How to Avoid the Most Common Data Storage Pitfalls

When you keep copies of noncritical data in storage, you may end up searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack—only to find the wrong needle. Here’s how to get it right.

Many organizations use data replication to ensure they have constant access to their critical data. It’s a pretty straightforward process: In the typical system, identical copies of a record reside in multiple locations within the enterprise; regular updates keep them synchronized.

However, as is the case with many seemingly simple technology schemes, data replication comes with trade-offs. For example, this setup shows its weakness when you can’t find a file your legal department needs by 8 a.m. tomorrow for an audit by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). And what about the costs of storing nonessential files? You could waste time and money, and risk regulatory and legal scrutiny if your data replication strategy doesn’t deliver. Here’s how to avoid common pitfalls:

Know the Lay of Your Land

For starters, don’t jump into data replication or revamp existing processes without understanding how it all works. This may sound basic, but it’s worth stating. In many cases, a lack of technical documentation and the loss of corporate intelligence because of downsizing may make it seem easier to start from scratch.

However, starting from scratch isn’t so easy. Before making changes, inventory what data you’re currently duplicating and where you’re storing it; then assess its cost-effectiveness. For this last step, review bandwidth use, software costs, and the data’s impact on physical storage requirements. You also need to understand the duplication technology you’re using—is it asynchronous, semi-synchronous, or point-in-time replication? Each can affect everything from recovery performance to network speed.

Once you have the full picture, run tests to determine the outcome of “what if” data retrieval scenarios. Ask yourself:

  • Do we know where all of our data is located? Really?
  • How long will it take us to retrieve a specific file?
  • Can we respond to regulatory or court requests immediately?
  • How easy is it for someone to comb through all of those replicated data sets?

Not Planning = Planning to Fail

Another common data storage pitfall is adopting a “shovel” mentality. In this scenario, you’re likely replicating data and simply shoveling it onto back-room servers and tapes. To remedy this no-plan plan, first define what type of data you truly need to replicate (for example, financial records) and identify who’s authorized to access it. Then do a cost-benefit analysis to back up your recommendations.

Despite the temptation, don’t skimp on the planning phase. Replicating data that isn’t valuable or required to meet regulatory mandates can waste your company’s time and money, and may ultimately complicate data recovery. Think of it this way: The less data you need to wade through, the more quickly you can respond to regulatory and legal requests.

Consider an Offsite Tape Backup Strategy

Understanding the data replication landscape and having a plan are two keys to success. Another is to keep up with new or emerging technology—and offsite tape-based storage is one to watch. With offsite tape storage as part of your disaster recovery plan, you send your critical data to an offsite storage facility, which is typically operated by a third-party partner. Typically, the data is transported on removable storage media such as backup tape. Or it can be encrypted and sent electronically via a third-party remote backup service.

Trusted partners typically offer remote backup tape storage facilities located a safe distance from disaster-prone areas such as flood and earthquake zones. They can also provide tools that offer deep visibility in replicated data, so you can quickly and efficiently identify, restore and deliver it from backup media.

Test, Test and Retest

Once you’ve developed and refined a retention policy—and you’ve solicited buy-in from senior management—it’s time to ensure that all systems are go. Test and evaluate each step that occurs during storage data replication and retrieval, factoring in various disaster scenarios, such as system failures, natural disasters, and unnatural disasters. Testing is the best way to identify vulnerabilities and potential issues, and to ensure that critical data is there when you need it.

In the never-ending quest to make our jobs easier and to put technology to work for us, we often end up making things more difficult. But when you take the time to address these common storage mistakes, you’ll likely find ways to save time and money, while also gaining efficiencies for your data backup and recovery program.

Data Replication Tips

When it comes to offsite tape storage providers, choose your partner carefully, as you’ll want more than just storage and transport services. Look for:

  • A proven ability to quickly and effectively recover from any event, at any time, regardless of location.
  • Complete protection of your information, both in transit and when it’s stationary. This includes transport in secured vehicles and constant supervision by at least one vetted courier.
  • A streamlined process for identifying, restoring and delivering the information contained on each backup tape in your archive.

Iron Mountain Recommends

Here are a few questions to ask before signing on a with a data backup and recovery partner:

  • Does the facility store all materials in a secure, climate-controlled vault?
  • Has it installed redundant services (e.g., generators, emergency lighting) in case the power fails? Such features set a backup location apart from a simple basement or storeroom your company could host on its own.
  • Is the space clean and cool, and also shielded against unseen threats like magnetic waves and other less obvious potential problems? Can the provider guarantee fast data retrieval—and is it willing to stipulate service level expectations in writing?
  • How responsive is the partner’s customer service? Is there a 24/7 emergency response line? What is the chain of command in responding to your needs and requests?

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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