Andrew Brown asked to see the echocardiogram of his ticker, which was taken eight years ago. He was told that although the scan is still on file in the Worcestershire Royal hospital, it will cost a couple of grand to recreate the data as an image because it is stored in a format that can no longer be read by the hospital's computers.But looked at more closely below the fold we see that it isn't so simple.
First, the expense comes not from needing to migrate the format, but to migrate the media, because the image of the patient's heart is stored on:
a magneto-optical disc (MOD) drive. Philips UK no longer has that particular disc drive in stock because it is out of production, so it would have to buy one in from America. The manufacturer quoted a price of £2,000 to the trust as the cost of sourcing this MOD unit.In other words, the problem arose because the hospital didn't bother to migrate its image files off a medium, MOD, that was obviously doomed long before 2004. Although The Register claims that:
the scan is stored in a DSR-TIFF format that is only readable by a specific build of Philips Xcelera software,I am not convinced that even if the bits could be retrieved they couldn't be rendered. A quick Google search reveals many software products that claim to be able to read DSR-TIFF image files, such as this one. And, in any case, the hospital doesn't claim that they can't be rendered, only that:
We do have the visual data on file but the cost of generating an image from what is now obsolete technology is not a cost-effective use of public money.As usual, the issue about digital preservation isn't whether it can be done but whether we can afford to do it.
Black vs. white arguments about format obsolescence are misleading. They typically assume that the funds to prepare for the uncertain possibility of future format obsolescence are unlimited. In practice, the more you spend per byte preparing for the possibility that the format will go obsolete, the fewer bytes you can preserve. The bytes you don't preserve are almost certain to be lost. The bytes you preserve complete with elaborate format metadata are quite likely to be lost for reasons other than format obsolescence. Even if they survive and the format does go obsolete, it is very likely that the format metadata will not help.