How long does a data storage medium last?

Data is recorded and stored on different media in order to keep it in an accessible state for future needs. But did anyone ever try to know or find out the lifespan of the storage media on which they are storing the information. We know that many of you might be interested in knowing it, but may lack the exact resources which guide on this issue.

The anguishing truth about data storage media is that no medium will last forever, and most of them are replaced by a new storage method before long. But the question is just how long your favorite storage method will last? How long do you have before you need to copy the information over to a new form?

Before we get to that, remember that there are always a lot of exceptions to the general rule. Just because a storage media manufacturer claims a media device to last for a certain amount of time, doesn’t mean that it will surely last till the expiry date. Keeping away the warranty tag, usually, the life span of the media depends on many reasons like environment factors, usage rates, components quality and manufacturing features.

Thus, the life span figures suggested over here are very general guidelines. The only true way to protect data is to have multiple copies of everything, and the best way to do that is to invest in a good Backup & and Disaster Recovery solution.

Here’s an article which will give you feel of the storage media lifespan. Remember, the life span specified for different media in this article may vary in actuality, as it can be influenced by different factors.

Magnetic Tape- Magnetic tape has the nature of loosing data when its magnet looses its charge. Or there is a probability that when layers of tape start to separate, the media starts to loose the data. According to most veterans from storage industry, tape can last for up to thirty years. Therefore, it can prove as a useful medium for archiving purpose. The problem with the specified number is that magnetic tapes will only last that long under absolutely optimum environmental conditions– meaning they need to be kept in a place where both humidity and temperatures are stable. If this can be achieved, then the tape media life will easily range in between 20-30 years, although they are more susceptible to wear and tear if used frequently.

Cassette Tape- Actually this media is truly very similar to magnetic tapes and so the life span of this storage media is also the same as of the magnetic tape. But some have been known to wear out quickly due to excessive use, while others may even last for more than 30 years. However, going with a safe bet, a cassette tape lasts between ten and twenty years.

Floppy Disk- Many of you might be in an assumption that the usage of floppy drives is now an extinct practice. But the reality is that some healthcare organizations in United States are still using this media for temporary needs. Therefore, from what we found, there are still some organizations both government and private which are still using these drives for data storage. Usually, these drives only last for 5-7 years. But some organizations claim that they are using floppy drives from the last ten to 15 years and still they are lasting for re-use. So, may be they were made of top quality and the kudos goes to the manufacturing brand. But still Floppy drives use the same tape in a plastic casing and so the lifespan of it may range from 5-7 years in general notion.

CD & DVDs- According to US National Archives, both these optical disk media have similar life spans and they have a shelf life of 5-10 years. The experimental life expectancy of recorded CDs and DVDs is between two -5 years, though based on manufacturer claims, ten to 20 years is their actual life span. However, the said numbers depend on environmental factors and how often the disc is used. It has to be noted over here that any optical media is extremely susceptible to damage because there is very little protection on the readable surface.

Blu-Ray- The day, Facebook announced that they are using Blu-Ray discs for archiving the data generated by their 1.5 billion users; this disc medium is back in limelight. Blu-ray discs come with a lifetime warranty. That means, under prime environmental conditions, they are supposed to last quite a bit longer than CDs and DVDs. This is due to the fact that their recording ability results in more durable storage and may last a bit longer than their other disc cousins. But these drives are also susceptible to scratches, high-temperatures and sunlight.

M-Disc- This is an optical media storage disc solution that supposed to last for 1000 years, even in the face of environmental damage caused by scratching, high temperatures. While the M-Disc is new format introduced to the storage world, it can be used with any standard DVD to read information. But in case of writing, advanced technology has to be used to engrave the data into the advanced metal. Additionally, it is theoretically believed that this media will live for 1000 years. In practical, no one knows how long this media will really last. M-Disc details– The M-Disc is composed on chemically stable and heat-resistant materials that are not used on any other DVD or optical disc format. Data is engraved into the M-Disc by physically altering the recording layer and creating permanent pits or voids in the disc, preserving your files forever. Because of its permanent make-up, M-Disc is not affected by temperature, humidity, or sunlight. On the contrary, DVDs and optical drives use organic dyes that begin to fade and decay the moment you record your info, resulting in corrupt and unreadable data over time. The M-Disc has the storage space of a DVD i.e. 4.7GB and can store up to 8,000 photos, 240 minutes of video footage, or over 100,000 documents.

Hard disks- Most Hard drives last for more than 3-5 years before some component fails. So, almost all manufactures of hard drives offer a Mean -Time -Before -Failure time of 5 years. Drives which are targeted at home users may not live up to the said expectation. But enterprise drives usually last for the said life span.

Flash storage- Flash storage comes in 3 stages- flash drives, SD cards and Solid-State drives or shortly called as SSDs. There is a general notion that SSDs last for more than 10 years. But according to NYTimes, the lifespan of SSDs depends on the write cycles, which means the more you write and delete, the more quickly the memory in the device will start to degrade. Given the variety of manufactures, lifespan might differ quite a bit from one device to another, but flash memory devices rated for more write cycles will usually last longer.


While going for the storage media, do keep in mind that it is better to have a backup copy on hand and when needed. The other point is that the selection must be made based on the data value from business perspective, the rate at which it is accessed and the archival period. Then the money factor should be taken into account and a wise decision has to be made.




Magnetic tape and cassette tapes-10-20 years


Floppy disks-10-20 years


CDs and DVDs-5-10 years unrecorded; 2-5 years if recorded


Blu-Ray-2-5 years recorded


M-Disc- 1000 years


Hard drives-5-7 years


Flash storage- 5 to 10 years and depends on the write cycles.

9 thoughts on “How long does a data storage medium last?

  1. “Data is engraved into the M-Disc by physically altering the recording layer and creating permanent pits or voids in the disc, preserving your files forever.”

    Isn’t the same in CDs and DVDs?

  2. “Drives which are targeted at home users may not live up to the said expectation. But enterprise drives usually last for the said life span.”

    How can I distinguish them?

    1. Anders,

      HDD makers like WD and Seagate promote their products in such a way that you can easily make out whether they are for home or business use. As per my perspective, all business products can be used by home makers. But vice versa is not possible and that’s due to the fact that drives offered for home and business use differ when it comes to MTBF, endurance capabilities, work applications and so on. Also price factor can act as a bench mark in differentiating the products. Sometimes, HDD makers like Seagate and WD offer business products direct to businesses like cloud service providers. So, they do not promote the product much on commercial note. As their representatives visit various server farms and offer them the product sample. The best example is He filled drives which were offered to Amazon cloud by the makers on an exclusive note. By doing so, the maker expects a kind of certification filled endorsement from the cloud service provider. Then they will start promoting the product on a commercial note by doing press releases and will include the certifications given by the service providers. Businesses go with this certifications and then make a bulk purchase.

      1. How SeaGate distinguish the products? I own a SeGate HD, but could not see it being branded as home or business…

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