The internet has bought the concept of 'born digital' to popular consciousness. Just like plenty of businesses can be run completely in the cloud by far-flung colleagues on their phones or tablets and who don't even need an office, a lot of data is created, stored, actioned and retrieved completely online where file formats and 'reproducibility' is someone else's problem.
But the consumer PC era was in full swing for a decade or more prior to the advent of the internet going mainstream, which means a lot of data sitting around on 5.25 inch floppy disks, 3.5 inch floppy disks, DAT tapes, early removable hard drives from companies like SyQuest and iOmega (Zip, Jaz) and more.
Following Apple's lead after the company dropped the floppy disk drive in 1998, most other PC manufacturers did the same. Late model Apple laptops now don't have an optical CD drive either, which – if history is any teacher – spells doom for another storage format (beside which, how often have you sent data to clients or suppliers on CD recently?).
Right now the equipment which lets you access those old disks and formats you have gathering dust are pretty widespread on eBay and it's cheaper to do that to retrieve even a single file than engage a data-retrieval service. But time rolls on and one day it might be as hard to get a working CD drive as it is to find a 60s-era reel to reel tape drive now.
"Sure, vinyl records have seen a revival, but who has a Betamax or Laserdisc player anymore?" Greg Andrzejewski, director of research and development at Madison, Wisconson-based Gillware Data Recovery says.
"For that matter, how many households still have their old collections of VHS tapes and a machine to play them? What about HD-DVD, the HD video format that lost the format wars to Blu-Ray? All sorts of media formats came and went or never caught on and line this ever-growing graveyard."
It was an era of widely dispersed and unregulated players all trying to make their own formats and systems the industry standard and Dean Riach, Pacific Southeast lead for cloud provider Veritas, says data policies – which were a mainstay of the mainframe era – were disregarded when more distributed computing came about.
"The pace of technology and storage formats outpaced the ability to classify data," he says, "so a number of formats – particularly in the data protection space – were being adopted across tape formats.”
“It was made worse by the fact organisations used backup engines from different vendors over the years and didn't have policies in place. The ability to recover data from long term retention became extremely difficult, even without taking tape media degradation into consideration."