A Fresh Look at Managing the Cost of Long-Term Archives

Topics: Data Archive | Offsite Tape Vaulting

By Michele Hope

Many organizations find themselves in the position of storing large quantities of data for two, seven or even 50 years after this data was first created. For these companies, the associated cost of long-term archives is a budget item that cannot be ignored for long.

Until recently, nearly all IT departments used backup data as their primary, referenceable, archive 'copy' of their data. Since someone could not easily tamper with this copy, it became legally defensible. What it is not, however, is easily accessible. Nor are its contents truly searchable until after the data is restored.

Technology to the Rescue?

To better manage their long-term archives, many enterprises have invested in technology to make their archive data more accessible.

Email archiving and journal archiving, which retain original copies of emails sent and received, have become a strong defence against litigation. However, these approaches often fail to address data that existed prior to their implementation. For that, organizations often still resort to earlier backup data as their archive.

To reduce the cost of storing too much legacy data on costly primary disk, some organisations have opted to archive all legacy data on their networks. Beyond reducing costs of storage, this approach can reduce wastefulness when the data is not being accessed. It can also reduce the risk of potential data corruption or tampering.

This approach offer a better handle on the quantity and quality of data stored. It can also help organizations prepare for its long term storage and future technology migration. Despite its benefits, however, questions still remain: How can an organization successfully migrate old archive copies to new formats and software? Should they even attempt it?

Hoarding Data Is Easy, But Finding It Is Hard (and Expensive)

When it comes to long-term archiving, the real challenge comes from using legacy backup tape as an archive. Here, two key issues emerge: Tape-based backup data is not easily searchable. It also can use more than one older generation of media.

Before the contents of backup data can be effectively searched or accessed, it must first be restored. Access to the data must then occur through the catalog created by the software that originally wrote the data to tape. This process is in stark contrast to one's ability to search files or messages online or in a digital archive.

Beyond search, older generations of backup media pose another potential roadblock. LTO technology is only backward-read compatible two generations. For archives spanning 16 years or longer, prior tape generations (and many other widely used formats) may need to be considered.

Added to these issues is the fact that companies spend too long trying to find data in response to a sudden eDiscovery or legal preservation request. This leads to skyrocketing costs when IT teams, unfamiliar with eDiscovery or the nuances of older backup formats, must now search for data in legacy data sets.

According to a survey commissioned by the Civil Justice Reform Group, this translates into one startlingly high, variable cost that enterprises do not often consider when they budget for the price of long-term archives. Up to 90 percent of total legal preservation costs come from non-legal employees attempting to locate data in response to litigation holds.

Is there a better way to manage the cost of long-term archives?

Tape Systems and the Cost of DIY

As organizations have started to take smarter approaches to what they archive and how they do it, variable costs remain a sore spot for any company budget that manages the ongoing cost to archive less-frequently-accessed legacy data. Even as organizations move away from tape as their primary backup/recovery method, many still rely on tape storage as the most cost-effective tool for the long-term retention of aging and less-frequently-accessed data, according to Forbes.

Herein lies another hidden cost of long-term archives. In their efforts to address the needs of legacy tape and legacy tape systems, organizations that no longer use tape for primary backup still find themselves using data center floor space and maintaining software and hardware licenses. This allows them to support older tape silos that are needed for occasional restoration. Unfortunately, IT organizations that decide to decommission such systems in order to make way for more modern IT infrastructures face a new cost factor. These enterprises must figure out a way to avoid the price of recreating now-costly older systems themselves in order to access their now-outdated data sets.

Getting a Handle on the Variable and Often-Hidden Costs of Long-Term Archives

The variable and DIY costs identified above are not often added to the monthly or annual cost to manage long-term archives, but they should be. Instead, such costs are often embedded in other departmental budget line items. While some are included as a healthy part of a legal budget, others are incorporated into the budget for IT systems and infrastructure. Then, there is the ongoing cost for related services, such as offsite tape vaulting.

When calculating the price of managing long-term archives, these separate costs can add up quickly. As such, companies with a strong eye toward good corporate governance and wider corporate savings should tie such costs together more holistically. It might also be time to explore other options. Among them are new, OpEx-based managed services that help contain a company's cost of storing, managing and restoring legacy tape data.

Such managed services now combine the benefits of secure, offsite tape vaulting with restoration services. For a predictable cost, many such services offer repeatable, auditable and defensible processes that guarantee secure storage and searches/retrievals according to a company's predefined retention rules and service-level agreements.

Such services let IT keep doing what it does best while it relies on expert services to quickly locate and restore specific data in the archives. Costs are fixed, not variable. Enterprises can even decommission legacy systems without fearing they'll be needed later.

Can organizations use such services to minimize their own variable costs and eliminate DIY overruns? If so, these emerging services may warrant further investigation. Learn more about how to effectively store and access your data in our Restoration Assurance video.

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