Data destruction: When data should disappear


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Sticking to the policy
Even with a data destruction policy in place, things can still go wrong. Intel Corp.'s recent antitrust case with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc. is an interesting example of how closely companies need to follow the letter of the law. The chip giant admitted in court that "it regrets the lapse in its retention practices" around preserving employee emails, a mistake that cost the company $3.3 million to process backup tapes to recover missing emails. Intel has turned over 30 million pages of potential evidence so far and expects to spend millions more on discovery.

The "lapses," which came to light in early March 2007, stem partly from the fact that Intel's email system automatically deleted emails after 35 days to 45 days if employees didn't take action to save them. This policy didn't take into account litigation-hold proceedings that require companies to keep all records relevant to legal action. AMD criticized Intel's policy for its "grim reaper" impact on evidence in the case.

"A litigation hold on document destruction will always trump your destruction policy," says L. Scott Oliver, partner with Pooley & Oliver LLP, a Palo Alto, CA-based patent litigation firm specializing in semiconductor and software companies. "You need to keep everything once a case begins as you won't know what data could be deemed discoverable."

This creates no end of problems for storage managers. "The legal folks say hold on to everything

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until we say not to anymore," explains Warner Bros. Entertainment's Shapiro. "But they never release the hold." For anyone involved in litigation at Warner Bros., Shapiro moves their mailbox and file shares to a separate server and performs a full backup of it every day. Those tapes are pretty much kept forever, he says.

Warner Bros. uses IBM Corp.'s Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) for backup. TSM works on an incremental forever approach rather than taking weekly full backups, which means that the servers under litigation must be managed separately. "We're constantly doing backups and buying more tapes ... the permanent holds are what's killing us," says Shapiro. He's protecting approximately 70TB on a daily basis and has used well over 1,000 LTO-3 tapes in the past six months.

The company has a 30-day retention policy for backups of all files and databases. It had been longer than that, but the number of tapes the company had to retain was overwhelming. "The 30-day rule has meant we can reclaim tapes," says Shapiro. Warner Bros. outsourced its email backup to Zantaz Inc. (recently acquired by Autonomy Corp. PLC) to clean up its PST problem, which spreads like poison ivy through IT departments. Warner Bros.' employees have a 150MB message store and an automated policy moves email into a system cleanup file after 90 days. It stays there for 30 days and if the users don't touch it, it's deleted. The policy seems to be working for now, says Shapiro, as long as the budget is there to keep buying more tapes.

Experts warn that stringent deletion policies can often lead to "underground archival," which is when employees use alternative storage media such as zip drives, thumb drives, CDs and DVDs to store data. "They [personally] save stuff, which is very dangerous from a legal standpoint," says Mark Diamond, president and CEO of Contoural Inc.

This was first published in August 2007

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