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Using a backup program to create archive files isn't a good idea, because trying to find specific information in backups is costly and time consuming.

A bottle of grape juice left on a shelf long enough will ferment, but no one would call it wine. Similarly, it's possible to restore data from old backups, but no one should call them archives. Simply put, backups make lousy archives.

Archives are for the logical retrieval of information; that is, to retrieve information grouped in a logical way. For example, with archives you can store reference data such as:

  • The CAD drawings, parts lists and other manufacturing information for a widget your company used to make
  • All of the information pertaining to a former customer
  • All information related to a closed project, account, law case, etc.
  • Tax returns, financial records or other records for a particular year
In other words, information that can be grouped in a logical way can be archived and stored so a company can retrieve it based on that logical grouping. Once a widget is no longer produced, a case is closed or a tax year has passed, the information pertaining to that event or item just takes up space. We might need to reference it again for some reason, but we don't want it filling up high-end storage, so we archive it and delete it from our Tier-one storage.

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The second way archives manifest themselves is in the logical storage of active data. Suppose, for example, it was discovered that a critical safety part was removed from a particular widget's design. It would be important to see every version of the specification, along with information about who changed it. And what about the common practice of electronic discovery of e-mail systems? Think about the discovery requests that can occur when someone in management is accused of harassment or discrimination, a trader is accused of promising financial returns or a company is charged with colluding with its competitors. Such accusations may result in e-discovery requests that look like the following:

  • All e-mails from employee A to employees B, C and D for the last year
  • All e-mails and instant messages from all traders to all customers for the last three years that contain the words "promise," "guarantee," "vow," "assure" or "warranty"
  • All e-mails that left a company going to domains X, Y and Z, or to certain specific e-mail addresses

This was first published in September 2006

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