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Data storage and content archival: what are the best practices?

April 2016 by Ian Nathan

With the ever increasing pressure on file server storage space and new usages it is easy to forget that data protection strategies don’t address all the issues. Sometimes you can just run out of space. Sometimes the backup windows don’t finish in time or simply fail. However much you care for your hardware it won’t last forever, and there is never a good time for failure. From a business perspective what about that content sitting there in shared drives. Is it readily findable, accessible, usable? Is this information properly organized, secured, unaltered? Could someone inadvertently set a delete command and wipe out years of business assets on your on premise servers? What role can Cloud infrastructure play in reducing risk and costs?

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That is a lot to handle and while large entreprise IT departments and high-end vendors have the resources, and by and large the technical knowhow to manage all these, smaller business units with limited budgets are having to deal more and more with large scale, complex IT storage situations.

In effect managing the stream of changing technologies and managing large volumes of files can be a nightmare. Scaling out or scaling up the storage can increase available space but then in turn that can add to the problem: creating larger file sets. What is the point of storing content if you can’t readily access it? And why is it being stored anyway? Does all of that content have to be available on networked hard drives?

The point is that implementing effective storage and providing efficient archival are not the same.

On the one hand as a storage manager you ramp up data protection, provide against failure, outage: you are concerned with ensuring work-on-hand, the day to day business essentials, and securing current business content assets. On the other hand as an archival and content preservation manager you are providing a framework for conserving business assets, conforming to legal and regulatory compliance requirements, maintaining a longer term strategic rule book of policies and practices for content retention, access and management.

Archival is a strategic extension of your storage strategies. It can help reduce costs by off-loading files no longer in current use to more cost-effective storage media. LTO tape is frequently used as it offers a number of advantages: the practical reliability of a proven format with high-capacity, low cost of purchase and ownership, long shelf-life …. Cloud or hybrid service infrastructure may offer alternative or complementary flexible solutions. Above all archival organizes and structures your valued digital assets. It provides you with control on what valued content you are retaining, where those assets are, who can access them and for how long.

Here are three basic best practices to follow which can help.

Best Practice # 1 – Evaluate your content assets: A certain amount of files may no longer be needed on production servers. You may need to keep them but they are no longer effectively in active use. Identify them, categorize them, and then you can move them to more appropriate storage media. Perhaps even offload them to Cold Storage media.

Best Practice #2 – Write up your rule book: There is no substitute for some initial planning and mapping. What is it you want to collect? For how long? Access rights? … This is known as an archival policy. Whatever you want to call it it should correspond to your business priorities.

Best Practice #3 – Organization: As opposed to shared network drives an archival repository sets files aside in a structured protected manner. Here free and easy file sharing is not the aim. The target is content preservation, data fixity, inalterability, traceability, controlled accessibility. To achieve this the underlying storage infrastructure needs to be adequate and the software management archival middleware needs to provide the interface for file location and for a customisable content organization. Beyond that the way you organise your content should be a reflection of your business needs.

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