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The Challenges of Reliable Tape Archiving

No matter whether we are talking about contracts, customer data or manufacturing plans and design diagrams, corporate data has a significantly longer half-life than the ephemeral IT systems on which it is stored. If legal retention periods are also taken into account, it is no wonder that companies are looking for a reliable and secure solution to archive their data. Tape archiving has proved to be the method of choice for decades, but there are some challenges and pitfalls lurking behind it that should be considered.

Archiving instead of saving

The most important basic rule in data archiving is that data may not simply be saved, but that it must be preserved in the long term so that it is accessible when necessary. Retention periods of 10 years and more cause companies to face problems over and over again, as proven by examples from everyday work at Kroll Ontrack. Thus, for example, a bank audit required the submission of 35,000 booking records from the 1980s. Since this bank takes its archiving responsibilities very seriously, the relevant data had been preserved on tapes, but the hardware and software required to run them was no longer operational.

At another company, the internal audit department ordered the restoration of all Lotus Notes email accounts from an AS/400 system. However, the hardware used at that time no longer existed at the company, thus lacking the ability to read the data needed.

Fortunately, in both cases, the archived data could be recovered at Kroll Ontrack’s lab and migrated to newer media formats.

Archiving, but in a secure way

However, much more is involved in the secure management of long-term archives than their regular conversion to current formats. Thus, data must be classified before archiving, so that the people responsible can specify what data must be kept for how long. Commercial documents have a retention period of six years, a period usually covered by the life span of an archive system. This becomes more questionable in the case of financial documents, which must be kept for ten years. And documents that have to be kept longer or even permanently, such as research documentation, construction blueprints or judicial verdicts, require special archiving arrangements.

In addition, IT managers have to be permanently aware of the fact that systems can fail, regardless of whether this is due to human errors or technical faults. Whoever relies blindly on an archiving system, risks losing critical business data. Therefore, the staff responsible should not only rely on the automatic recognition of writing errors during archiving but also check the data copied by the archiving system for readability, at least randomly.

Deleting is something that also has to be learned

When backup tapes are no longer needed, the question of correct and above all, reliable deletion comes up. Very often, data contained on tapes is critical to the company or at the very least, confidential. Companies should therefore always be on the safe side and demagnetise their storage media using a degausser when disposing of them. The degausser produces an extremely strong electromagnetic field, thereby destroying all magnetic structures on the tape. This is actually the only way that the data contained is irrevocably destroyed.

It is clear, therefore, that secure and reliable tape archiving involves more than just saving data to tapes. The people responsible must always take into account both retention periods and possible deletions. Archiving also requires establishing clear responsibilities and an active supervision, the same as every other business process.

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