Data backup versus data archiving


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Where to make the break
The combined process of backup and archiving served IT departments well up until the turn of the 21st century, but a change is needed. Record-retention regulations, such as HIPAA, require organizations to keep certain electronic business records, including e-mail, for specified periods of time. The increased scrutiny of corporate governance due to high-profile incidents involving Enron, ImClone and other major companies has compelled organizations to implement electronic records management programs to deter executive malfeasance, among other inappropriate activities.

As organizations were being required to retain more information, litigators and regulators began to target these formal data repositories, seeking a smoking gun for specific legal or regulatory matters under investigation. Recent changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (effective December 1, 2006) encourage organizations to produce more evidence in electronic format, creating a renewed urgency for organizations to keep data accessible in case a subpoena arrives.

Because backup and archiving were treated as one, IT departments probably didn't realize just how much of the same data they were copying repeatedly during the backup process. Backup solutions should be used for copying data from a primary storage system (or server) to a tertiary system. They enable IT to protect the primary copy of data from corruption, or to prevent data loss if the primary copy

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is accidentally or maliciously deleted. As backups get older, they become much more difficult to restore because the data is usually stored in larger data sets such as full monthly backups. Recovering large data sets is a slow and laborious process, so these backups should only be used in a worst-case scenario to recover data necessary to continue normal business operations. Worst-case scenarios are simply not appropriate for data retrieval for business sharing, electronic discovery and other scenarios.

Archived data needs to be searchable and accessible so that specific information and files can be found quickly. The key functions of archiving include setting parameters for how long the information should be retained, data permissions (who can access it, can it be altered, etc.) and where it should be kept. All of the functions create data attributes that can be indexed and used for search. The rich index created by archiving applications can find data quickly to respond to an electronic discovery or regulatory inquiry. An archiving application may also automatically identify duplicate content and store only the attributes of the copies, thus saving storage space.

When trying to rationalize splitting the archival and backup processes, organizations can take their lead from electronic discovery trends. On numerous occasions, regulators or litigators have turned up smoking guns within unmanaged, out-of-control backups. The Enterprise Strategy Group estimates that 46% of organizations have experienced an electronic discovery request in the past 12 months; the growing likelihood that a company will find itself on the receiving end of one of these actions has prompted IT departments and in-house counsel to find a better way to quickly locate relevant information. It costs approximately $2,000 to $3,000 to restore a backup tape and make it searchable, whereas an online archive has been indexed and is ready for attorneys to conduct keyword or other queries.

This was first published in December 2006

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