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[Expert's Opinion] Chairman, president and CEO of BroadBand Tower, Inc. Hiroshi Fujiwara

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What is the importance of data archives and what are the issues?

Dr. Hiroshi Fujiwara is one of the key persons whose name is always mentioned when discussing the history of Internet propagation in Japan. After working for IBM Japan, Hitachi Engineering and ASCII Corp., Dr. Fujiwara established Internet Research Institute, Inc. in 1996. Three years later, Internet Research Institute became one of the first companies to get listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Mothers Market ("Tosho Mothers"). Then, in 2000, Dr. Fujiwara founded BroadBand Tower, Inc. for the purpose of supporting further growth of Internet infrastructure in response to the advent of the era of broadband. The company was listed on the Hercules Market of the Osaka Securities Exchange in 2005. Dr. Fujiwara is presently chairman, president and CEO of BroadBand Tower.
He stands foremost among the entrepreneurs of venture businesses in the science and technology field, and continues to remain as a leading figure in the field of Internet in Japan. We asked Dr. Fujiwara about the potential of optical discs for data archiving.

Hiroshi Fujiwara

Born in 1954 in Fukuoka Prefecture. Graduated from the College of Science of Kyoto University (Department of Astronomy). Received Ph. D. in Engineering from Tokyo University. After working for IBM Japan and Hitachi Engineering, he joined ASCII Corporation in 1985. In 1996, he established Internet Research Institute, Inc. (IRI). Dr. Fujiwara is presently chairman, president and CEO of BroadBand Tower, Inc.

Internet services evolve to the third generation, enabling "things" to transmit information.

Technological innovations pertaining to Internet services were always brought about by the needs of users. The first technological innovation gave birth to "portal services," which I call the first generation of Internet services. Some of the representative companies that grew based on portal services are Amazon in the e-commerce business, Yahoo! in the information provider business, and Google in the search engine business.

The second generation of Internet was the "social network" generation in which users began transmitting information. Good examples of such service providers are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And now, the third generation of Internet is enabling "things" to transmit information. IoT (Internet of Things) is about to create an information transmission business model which does not require any involvement of people.

One of the intriguing things about the Internet industry is that even when a new generation of services emerges, companies engaged in the services based on the previous generations of Internet can still exist. New services are not created based on the negation of previous services, but they are a result of new ideas added to the existing technologies accumulated in the past. Thus, the industry has a multilayer structure.

Information transmitted through Internet varies widely. Some information is overwritten on a daily basis or in units of seconds, while some information needs to be stored for a certain time period or even semi-permanently. 

I am a heavy user of Facebook. Facebook retains "eternal memories" of each and every user. In my Facebook, my pictures and statements of several years ago are still stored. By viewing the past information, I can recall my memories of the distant past.

Could the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes have been predicted if data of the past 500 years had been stored?

Long-term archiving of information is becoming increasingly important year after year. Take earthquakes for example. Earthquakes have occurred frequently in recent years, but it is said that prediction of an earthquake is extremely difficult. That is understandable because there is not sufficient past data in the first place. During the early Heian period, a large earthquake called Jogan Earthquake took place in Japan. The magnitude of this earthquake was about the same as that of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, we know of this only by reading the ancient documents, and there is no accurate data left today. It is said that if the data of earthquakes that occurred in the past 500 years had been preserved, it might have been possible to have predicted the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. People are coming to realize the importance and significance of long-term archiving of information.

In recent years, the cost of storing information per unit area is decreasing at an incredibly high rate. In the datacenter business we are engaged in, the value of a datacenter is determined almost solely by the cost of land site. The closer the datacenter is to the center of a city, the higher the cost becomes. Conversely, the cost becomes lower for a datacenter located away from the central area, but convenience is compromised. However, by using optical discs capable of storing information in high density, the cost of land site can be absorbed, enabling a datacenter located at a convenient urban location to provide long-term data storage service at a low cost.

Therefore, Panasonic's optical disc technology is extremely critical technology for the Internet industry. I used the phase, "eternal memories," earlier, but I did not mean a sentimental feeling of nostalgia. As in the example of earthquakes I mentioned, data that may need to be reused in the future must be archived.

Long-term storage of data is required in various fields such as broadcast and medicine.

I am a member of the Broadcast Program Council of SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation. During one meeting, someone broached the idea of producing high-quality 4K content by utilizing past broadcast programs, and then it was decided to make a commemorative program on the wedding anniversary of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko using the old, original film.

The resolution of film is inherently very high, so there was no problem in creating 4K content from it. However, we discovered something interesting during the production process. We realized that the images of the streets of Tokyo recorded on film could be very useful reference materials for future city planning, including reconstruction of aged buildings. I believe these images will play an important role in the improvement of Tokyo in the future in preparation for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Such documentary data are rather scarce today. If images are left in the form of film, it is necessary to store them on optical discs for long-term archiving because film can undergo a chemical change. 

The fact that Panasonic's optical discs (Archival Discs) are a write-once media is an important point. Let me give you an example. We received a request for the production of a video of surgical operations from a hospital. This customer originally wanted to use the video as a training material for young surgeons. However, today, such videos can serve as evidence to prove that surgical operations were performed properly without medical malpractice. Optical discs by nature disallow physical alteration of stored data. It is impossible to falsify the image data stored on optical discs, so data recorded on optical discs can also serve as valuable evidence.

The needs for converting information on paper to digital data and archiving on optical discs will increase in the future, but the cost becomes an issue in doing so. Museums may be able to resort to public funds for such a project, but private companies and organizations must clear the cost issue first.

An Internet-utilizing approach that promotes the discovery of new usage styles by users themselves expands the demand for optical discs for data archiving.

What we need to do now is to develop business models. We must play our role in creating business models that make customers realize the benefits of converting unused information on paper to digital data and archiving them on optical discs. 

In those efforts, we should pay heed to the Internet culture. The Internet communication protocol, TCP/IP, consists of seven layers. As long as you follow the protocol, you can use Internet in any creative way. That is what Internet is all about. For example, you can use wireless or optical technology for the physical layer. The application layer can be used for e-commerce or search engine. What is important is that users can discover new and creative ways of using Internet on their own.

With regard to optical discs, we should create schemes that enable users to use discs in ways Panasonic or we never imagined before. Our company has formed a partnership with Panasonic for the sales of optical disc data archiving system. Panasonic has the DNA to listen attentively to the opinions of customers and reflect them in products. We hope to combine it with our Internet-utilizing approach, which is our expertise, in order to explore new users.

* This article is based on an interview held in May 2016.

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