Whilst the benefits of the next generation data storage technology are obvious and plentiful, the potential for valuable historical data to be rendered inaccessible remains a significant and increasing threat that all organisations must address.
The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), through its Data Management Forum has profiled a serious issue surrounding the long-term storage of digital information. This initiative, called the 100-year archive, asks what it would take to retain data for extended periods. The Long Term Archive and Compliance Storage Initiative looks at physical and logical challenges to data preservation, especially in the light of eDiscovery mandates by lawmakers the world over.
Even a recent call from the founder of the internet himself, Vinton Cerf, implores organisations to act now to preserve our data for future generations. Throw into this whirlpool the increasing regulatory and legislative pressure from governments world wide to ensure continued access to growing archives of legacy data and information, the question beckons of what really are the options for compliance and ensuring continued access to data when data storage technology changes?
In a nutshell:
1. Migrate all archived, backup and legacy data to the current/new storage technology of choice each and every time data storage technology is upgraded.
2. Retain and maintain legacy data storage technology in house in order to restore data when required.
3. Do nothing and risk loss of data and possible legal consequences into the future.
4. Don’t upgrade data storage technology
In order to keep pace with burgeoning data growth through adoption of more cost-effective data storage technologies, this means periodically upgrading your existing storage platform. Don’t let the menace of how to ensure continued access to your historical data deter or intimidate you from taking advantage of the efficiencies and cost benefits of new technology.
While the first two of these options sound feasible in theory, in reality both options can be incredibly expensive, labour intensive, resource intensive, impractical and unreliable. For these reasons it is imperative to consider some important questions to ask when faced with this dilemma:
Do you have the time or budget to migrate your entire data holding from one storage technology to another on a regular basis?
With current trends and new technology adoption patterns, this could mean total legacy data migration as often as every 18-24 months or so, which is not only a very expensive and costly exercise, but totally unnecessary. What a waste of time, money and resources if the data isn’t required for restoration for perhaps 10 years or more, (or possibly ever) – you could have already paid for it to be converted several times already by this stage.
Who is going to maintain each type of storage technology and equipment in house? Many organisations just don’t have the manpower or the headcount to implement this option internally. Keeping a library of retired technology means the personnel responsible for the equipment must not only have the skills and interest to maintain each piece of hardware over long periods of time, but that they must also be able to use it correctly when the need arises. Regular audits and restorations using all types of the retired storage technology would need to be implemented and tested to ensure the system works when required. From experience, most organisations (large and small) need their IT and data teams to focus on the challenges of today rather than those of the past.
What happens if there are personnel changes within your organisation – will the transfer of knowledge be lost in the handover? As an example, how many people could you employ today that have the experience to manage and operate redundant technology such as a 9 track magnetic tape drive or an old ¼” QIC tape drive? Probably very few, if any. As equipment gets older, the knowledge of how to use and maintain it also disappears with it very quickly. Access to spare parts becomes close to impossible when the original vendor no longer supports the product you are using. Even if you could buy a used unit on eBay, would you know how to make it work again?
Don’t forget the software. Don’t make the mistake of thinking “I’ve got an old tape drive in the store room so therefore I can read the data from that particular type of tape cartridge”. If you don’t have the correct software applications or operating system to read the data, extract the data and convert the data to newer technology, then there is little point. How will you get the data from one machine to the other? It isn’t always as simple as it may first appear. At a very basic level, an example is having an old WordStar word processing document on a 5 ¼” floppy disk originally written under PC DOS 5.0 on an IBM PC/XT. How can you access the information contained within that file using the Windows Vista laptop sitting on your desk today? Not only does the old 5 ¼” floppy not fit into the laptop, but it is unlikely that the software you have on your laptop would read the file even if you could load the storage device.
Do you have the floor space in your data centre to accommodate the retired storage equipment? Most data centres have high operational expenses, and with floor space at a premium, and sometimes charged by the square metre, is it practical to take up a portion of your data centre with rarely-used, dust-collecting, aging relics of storage technology?
How efficient would it be?
Given that you decide to retain legacy equipment in-house, how long would it take to restore the data – particularly if a large volume was required? Could it be done quickly, efficiently and reliably?
The emerging trend:
As a result of the increase in regulatory compliance and legislative requirements in recent years, an alternative and much more feasible option for many organisations is to entirely outsource this problem -data and all. Specialist organisations are emerging who can offer guaranteed access, on demand, to these infrequently required but important data assets in time to meet strict audit deadlines.
They can provide data on call services whereby data can be quickly and correctly restored from any media type and from any data format, converted and then output in any format and to any specified media type. These services can be provided at a fraction of the cost it would require to either migrate the entire data holding or manage it in house, and are performed quicker and more efficiently due to economies of scale and the organisation’s expertise in the legacy technologies.
A legacy data holding can be stored off site in a secure and purpose-built data vault, with access to the information offered on a variety of service level options depending on the restoration turn around required; the type of data and media involved, among other factors. Data can be restored and converted on an as-needed basis, and then delivered either directly to your desktop via secure file transfer over the internet, or out put to disk or tape for secure delivery, depending on the requirements and urgency.
Organisations offering these specialised data on demand restoration services not only provide cost effective solutions to the immediate dilemma of data access, but can also provide a whole range of additional services which can give you greater cost efficiencies and competitive advantage. These include services such as data segregation, de-duplication, backup, validation, compression and enhancement prior to the output of the restored data. The ability to impart and offer guidance on the vulnerabilities of various types of aging technology, the recommended life spans of media cartridges, correct storage procedures, not to mention the ability to provide regular data audits and test restores can prove invaluable to an organisation in the protection of its data assets for the future.
Think about it………. more room in the data centre, personnel and resources freed up to concentrate on and be allocated to current projects, quick, worry- and hassle-free access to data when required, not to mention the economic and value added benefits. Throw into the mix the list of value added benefits and strategic advice which these organisations can provide based on years of experience, then why would you consider any other option? Upgrade your data storage technology today and let the experts take care of your archived and historical data access requirements.