November 11, 2015

Next Generation Archiving: Access and Mobility

Archive technology and standards have evolved enormously. But how do you know which innovations will lead you to success, and which ones lead to a dead end? In this post, I take a look at previous generations of archiving technology to see how the past can help us gain insight into a new generation of innovative technology.

Archival Storage

Archiving is by no means a new discipline! Its legacy can be seen in the filing cabinets and archives of every large organization. Despite the increasing digitization of business today, many key business processes continue to rely on paper as the primary medium for workflow. Loan origination, accounts payable, and human resources all come to mind as legacy activities that have yet to be fully integrated into the digital age. But that is changing, as new and more flexible integrated document management systems and document archive solutions come online.

From Paper to Pixels

The introduction of computer-enhanced microform technology in the late 60’s ushered in the first attempts to relieve the burden of paper with an alternate media. Computer Output to Microfiche held the equivalent of 270 standard paper pages and had the advantage of low reproduction and storage costs. The downside was that you needed a special device to read microfiche.

Computer Output to Laser Disk (COLD)

Computer Output to Laser Disk (COLD) quickly replaced the analog, photographic-based reproduction of data with a more direct, digital transferal of data. Optical storage preserved data more accurately and enabled more accurate storage and improved retrieval services. The most prominent disadvantage of COLD was the physical limitations of jukebox technology – a mechanical serving arm prone to failure and poor retrieval performance. COLD systems tended to be costly to maintain and used proprietary, competing systems.


Mainframe disk-based archival storage offered a greater storage capacity and reduced the amount of data that would have to be stored offline. This approach also provided greater access via terminals. Indeed, these mainframe systems are still in use today in many large corporations, and mainframe storage was for some time the only viable solution for high-volume archival and distribution. But for these older systems, access is simply too limited and cost-prohibitive to extend access to customers.

Enterprise Content Management

The introduction of client server systems with affordable high capacity RAID disk systems coincided with a shift in strategic focus from systems and hardware that support only a single type of application to enterprise-wide content management solutions. ECM infrastructure benefits from being a unified platform for all archived information content rather than allowing information to collect in silos that are difficult to access.

Reflecting Forward

Drawing comparisons between archiving practices of the past and the future will help us understand the business challenges ahead and build a generation of technology that offers innovative new approaches. By reflecting on the past generations of document archiving technology we can draw insight into the characteristics of next generation archives.