It’s enough to make you give up on digital technology and retreat to analogue. Handwritten or printed notes, under the right conditions, can last centuries, and nothing in the supposedly newer, braver world of IT can match its longevity or ease of interpretation. All modern storage media so far created has a much shorter lifespan – and even if it does last, the required hardware will probably have broken down or been discontinued, and the application needed to read a file will be obsolete long before that.
Government archives and histories might require storage that lasts centuries; few businesses either want or need to retain data for so long. However, increased regulation and compliance requirements mean that fewer businesses can afford to leave their archiving to the vagaries of market forces, with fingers crossed that future software will allow files created today to be accessed when required in five or 10 years’ time.
Few now can easily read files stored painstakingly on floppy disk not even 15 years ago – while technological change is said to be accelerating. And let’s not get into how to retrieve something created and stored in the cloud, on Twitter for example. Some have argued that reliance on digital media means we will know less about the early 21st century in future than we do about the early 20th century.
So what can businesses, and the channel, do? Robert Winter, data recovery engineering manager for the UK and Iberia at data recovery specialist Kroll Ontrack, says there is an opportunity for resellers to take their customers in hand to develop strategy and practice that will enable them not only to store but use their data in future. Essentially, few businesses even think about their long-term archiving until it is too late.
“Tape would be the type of media where I have seen the fastest degradation,” Winter (pictured, left) says. “But we often see tapes where the hardware and software that are used to restore the data are now obsolete. In one particular instance, a company had acquired another company and shut down their IT department, turning off their equipment. Then they realised they had no way of restoring all the tapes that were in storage. So one of the biggest risks is IT incompatibility.”
Winter confirms that data can often be restored and recovered even if such mistakes are made or environmental damage is suffered, but the cost can be very high and is often prohibitive. And if the data was encrypted, it can generally be recovered only if the security details have been retained. Kroll Ontrack’s data recovery team cannot try to crack the code if encryption details have been lost, he warns.
Morgan Stanley lost its data once and got stiffed with a bill of £800m for non-compliance, he adds.
“My recommendation would be to review data regularly to ensure it is in good condition, and that you have all the equipment necessary to restore that data. Also consider the likelihood of that equipment becoming obsolete in the next few years, before another review. And if you can, or if it makes business sense, transfer that data to more modern media,” Winter says.
Andy Walsky, EMEA vice president for sales and marketing at NAS, SAN and tape vendor Overland Storage, agrees. He adds that many modern storage systems can streamline this process, even for the non-technical, but it still represents a largely untapped opportunity for the channel – not least because, when it comes to long-term data retention, few are going to prefer disk technology. “Tape is really the best solution out there,” he says.
Walsky (pictured, right) says tiering different media for different types of storage is key to successful archiving and backup for most users. Strategies that support each other should be developed individually for backup, archiving, disaster recovery, business continuity and so on or it will end up being merely tactical, he notes.
“You can do anything if you have limitless resources, but nobody does,” concludes Walsky. “And updating from one generation to another is a project in itself.”
Lifespan of disc and tape
*CDs will probably last 25-50 years on average as long as they are stored carefully and used "normally". Holes and craters will form over time. Cold, humidity, and heat may reduce lifespans further. DVD is slightly more robust.
*Magnetic tape is inferior in many ways, but the thicker, better quality tape used for broadcast and archiving, as well as that used for data storage, can last 30-40 years. Consumer formats (including VHS) tend to be poorer quality.
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