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Tracking regulatory requirements for data retention is tough enough, but restoring data from long-term archives is likely to be even harder.


Some legislative requirements mandate that data be kept for as long as 70 years--that's the easy part. Having to restore a 70-year-old file is the hard part.

Twenty years ago, mainframe backups were done on nine-track, 1-inch tape, while PC backups were likely put on 5.25-inch floppies or audio-cassette tapes. Trying to read any of those media today would be difficult, even assuming the media hadn't deteriorated past readability.

Besides obvious issues like the device and removable media used for archiving, the data format used by the backup program and the format of the data itself, there are additional issues such as the usable lifespan of the media, the necessary keys for any encrypted data and--a really big one--the ability to find the name of the data file you want. If that's not enough to discourage you, you may also have to discover where the archive is stored and what specific piece of media actually holds the file.

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This was first published in October 2006

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