Best Practices: The ultimate archiving challenge


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Current limitations
Just as IT managers focused on backup without requisite attention to recovery for many years, long-term archiving has traditionally been performed without sufficient consideration to retrievability. In the past, technology and cost constraints often made effective, long-term data retention prohibitive, leading to the loss of such critical electronic data as the NASA moon landing tapes. As times changed, it became more practical to retain data, first on tape and later on disk. In many organizations, the approach was to save everything, primarily via backup, resulting in thousands of tapes with no practical means of retrieving information. In this state, retained data is of little or no value; however, its very existence represents a potentially huge liability, thus leading to the next phase of the evolution of data archiving: indexing.

Typically beginning with email, firms are investing in hardware and software that enables them to not only save data but index it. But before selecting a technology, it's critical to understand the actual drivers and proposed use for long-term retention, and to cultivate a strong awareness of the limitations inherent in the current generation of solutions. With the rush to address legal and regulatory concerns, some organizations have bypassed business-driver, policy and cost-risk analyses, and moved directly to technology selection. They may experience a serious case of buyer's remorse in a few years.

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With archiving, more so than with other data management functions, lack of planning and poorly understood requirements have particularly far-reaching consequences. The combination of long retention periods and current technology design traits for hardware and software can make it extremely difficult (and often cost prohibitive) to migrate data, resulting in a de facto product lock-in.

Content-addressed storage (CAS) devices have been adopted by some as a preferred target device for archival data. Features like single-instance store and guaranteed immutability through WORM are among the benefits of CAS. But current CAS storage formats are proprietary and, with some CAS solutions, the only way to access data is via the vendor's API. As a result, unlike traditional storage devices where data can be migrated at a file or LUN level, migration from CAS may require the export and then re-import of all of those years of email or other data; in a worse-case scenario, it may even mean moving the data through the original email archiving app and then out to another device.

This was first published in July 2007

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