Should It Stay or Should It Go? 10 Steps to Leveraging Data on a Tape Backup System

Topics: Healthcare IT Management

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Backing up all of your company’s information and storing it on inexpensive tapes in perpetuity might seem like a foolproof approach to backup and recovery. But have you considered the time and resource benefits of a truly strategic retention plan?

You Can Have it All…But Do You Want It?

To develop a solid tape retention policy, you’ll need to know:


  • Which information is truly vital, and what’s ultimately expendable
  • Regulatory and/and legal requirements relevant to all or some of your data
  • Which assets are best suited for tape backup
  • What data reside on which tapes

Are you the “information retentive” type? Probably not, as per a recent Iron Mountain Information Management survey. According to its findings, only 17 percent of companies polled have a formal retention policy for destroying data once it’s no longer relevant to their core business or operational needs. What’s more, 25 percent of those polled say that keeping everything is easier than picking and choosing what to get rid of.

More than likely, tape is a core component of these companies’ data backup and recovery plans. In fact, the September 2010 Aberdeen Group® report “Off-Site Storage and Computing: Keys to Successful Disaster Recovery” reported that 75 percent of all Best-in-Class and Industry Average organizations are still using tape. And when you consider the low cost of tape backups, it makes perfect sense.

However, if you’re relying heavily on an economical tape backup system, another question arises: Do you just back up everything because it’s inexpensive to do so? If the answer is yes, why not consider selective retention, based on your records’ core business or operational value?

Compliance Compels Efficiencies

Federal and state regulations, everyday legal activities, and emerging technology threats all factor into how businesses decide which types of information to retain and destroy. It’s hard to believe that at one time they simply tossed documents of uncertain value in order to protect the organization and streamline discovery. That logic doesn’t fly today in the face of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and other state and federal regulations. Even the lowliest email is a potential discovery document—and there are stiff consequences for noncompliance.

Given these realities, your business may opt to “keep it all.” But when you’ve committed every last record to tape and you’re struggling to find a specific piece of information, you create an ironic situation: If you’ve saved everything with compliance in mind, slogging through all that data seriously slows your response time to, say, a subpoena, audit or compliance review.

The net effect: Regulatory compliance and litigation have reshaped the corporate landscape. Businesses now feel pressured to ramp up their storage capacities, given the explosion of data in formats ranging from traditional sources to newer data sources such as email, social media and Web 2.0 applications. Instead, shed unneeded information regularly based on the guidelines in a formal retention policy. Otherwise, you run the risk of finding your business in the same boat as 14 percent of respondents in an Iron Mountain survey, who reported that they “periodically run out of storage space” and are “forced to reactively delete information without a formal policy to follow.”

Instead, follow these steps toward developing a viable tape-based retention plan for your business:

1. Get to know your data. Unless you understand your company’s records, you won’t know what to protect and for how long. What type of information drives your company? What’s needed to get your business up and running after a disaster?

2. Learn your compliance obligations. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and various state regulations provide guidelines that can prove valuable as you build a retention strategy.

3. Orient yourself with discovery obligations. Have your legal department provide guidelines for employees to clarify the rules of discovery and the likely material needed for a discovery—as well as how to retain it.

4. Assess risk. A formal risk analysis will help you better understand what data is vital and where your vulnerabilities lie. Then you can adopt an easier-to-manage approach.

5. Establish and enforce a rigorous backup schedule. Though daily backups are time-consuming and sometimes fall prey to poor scheduling, they’re critical to your organization’s overall health. You can recycle tapes used for daily backup once the weekly backup is completed—and the same goes for weekly tapes once you’ve run your monthly backup. From there, more permanent retention guidelines come into play.

6. Record and catalog tape contents. That makes it easier to go back and find data, and to determine what can be destroyed later.

7. Establish a selective destruction schedule. Regular purging of your backup tapes removes extraneous information that can impact your retrieval times.

8. Share your short- and long-term retention policy. Spelling out information retention and disposition guidelines for your employees can curb unintentional deletions. In addition, make sure everyone understands the proper handling and storage of tape and other backup media.

9. Re-create archived tapes. Tapes don’t last forever, even when properly maintained in an environmentally sound environment. Plus, changing technology creates new ways to access and retrieve data. This said, plan to re-record information stored on archived tape to new tape media every 10 to 15 years.

10. Team with a trusted partner. When you back up data carefully and regularly, chances are you won’t have the storage facilities necessary to store tape onsite and will need to turn to offsite help. A partner can store your tapes safely and under the appropriate environmental controls and will also provide a full range of access and retrieval services. Your partner can also execute your tape disposition schedule based on guidelines you provide.

You may not be able to stop the deluge of data generated by your company and its customers, but you can get a firm grip on what to toss, even after it’s made its way to tape. In doing so, you’ll create time and resource efficiencies for your business while making the best use of flexible, versatile tape media.

Iron Mountain Suggests: Three Ways to Maximize Your Tape Backup Investment

1) Assess your storage needs. The type of information that requires backup (and its volume) plays a large role in determining the mix of storage media.

2) Make tape a cornerstone of your archiving strategy. Inexpensive and with capacity ranging to five terabytes each, tape cartridges are a great long-term storage choice.

3) Team with an expert. Managing, storing and retrieving data on tape takes resources and expertise. A trusted partner can offer both, plus top-notch products and facilities to protect and access tapes.

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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