I was recently asked a question about long-term data archives and the technology lifecycle. Many organizations are now or have been archiving data for long-term retention, driven by regulatory compliance or in many cases, lack of clear understanding of the legal requirements. For most, it has simply been easier to postpone making an informed decision by relegating some data to the status of archive. This situation can be attributed to many factors, among which is a lack of understanding about the value or nature of the data and the cost of storage, which is constantly dropping.
The issues we eventually run into are associated with the ability to access certain records many years later. Most of us are familiar with the fact that tape media has a substantial shelf life (15 to 30 years, depending on media type and manufacturers). However, do we ever stop to think about what hardware and software will be required 20 years from now to access data archived today? How many of us keep a 13-year-old copy of Windows 3.11?
Given the rapid evolution of tape technology, it is only normal that older media types become obsolete, much like LPs did for music or Beta for video. We store much more corporate data than our favorite records or movies can ever add up to and migrating large amounts of data can become a daunting if not impossible task. Petabytes of archived data are becoming a reality, and the need to seriously review how much data we archive and how long we keep it is no longer a luxury.
With the recent developments in the regulatory compliance arena, many organizations have focused on meeting those requirements through mass storage. The complexity of the various regulations has made it appear easier and cheaper in the short-term for organizations to treat all data equally, but many are now finding that they cannot indefinitely keep unceasingly growing amounts of data.
Clearly defined data retention policies have become essential and data lifecycle management must now be moved up on the list of priorities for organizations making use of large amounts of data. In addition, sufficient knowledgeable resources must be allocated to assist with the task of categorizing data based on value and regulatory implications. Subsequently, the cost of storing and, eventually, migrating large amounts of data from aging technology must be weighed against the cost of seeking expert legal council to help determine what REALLY needs to be kept from a legal standpoint. Simply moving data to "lower cost" storage does not address the issue and only postpones a decision while allowing the problem to grow larger everyday.
Some organizations may find it necessary to streamline their business processes to prevent the propagation of business sensitive data across multiple applications with varying data retention criteria. Without trivializing the exercise, long-term archiving of e-mail data might not be so critical if the application was forbidden for conducting activities related to legally sensitive business transactions.
Through clear understanding of data assets and the implementation of strict data lifecycle management programs, many organizations could dramatically reduce their requirements for long-term archives and costly, painful migration exercises. An organization has a lot to gain from a clear understanding of its corporate data and how it is used.
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About the author: Pierre Dorian is a certified business continuity professional for Mainland Information Systems Inc.