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Don't confuse archiving and backup

This commentary describes how archiving software and optical media can help you in developing a DR plan.

Graham Irving
Managing Director, K-PAR Archiving Software
Graham Irving joined K-PAR Archiving Software, Ltd. in May 2000 as the managing director. He has over twenty years of experience in the optical storage industry. Irving holds a B.Sc. degree in Computer Science from the University of Calgary (1981), and has been a member of several boards and panels, including the American National Standards Organization Optical Disk Committees, X3B11 and X3B11.1.

Laying a good foundation is the key to success for building a successful data storage solution.

Organizations are becoming more aware of the impact data loss can have on their businesses, but for many, there is still an ignorance of the ways this impact can be minimized. Companies are panic-buying storage media, but without giving sufficient consideration to what exactly they are trying to achieve. For some, this ignorance could at best result in the organization frittering away money on costly and inappropriate storage systems, whilst the worse case scenario could be devastating for a business.

Businesses know that they need to store their data. They've been doing it since records began! However, now that we are well and truly entrenched in the digital age, data storage has changed -- forever. Gone are the well-organized hard copy box file solutions, stored in safes and filing cabinets. The simple fact is that businesses are changing how they operate. And as such, these changes should be reflected in how business data is stored.

Every business knows the importance of storing data. But how many companies have given much more than a passing thought to what the impact would be on their operation if all of a sudden, this stored information was needed? Businesses are waking up to the need to have adequate storage mechanisms in place, thanks to a number of drivers.

Regulatory requirements are gradually weaving their way through and touching most industries. Take the finance sector, which has traditionally always had to retain a certain amount of transactional data. As this article was going to press, talks were underway as to how the finance sector could assist in the fight against global terrorism by storing more levels of customer data and monitoring account activity against predicted activity trends. Any irregularities can then be investigated further.

On the other hand, the health sector is being faced with a totally different set of circumstances. The British Medical Association (BMA) has raised fears that patients could end up in worse health through misdiagnosis as a result of data loss. The BMA is concerned that original medical records risk being mislaid or damaged as they are called upon by lawyers in the growing number of litigation cases.

Finally, there is the all important, obvious need for companies to have adequate storage mechanisms in place should the worst ever happen to their premises. As recent events in the U.S. have shown, company infrastructures can be destroyed within seconds. The human cost aside, any organization affected by the World Trade Center attacks that did not have an adequate data retrieval solution in place could now be out of business.

So, with the demand for storage solutions so high, why is it that still so many companies are getting it wrong? For many businesses, they see storage as an "add-on" and therefore are simply buying storage technology on a whim without thinking through what exactly they need.

Back to basics

First and foremost, before they even consider the different technologies and suppliers available, companies need to decide what their requirements are -- essentially, do they need a backup or an archiving solution? Having a clear understanding of what these terms mean, can go someway in helping a business develop the foundations for a sound storage solution.

Backing up data creates an exact mirrored copy of a company's information. It is very unlikely that this data will ever need to be retrieved. It is simply a "reserve" resource, should something happen to the original data. Backing up data is critical for companies. Its importance shouldn't be underestimated -- companies need to be backing up their network at least once a day. Backing up information need not be costly. Tape storage is invariably the most cost-effective solution, but should any of the data stored on tape need to be retrieved, it can be difficult and time-consuming.

Instead, data that is likely to be needed again should be archived. Archiving is essentially an intelligent form of backup -- logically placing information where it can easily be found and retrieved for future use.

Many companies are still confusing backup and archiving. They often believe that so long as they have a copy of the data somewhere, they'll be okay! One is temporary and the other is permanent.

Storing all company data on the network can be costly. Valuable storage space can be taken up with data which is rarely -- or unlikely -- to be accessed, and should the server go down, the chances are that, due to the sheer amount of information needing to be retrieved, the data will take a considerable time to restore. Every business knows that any network downtime can have a direct impact on the company's bottom line.

But using the most recent backup tape as an off-line storage solution isn't enough. Few people with basic IT skills will have either the patience or the technical capability to locate and find any single specific piece of information and are therefore likely to turn to an already over-stretched IT department for assistance.

Archiving software on the other hand simplifies the data storage and retrieval processes. Data archiving systems that encompass hierarchical storage management (HSM) offer a true solution to managing and storing data intelligently within a company.

The use of optical disk DVD-R, CD-R or WORM (write once read many) based storage media means that the data cannot be erased or changed in any way -- making it the ideal choice for organizations needing to store information for legal reasons. The disks can hold between 650M Bytes and 4.7G Bytes of data. But library systems that automate the loading of the disks mean that the storage capacity of an archival system can grow in line with the company's requirements to provide infinite storage capacity.

An archiving solution enables companies to take a tiered approach to their data needs:

  • Live data can be stored on hard disk and is therefore readily accessible.
  • Data that is infrequently accessed is stored in an optical library
  • Data that is rarely accessed is stored off line but still managed as part of the overall archiving solution.

Archiving data using optical media ensures that data is stored near online, thus freeing up valuable disk space for "live" working documents. As well as taking the pressure off the server, storing information off-line, can also ensure that it is protected, should the worst happen to the server or network.

We advise people to back up their archiving server as part of their backup strategy. If this isn't done, it could prove time consuming to rebuild the complete system from the disks. Every disk would need to be loaded and the information read which can take a long time.

Should any specific piece of information need to be retrieved, archiving software will direct the user to where the information is being held, so that they can retrieve it easily (often without any knowledge as to whether or not it is online or near online!).

Taking this a step further, some archiving solutions, such as K-PAR's Archimedia, ensure that every individual disk has its own specific file system index. This means that users can read the data stored on the disk independently of the archive network. This is an ideal means of accessing data quickly if the network is down.

Archiving gives organizations greater control over their data. For instance, in the case of a large organization, archive management software could enable them to operate a departmental storage system, with each department being given a specified amount of storage on a system that caters to the company as a whole. If the organization has many sites, the archive software can be incorporated within the company's intranet, thus making storage and retrieval simple and consistent across the organization. Having a company-wide, consistent approach to storage doesn't only make data storage and retrieval easier, but it can result in a more streamlined and efficient network.

Take a step back

With so many organizations now re-evaluating their storage/recovery plans, it is important for users not to let themselves be rushed into purchasing the latest all-singing-and-dancing solution. Instead, they should take a step back and think about the reality of their business needs -- both now and in the future. Getting the planning right from the start will lay the foundations for a cost-effective, secure storage solution. But, don't leave it too late!

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