One of the remarkable ironies of digital technology is that every step forward creates new challenges for storing and managing data. In the analog world, a piece of paper or a photograph never becomes obsolete, but it deteriorates and eventually disintegrates. In the digital world, bits and bytes theoretically last forever, but the underlying media—floppy disks, tapes, and drive formats, as well as the codecs used to play audio and video files—become obsolete, usually within a few decades. Once the machine or media is outdated, it is difficult, if not impossible, to access, retrieve, or view the file.
"Digital obsolescence is a very real problem," observes Yaniv Erlich, assistant professor of computer science at Columbia University and a core member of the New York Genome Center. "There is a constant need to migrate to new technologies that don't always support the old technologies."