctic World Archive has been likened (The Verge, April 2017) to the famous doomsday seed vault locking away the world’s precious biodiversity deep in the Arctic permafrost.  The vaults keep the seeds – and now the world’s cultural and historical archives – safe from threats like natural disasters and global conflicts.

The Arctic World Archive was launched in March this year and early-adopters include the governments of Norway, Brazil and Mexico, which have deposited copies of valuable historical data recorded on Piql’s Eurostars-supported optical film technology.

“We converted files like TIFS, PDFs and JPEGs into high-resolution, high-density QR codes using grey scale to cram more data into every code,” explains Bjerkestrand.

“These digital artefacts are now physically stored in the converted mine, not in the cloud, which also means they can’t be hacked or attacked during political turmoil or war,” stresses Bjerkestrand. “You could say it is where the physical and digital world make their last stand!”