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Email often starts the process

Most archives start small, and many begin with one type of data like email (see "What to archive: Different data types," below). IT decides it needs to control growth, so they go looking for a system that can stub out attachments or move data out of the Exchange server. Then the legal department demands a complete set of email messages for a litigation-related search. Later, records management needs to retain certain messages for compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley or other industry regulations.

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What to archive: Different data types
Although most business information is digital today, not all systems manage information equally. Manageability requires organization and structure, the ability to search for information and meta data to categorize content. We use these elements to classify data as structured, semi-structured or unstructured.

Structured applications are inherently organized, although the identification, description and relation between data can be highly customized. In the enterprise, structured databases are often core applications with specialized administrators managing the data and archiving.

Systems like email have some structure, but they weren't developed with information management in mind, and it shows. What structure they have is functional, designed to serve specific application needs rather than the higher goal of manageability.

Finally, there's the class of unstructured data that's so familiar in file systems. Although some basic systems are used to organize and describe these files, they can't be called truly structured as they lack information about their functional or organizational relationships.





Relational database

Email, medical images, document repositories

File servers, multimedia files


Highly organized with intrinsic interrelation

Moderately organized by meta data

Basic location and name "tree" organization

Meta data

Complex custom attributes

Some intrinsic attributes

Basic attributes and rarely used extended abilities


Built around query language

Keyword search and categorization by meta data

Third-party tools for search

This was first published in January 2009

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