It’s an unavoidable fact that every business must preserve some data. The reasons for this are many, ranging from tax purposes to compliance requirements to business analytics. Any way you slice it, preserving data can be a costly operation, especially if long-term planning is not part of the mix.
In the majority of cases, businesses archive data as part of a backup scheme, where on a regular basis, backups are performed and stored on some type of removable media. Over time, some of that media is recycled, while some of it is relegated to long-term keeping to act as an archive if that data is ever needed again.
However, many problems arise with this archiving methodology, especially considering that the primary purpose of backup is to recover data in the case of a disaster. In other words, the saved data is only suitable for restoring operations as quickly as possible, and is not meant for posterity purposes. What’s more, tapes, disks, and other removable media can be expensive, have a limited shelf life, and do little or nothing more than just preserving recent transactions. All told, using backup technology for archiving quickly builds hidden costs, while not truly helping to preserve long-term data or build effective archives. Businesses sometimes discover this only during audits or other time-and-data intensive events.
Archiving: A Different Mindset than Backup
Although archiving can be considered a complementary technology to backup, there is much more to building an effective archive than there is to preserving data for restoration in an emergency. First and foremost, enterprises must realize there is much more to building an archive than there is to simply backing up data.
Archiving may require saving more than just transactions, emails, and so forth. In fact, there are a lot of paper documents that are still critical to businesses, such as contracts, agreements, correspondence, forms, and countless other physical documents. And, naturally there is a cost associated with storing and protecting those physical documents. For many businesses, that may mean shipping those documents off to a storage facility, which can be costly. However, the real costs come into play when a physical document needs to be retrieved for an audit or other purpose. Pulling those physical documents out of storage can be costly, time consuming, and inefficient.
When archiving physical documents, an electronic element should also be introduced — one consisting of scanning and organizing those documents into a database that can be easily accessed, indexed, and searched. The physical document still exists, yet for all intents and purposes, the digital representation of that document suffices for audits, research, analytics, and any other task that is needed.
Finding the Value in Data Archiving
Data archiving is usually viewed as a cost center, a needed expense for meeting legislative requirements. However, effective archiving can bring much more to the table. For example, there is the burgeoning field of business analytics, where data lakes are mined to find insights to business operations.
More and more businesses are looking to their past activities to define what works best and what needs to change or evolve to improve operations. That is one area where archiving can bear fruit and deliver insight beyond just the storage of data.
Archival data may come in two distinct forms, structured and unstructured data. Both of which may need to be preserved for regulatory reasons. However, value can be derived from both types of data using analytics tools available today. For archiving to be successful, it must be embraced by management as well. By demonstrating the value of that data with analytics, it becomes much easier to justify building a data archive.
The Cloud and Beyond
The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) defines an archive as “A collection of data objects, perhaps with associated metadata, in a storage system whose primary purpose is the long-term preservation and retention of that data.” In addition, data that is archived is not usually expected to be readily searchable. This definition sounds simple but presents many problems for administrators. For example, the type of media the data is stored on will affect the speed and ease with which it’s restored. The three basic choices for archiving include tape, disk and the cloud.
An increasing number of organizations are starting to leverage cloud-archiving services, mostly as a method to eliminate the failings of disk and tape, while also choosing a strategy of paying for only the storage actually used. There is many cloud data storage providers, each with their own offerings and feature sets. However, just because a cloud service offers storage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that storage is suitable for archives.
The key here lies in selecting a cloud service that is suitable for archival purposes. For most businesses, that cloud archiving service should provide:
- Data lifecycle management (with the ability to store structured and unstructured data)
- The ability to provide long-term, immutable file storage
- Integrated search and recovery tools
- Data deduplication
- Viable service level agreements (SLAs)
- Data protection tools
- Ability to meet regulatory compliance requirements
- A well-defined pricing structure
- Ability to retrieve data on optical or WORM media
It is important to keep in mind the retrieval and maintenance aspects when archiving. Think of the user and access as a part of your strategy – this long term consideration will save you costs and ultimately serve you well in not just storing, but using this gold mine of data you’ve worked hard to preserve.
Choosing the correct cloud partner is just as important as choosing the right scanning and storage equipment. Epson provides a lineup of products for your business, including high-speed document scanners, that are cost-effective and backed by world-class service and support. Learn more by visiting Epson Business Solutions for Corporate, or see the Epson solution lineup for Small and Medium businesses here.