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A reliable approach to managing and restoring legacy tapes

Tape back-up has always been traditionally viewed as a cost-effective and reliable platform for storing corporate data off-line safely and securely. 

However, the huge amount of legacy data that companies now need to store on tape, together with legal, regulatory and governance requirements to produce data in an accurate and timely fashion, mean that companies are looking for different approaches to managing and restoring data from tape back-ups.

When we discuss the issue with IT administrators, who are ultimately responsible for identifying and producing data required by the business when responding to compliance, legal or regulatory enquiries, they say their biggest challenge is the inability to identify the specific location of the records required.

We undertook a global study undertaken with 720 IT administrators earlier this year to understand these challenges in more detail. We found that almost a third (30%) said that they do not have clear insight into what information is stored within their archives.  Since most organisations are required by law to keep and maintain access to regulated data for a designated period of time, this is a potentially massive problem.

The need for reliable tape restores

We recently worked with a Spanish IT services provider that needed to ensure access to legacy backup tapes of a new end-customer in the insurance services business. The provider needed to guarantee reliable restores from legacy back-up tapes without the costs of migration or the maintenance of retired infrastructures.

The end-customer’s needed to have access to data held on a large number of 3592 and 3592/JA tapes over a period of five years due to strict data retention laws and general good governance. The backup tapes had been created using Tivoli Storage Manager.

Understandably, neither the service provider nor the insurance business wanted to incur the costs of maintaining the Tivoli Storage Manager environment for a five year period for infrequent and ad hoc backup tape restores requests.

Together with the IT service provider, we engineered a cost effective and efficient solution to allow access to the end customer’s backup tapes.

Proof of Concept

The first step was to conduct a Proof of Concept where the end-customer sent five tapes to our engineering team. The purpose was to confirm full support for the client’s tape and backup software combination as well as confirm the scope of the project and timelines.

Following the Proof of Concept we performed an R&D project to extract the Tivoli Storage Manager catalogue into a standard SQL database format which the IT service provider could query, identify the location of folders or specific files and ship the correct tapes to our team for data restores when required. The data from a tape restore is delivered to the end-customer on an encrypted USB drive or via secure FTP for low volume or urgent restore requests.

The data restores are covered by a multi-year service agreement allowing for a pre-defined number of tape restores per year during the entire five year period, with incremental restores available upon request. The tapes are stored at the IT service provider’s premises and retired in line with the end-user company’s information management policy.

A bespoke solution

The IT service provider was able to offer a bespoke tape processing service to their end-customer so they no longer had to incur significant costs of maintaining a Tivoli Storage Manager environment while maintaining the ability to extract data from the tapes if and when required.

The retainer agreement for restoring backup tapes on demand meant that the services were tailored to the client’s needs and ensured greater predictability in expenditure planning and budgeting. The retainer agreement also allowed requests for and delivery of tape restores to be processed quickly and efficiently and avoid administrative delays.

Under the retainer agreement Kroll Ontrack was able to guarantee the tape extraction capabilities over the period of the contract, working to a service level agreement (SLA) of 12 business days per standard restore, which includes five tapes and one terabyte of selected data.

The project undertaken by the Spanish IT provider and Kroll Ontrack resulted in an excellent outcome for the end-customer, which was able to significantly reduce the cost of storing tapes and recovering data when required – all without having to update its Tivoli Storage Manager environment

There were also benefits for the IT provider itself, which was able to deliver an effective, reliable and secure service to its new client without a huge extra investment in infrastructure.

Ongoing regulatory change

Getting a handle on effective tape management and establishing processes to quickly respond to data requests rests on two tape management best practices: identifying the quality status of a tape archive and having knowledge of the data stored within the archive. We believe that as demand for fast access to legacy data grows in line with changing regulation and governance standards, this type of pragmatic solution will only grow in popularity.

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