Deep beneath the icy grip of the Arctic tundra lies a revolutionary data vault: the Arctic World Archive (AWA). This isn’t your ordinary server farm. Instead of humming machines and relentless heat generation, the AWA is a disused coal mine. The facility cradles humanity’s digital heritage, from cultural artifacts to critical code to essential preservation data, ensuring our digital legacy endures for future generations

The Arctic World Archive: Everything There Is to Know

The AWA data vault stands in stark contrast to traditional methods like cloud storage, external hard drives, and flash drives, all susceptible to failure or obsolescence within a few decades.  

Unlike traditional methods with limited lifespans, Piql film offers a secure way to store invaluable data for centuries, well beyond our life span. The AWA offers a long-term solution, safeguarding our digital heritage for future generations. Find out how it utilizes Piql film, a groundbreaking storage medium that encodes digital information for long-term data storage, potentially lasting over 1,000 years.

What is the AWA?
The Arctic World Archive (AWA) is a data vault designed for long-term archival storage of digital information. Located in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago near the North Pole. As medium, it uses Piql film, a technology that encodes data onto photosensitive film with a lifespan said to exceed centuries, a significant leap compared to traditional storage media.
Who is involved?
AWA is run by Piql, a for-profit company from Norway (originally Cinevation). Anyone can store data for a fee: individuals, museums, governments, large companies. Pricing varies depending on the amount of data and storage duration (individuals vs. corporations seeking long-term storage).
Why does it matter, anyway?
AWA was created to preserve humanity’s digital heritage for future generations. The goal is to safeguard against data loss due to technological obsolescence or human error. This naturally frozen environment also offers superior protection against data loss compared to traditional methods, as it isn’t vulnerable to natural disasters like fires or floods. It offers an additional layer of disaster recovery security.
How does it work?
Data is converted into binary code and then encoded onto Piql film using a photosensitive layer (similar to how film captures light). The film is stored in specially designed piqlBoxes for protection. The challenge now lies in enabling future generations to decode the film, even without the original technology.
The AWA uses nature in favor of preserving its precious hardware.

The AWA uses nature in favor of preserving its precious hardware.

What makes the AWA so audacious? 

It’s all about defying the ever-changing nature of technology with a two-pronged strategy:

  1. Location, Location, Location: Svalbard boasts permafrost, a layer of ground eternally frozen, offering a naturally cool and stable environment – a stark contrast to data centers constantly battling overheating servers.
  2. Future-Proofing Data: Forget the limitations of magnetic tapes and hard drives with their built-in obsolescence. The AWA utilizes Piql film, a groundbreaking technology that encodes data onto photosensitive film. With a staggering shelf life exceeding 1,000 years, Piql film is a true champion of archival longevity.
  3. Data Security: Crucially, the AWA’s stored offline nature offers superior protection against disasters compared to online storage solutions vulnerable to cyberattacks or outages.

But don’t just take our word for it! Dive into this interview by NBS to witness their incredible film technology in action:

Real-World Impact: Preserving More Than Memes

The AWA isn’t just about safeguarding your vacation photos (although, we can’t deny the historical significance of documenting the ever-popular grumpy cat!). Here are some of the invaluable treasures entrusted to its care:

  • A treasure trove of open-source code from Github: This ensures that future programmers have access to the building blocks of the software that shapes our digital world today. A staggering 21 terabytes of data, including modeling systems, apps, and website designs, were transferred from Github back in 2020 – requiring a whopping 186 rolls of film.
  • Cultural artifacts of immense significance: National Geographic documentaries, the irreplaceable languages of Brazilian indigenous tribes, and even the very foundation of Mexico’s legal system – the Mexican constitution – all find a safe haven within the AWA’s walls.
The crew at AWA has priceless information to maintain.

The crew at AWA has priceless information to maintain.

A Glimpse into the Technological Frontier

But from a technical perspective, how does the Arctic World Archive daringly change Data Storage? Well, it disrupts traditional data storage in 3 different ways.

#1 From Magnetic to Photosensitive#2 Long-term Thinking vs. Planned Obsolescence#3 Hardware-Centric Security
  • Traditional data storage relies on magnetic or electrical properties of physical media (hard drives, tapes). These degrade over time and become unreadable within decades.
  • The AWA utilizes Piql film, a revolutionary approach. Data is converted into binary code (1s and 0s) and then encoded onto a photosensitive layer similar to traditional photographic film.
  • This method boasts a shelf life exceeding 1,000 years, a significant leap compared to magnetic media.

data storage

  • Modern technology thrives on constant innovation, often rendering existing hardware and software obsolete within a few years.
  • Traditional data storage solutions often require frequent migration to newer formats to prevent data loss due to obsolescence. This process can be complex and costly.
  • The AWA takes a long-term approach. Piql film offers a future-proof solution, potentially lasting for centuries. While the technology used to create the data might be long gone, Piql is actively researching methods for future generations to decode the film itself.


  • Traditional data security relies on complex software and encryption protocols, vulnerable to hacking and potential software vulnerabilities.
  • The AWA takes a hardware-centric approach. The data itself is encoded onto the Piql film, making it inherently more secure and less susceptible to hacking compared to digital storage solutions.


Nicknamed the 'Doomsday Archive', AWA brings hope of endurance beyond the unforeseeable future

Nicknamed the ‘Doomsday Archive’, AWA brings hope of endurance beyond the unforeseeable future

8 Lessons from the AWA for Software Teams: A Multifaceted Approach

The Arctic World Archive offers valuable insights for software teams across various departments – from business and product strategy to engineering and customer success. Let’s explore how:

Business & Product

  • Long-Term Vision: The AWA demonstrates the power of long-term thinking. Software teams can benefit from planning for the future, not just the next release. Consider how your product can evolve and adapt to changing technologies and user needs over a longer timeframe.
  • Focus on Data Preservation: The AWA prioritizes data longevity. Software teams can explore building features that allow users to easily export and archive their data in a future-proof format, providing long-term value and user trust.

attract customers

Software Engineering

  • Hardware Agnostic Solutions: The AWA’s reliance on Piql film, a hardware-centric approach, inspires software teams to consider solutions that are less dependent on specific hardware or operating systems.
  • Prioritizing Future Compatibility: By ensuring Piql film can be decoded in the future, the AWA emphasizes the importance of future compatibility. Software teams can adopt practices like using open-source formats and well-documented code to ensure their work remains accessible and usable over time.


Customer Success

  • Focus on User Needs: The AWA caters to a diverse range of users, from individuals to large companies. Software teams can learn to identify and cater to the specific needs of different user groups within their customer base.
  • Data Ownership & Transparency: The AWA empowers users to preserve their data. Software teams can prioritize user ownership and transparency around data storage and usage. Providing clear explanations on how data is stored and secured builds trust with users.


Additional Considerations

  • Sustainability: The AWA’s reliance on natural cooling highlights the importance of sustainable practices. Software teams can explore ways to minimize their product’s environmental impact by optimizing code efficiency and energy consumption.
  • Documentation: The AWA’s need for future generations to access information underscores the importance of detailed documentation. Software teams should prioritize clear, well-maintained documentation explaining code, functionality, and user workflows.

environmental planning

By taking inspiration from the AWA’s innovative approach, software teams can build products with greater longevity, user focus, and environmental responsibility.

Building software with long-term vision requires a skilled team. Ubiminds, a talent-as-a-service company, connects you with top software engineers in Latin America who share these values. Ubiminds integrates them into your remote teams, boosting performance. Leave a contact request below to hire problem-solvers to build software that endures!

The AWA: A Pioneering Force in Digital Archiving

All in all, the AWA’s innovative approach to data storage sparks intriguing questions about the future:

  • How will future civilizations access this data? Piql is actively researching methods for future generations to decode their film, even if the technology that created it is a distant memory.
  • Can the AWA withstand unforeseen threats? While the location offers protection from natural disasters and political unrest, what about unforeseen events like an asteroid strike? Only time will tell.

The Arctic World Archive stands as a testament to human ingenuity. By combining cutting-edge storage solutions with a geographically blessed location, the AWA offers a glimpse into a future where our digital legacy transcends the limitations of current technology. Whether it’s code, cultural heritage, or even the occasional cat video, the AWA ensures these fragments of our history have a fighting chance of surviving for centuries to come.


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