Data Management Life-Cycle: Data Preservation

Business owners operating in today’s landscape will commonly acknowledge the importance of backing up critical business data. With several media and seemingly complex methods available to choose from, the decision making process is often a daunting task when the concepts are beyond your area of expertise. Often times management will select the most inexpensive option as they are unable to truly comprehend the consequences associated with the selections presented to them.

As a trusted business adviser, we at Compulite choose to empower our clients with the knowledge needed to make important business decisions that will impact (either positively or negatively) their company. While some may find it difficult to grasp the technical components of a complex backup structure, the high-level details we’ve included throughout this post should give some insight into how your approach to backups can be structured.

The Basics

The methodologies for data preservation–backing up vs. archiving business data–are quite different from one another. In order to make the best decision for managing critical business data it is important to understand the distinctions.

  • Archiving

Archiving data is concerned with retaining irreplaceable business data over a long period of time and therefore requires survivability. Your business would archive versions of files that are no longer being updated (or static files), and are considered business records. Speed isn’t much of a priority when considering archiving abilities, however data integrity, long term search and retrieval take priority.

  • Backups

For quick, convenient recoveries of overwritten files, corrupted databases or operating systems a backup of business data should be fast to retrieve. Backup and restore scenarios address active business outages that carry significant financial consequences if not addressed in a timely fashion.

  • Write Protection

    The mechanism that prevents the modification of valuable data on a storage media. Write Protection or Read Only ensures your data is not accidentally overwritten or erased.

Media Types

There are various types of storage devices (or types of media) that can be used for data preservation. We have summarized the attributes of each media type in the table below.

archiving data

  • External Hard Drives

External hard drives are the most common type of back up media used by the consumer market. Relatively inexpensive to purchase and maintain, they are quite common in many business applications. If stored and maintained properly, they can last up to several years and are generally quite reliable for short-term storage solutions.

It’s important to note that the reliability of external hard drives are highly dependent on safe storage conditions. The physical hardware can be damaged resulting in unrecoverable errors that are only discovered upon trying to restore critical data.

Heat, vibration, humidity even magnetic fields can dramatically shorten the lifespan and reliability of the data written on the device. There is also a considerable chance of human error influencing external hard drives. This type of media relies on human intervention and is a manual process that requires someone to manually take drives off-site, switch the drives that are in rotation, etc.

Handling Precautions

  1. Store hard drives in anti-static bags, and be sure that the person removing them from the bag is static-free. Avoid Styrofoam packaging products or other materials that can cause static electricity.
  2. If the original box and padding for the hard drive is available, use it for shipping.
  3. Quick drops or spikes in temperature are a danger, because such changes can lead to hard drive crashes. Store in conditions that are environmentally stable. If the hard drive has been in a cold environment, bring it to room temperature prior to installing and using it.
  4. Avoid sudden mechanical shocks or vibrations.
  5. If using USB, flash or portable hard drives, avoid temperature/humidity extremes as well as strong magnetic fields.
  • Optical Discs

Optical discs are commonly used as CDs, DVDs, or Blue-rays to listen to music or watch movies. The optical discs we are referring to in this application (BD-R HTL or MDiscs) are some of the most resilient media available and are very different then consumer grade CDs/DVDs/Blue-rays.

Optical discs (MDiscs) are ranked anywhere from 150-1000 years, an ideal lifespan for your most critical business data. The technology requires no physical contact, uses laser technology is not light sensitive and is read-only – all optimal features for archiving purposes.

Although it has a slow read/write performance when compared to alternative media types, it still leads as a cost effective solution (1 Verbatim 100GB disc sells for $20.50) for long-term storage.

Handling Precautions

  1. Handle by the edges or by the hole in the middle. Be careful not to bend the media.
  2.  Data is engraved onto a rock-like layer so your data will not fade or deteriorate over time. Light, humidity and temperature is not likely to affect the integrity.
  • Tape

Magnetic tapes are are still very common for business use. It has very large storage capacities and is fairly easy to store. Due to its slow retrieval speed, it is best to keep these expensive                   tapes for archiving purposes only.

Tapes are vulnerable to decay over time as the magnets used to copy the data can demagnetize over time. There is also an administrative burden when considering using tapes as a storage         type.

Handling Precautions

  1. If using tape cartridges store the cartridges in vertically and in protective containers when transporting.
  2. Be sure to write-protect the cartridges immediately.
  3. Dust, dirt and oils can damage the integrity of tape.
  • Online Storage

Online services are also a very popular storage solution. However, one must carefully consider potential consequences when deploying any online service. Be sure to differentiate between online backups and online cloud storage to ensure you business data is managed as you require. Backups will create mirror copies of your data so that when you edit or delete your local files, your cloud backups will reflect the changes. Online cloud storage will be true archiving where your data is located on a separate server entirely, so your stored data can be used for disaster recovery.

With several inexpensive online storage options available (Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Drive, Amazon Glacier, Microsoft Azure, etc.),  cloud services in general are only as safe and secure as the vendor dictates. Speed and availability are dependent on your online internet speed. Remember that if the internet goes down you won’t be able to access the archives. Since archiving by its nature is meant for long-term retrieval purposes you’ll also want to make sure the service provider will still be in operation for as long your retention policy stipulates.

Online storage also means you can expect a monthly subscription fee, and while initial prices may be quoted in cents/GB/month, it is likely to result in much higher prices long term than may be necessary to incur. Typically the pricing tiers quoted are for storage fees only. Once a request is made to actually retrieve a file or restore, an additional cost will incur. One should consider that what is inexpensive and attractive to get into can at times be expensive to move away from.

 The big players in online storage  have advanced security measures in place to protect your data. With SSL protocols in place, encryption set by default and thorough authentication protections in place your data is sure to be protected by all the industry best practices. Online storage is also the only storage media that will give detailed insight (via logging) into every action taken against your business data. As long as data sovereignty needs are met, compliance and industry regulations are sure to be satisfied.

The long term management of online storage services should not be underestimated or overlooked. Should an invoice from the storage service be missed or overlooked, you typically only have 30 days before all your data is wiped. With online storage services typically run by artificial intelligence something as simple as forgetting your password and needing it reset, or unlocked could become a long and  arduous process. Effectively proving your identity to robots could result in weeks of lost time and paperwork. Therefore, while online storage is similar to having an “off-site” copy of your data it is recommended to couple this with a local backup in your own possession.

Things to Consider

Regardless of the media selected, records management, data preservation, or archiving should ensure data is accessible and searchable.  Encrypting your critical business data is also important. Since over time, passwords or keys to decrypt the data can be lost or forgotten, consider password managers to help manage your encryption keys.

Be certain to maintain documentation of the data that is archived. Be specific as possible to avoid duplication and assure retrieving the vital information can be done so efficiently.

Since technology changes overtime, use file formats that are likely to be around long term. While some media types claim to last longer than the average human’s life span, its advisable to periodically copy onto a relevant storage to ensure integrity and compatibility with current drivers in use. Include any relevant proprietary software that may be needed to read data.

(image via flickr)