We are all gathering and analyzing data as fast as we can, right? But what do we do with data when it is no longer needed? Two options: destroy it or keep it. Business, legal, regulatory and other mandates require digital record-keeping for certain time periods, which could be years or even decades. Other mandates, like the General Data Protection Regulation, require its removal when no longer needed. Keeping data indefinitely with the belief it might be needed again someday is not a viable option.
Data storage prices continue to decline, but it is increasingly pricey to allow data volumes to grow unchecked. Application performance can suffer, and humans can spend inordinate amounts of time searching for and retrieving specific and necessary information, which means more manpower or services costs. Retrieval costs can increase over time as data protection technology and media formats evolve.
Keeping data unnecessarily can have costly ramifications if an organization has the data but is unable to produce that data when requested for legal or regulatory reasons. And sunsetting an application with digital records that are subject to retention compliance requires technology and effort to retrieve and present those records in the proper context. The foundation for meeting these challenges is a digital information archive strategy.
Archives vs Backups
Though the terms “backup” and “archive” tend to be used interchangeably, they are not one and the same. Data protection is intended to restore data after some type of loss or corruption, such as the inadvertent deletion of files or folders. Ideally, the restoration is performed using the most recent backup, but some scenarios require an older backup to be recalled. Backups should be performed daily on all systems.
In contrast, archives are intended for digital record-keeping – to comply with business, legal or regulatory requirements that span a longer time period than what is needed for data protection. Archives often target a specific data type and purpose, such as email for discovery or document management with the ability to recall data to an active use state. Archives should include only required “records” in a specific format and should be created in a medium that is easy to retrieve and present. Typically, archives require less storage than the original data set.
Conflating the two and using backups for archiving purposes poses unnecessary risks and challenges. Here’s why:
- Backups do not always provide a "self-service" data retrieval model and may require specialized and centralized IT operational support. The ideal archive solution will support a self-service model.
- Backups tend to include other files or data that are not needed for discovery purposes and can become "noise" in the search process.
- If the required retention is years or even decades longer than the supported life of the backup media, hardware and software, then compatibility limitations may increase the difficulty and expense of retrieving data.
- Though a traditional backup may be capable of restoring data long after the application used to read and write it has been retired, it will not be able to present it in the same meaningful context that the application once did, rendering the data inaccurate – or even worse, misleading.
Protecting your digital information for the short term using backups and retaining digital assets with an archival solution has long been considered a best practice approach to digital information retention. And, while there are plenty of solutions on the market to address both, an enterprise must first do the work of defining critical requirements for its arrival strategy and then setting a policy that upholds those requirements. Only then will it make sense to choose a technology solution that serves its specific needs.
ISG can help enterprises sort out their data storage and archival needs and select technology to support them. Contact me to discuss further.
About the author
Jeb Guardiano is a Consulting Manager with ISG, supporting sourcing, strategy and assessment programs, and infrastructure and ADM transition and transformation initiatives for clients across industries. He brings more than 25 years of experience in technology delivery services, including IT infrastructure hosting and managed services with expertise in data and storage lifecycle management, and strategy and operations for data protection, backup, recovery and archiving. Jeb is a certified Project Management Professional.