Advocating for Long-Term Digital Media Storage
February 23, 2012
When you’re considering archiving media, which formats are most likely to go the distance in terms of both time and value? The answers may surprise you.
Anyone who’s ever bought an eight-track tape deck knows it all too well: Media formats change over time, and vital information (not to mention the greatest moments of disco) may be left behind as technology evolves.
This issue hits close to home for the IT professional. Businesses face the challenge of maintaining records beyond a storage technology window that, depending on the particular format, can be as short as five years. That’s why you need to make a case—and commit to a budget—for a long-term digital media storage plan that’s set up to evolve along with changing technologies. The key objective: Keep up on constant infrastructure changes to your records management procedures without breaking the bank.
Paper Isn’t the Answer
Digital media format changes might motivate some to avoid the problem altogether by sticking with paper records. After all, the Gutenberg Bible hasn’t gone anywhere. But you don’t need a cost-benefit analysis to see how paper records can eat up your office space and your manpower. Worse, they’re just not searchable in the ways we’ve come to rely on in the Digital Age.
You also know that no matter what industry you’re in, this data explosion won’t abate anytime soon. Is your file room ready for the exponential growth of information?
Digital Archives: A Leading Role?
All media types available today—tape, magnetic disk and optical disk—have increased remarkably in capacity as prices have plummeted. This means that when you plan a long-term digital archiving solution, the volume of your information won’t necessarily be your toughest budget challenge.
Instead, IT managers talk a lot about “durability”—the amount of time you want or are required to keep data. Regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the business arena and HIPAA in health-related fields lay out strict and legally binding rules for records retention. That’s why durability matters. And don’t forget about accessibility: When an audit or legal discovery occurs, you must have on-demand access to archived records.
Which media is best? This is where you’ll find some true irony. CDs and DVDs may provide a 20-year home for your data—considerably longer than many other digital file formats, which offer a five- to seven-year life expectancy. So if your data-storage needs span beyond these estimates (and a host of regulations may all but ensure as much), you’ll need to tap into a more enduring solution.
A Technology Rewind
“Tape storage has been around longer than most people have been working in IT…yet tape continues to thrive,” says a recent report in Computer Technology Review®. And justifiably so. All it takes is a quick scan of tape backup’s best attributes to understand why it’s a worthwhile option.
Let’s go back to those three key criteria, durability, capacity and accessibility. “Tried-and-true tape” is actually on the cutting edge of low-cost, high-capacity archival storage, and it offers up to a 40-year lifespan. Offsite tape storage can be a cornerstone of a long-term digital media solution.
Tape remains the most cost-effective solution for archival materials. Industry watchers at the Santa Clara Consulting Group forecast that LTO tape cartridge sales will grow to a total of $720 million by 2015, while Enterprise Strategy Group says storage of digital archives to tape will increase sixfold between 2010 and 2015, to more than 81,000 petabytes (or 81 exabytes).
The Win-Win: Lower Cost and Longer Life
You’ll make your best case for a long-term digital media strategy by focusing on reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of your information management solutions. Startup costs, real estate, staff resources, utilities and maintenance all come into play. One shortcut to improved TCO is to team up with a trusted information management partner that can move much of your operation offsite and manage it professionally while delivering predictable and manageable costs. By doing so, you’ll avoid costly upfront capital purchases while drawing from the confidence that technological updates and format evolutions are part of the program. Meanwhile, you can adjust your storage capacities as you need them, and pay only for what you use.
For anyone accustomed to thinking only about the next quarter or the next year, being forced to think five, 10, 20 or 50 years down the line can seem daunting. But it doesn’t need to be. The solutions for long-term digital media storage are out there.
The Benefits of Strategic Long-Term Archiving
When you and a qualified partner develop a long-term archiving solution, it’s bound to pay off in ways you never considered. Benefits include:
- Lower total cost of ownership (TCO). You’ll reduce your technology, real estate, staff and maintenance overhead—especially as you move away from paper records.
- Power to the people. Reap the advantages of being able to redeploy staff and resources to tasks other than managing dusty records and data archived on disks and tapes.
- A small capital outlay. Turning to the pros lets you get started without a major infrastructure investment.
- Rapid recovery in case of a data disaster.
An assured upgrade path, which is ultimately the crux of the matter. Your goal is to guarantee that today’s records will be available for generations of employees.
Iron Mountain Suggests: A “Future-Proof Solution”
An offsite long-term archiving service eliminates equipment obsolescence and frequent buying cycles. A trusted partner will ensure that your data is stored on up-to-date technology. You’ll get:
- Centralized storage for better control of your records.
- Fast access. A good archiving service ensures rapid delivery of the archived files you need, no matter what media you use.
A scalable solution. Scaling an in-house system can easily take months for budget approvals and setup. With a trusted offsite partner, you get immediate access to additional capacity whenever you need it, for seasonal changes, long-term structural changes (such as mergers and acquisitions) or retention-policy changes.
Do you have questions about data backup and recovery? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.
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