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Data archiving does more than cut electronic clutter

Inspiration and intuition may seed the best and brightest ideas, but successful innovation takes root in well-instrumented business systems. An integrated storage and archiving strategy can contribute to your company's growth by facilitating intelligent data movement, management, and access to current and historical information of every kind. For many businesses, this is becoming a make-or-break consideration in today's 24x7 economy, given burgeoning volumes of information in a wide variety of data types.

At the same time, an integrated storage and archiving strategy offers compelling benefits for midsized companies that step back to consider potential business continuity, security, and risk avoidance factors—including compliance with data retention laws and regulations. E-discovery laws also put midsized businesses at risk. If they are unable to produce all relevant electronic information intact, and in a timely fashion, they may face adverse legal rulings, negative publicity and even punitive damages.

As data from business processes continues to mount and interconnected user devices proliferate, effective back-up and archiving procedures also help reduce operational risk and business exposure associated with security breaches and data loss incidents. Midsized companies are especially prone to human error in backing up data because they often lack skilled IT professionals and instead rely on workers who may forget to do the back-up, perform the procedure incorrectly, or even lose back-up tapes or disks.

"In many ways the data archiving challenges midsized businesses face are the same ones faced by their larger counterparts," says Michael Dortch, senior research analyst at Aberdeen Group who manages the firm's enabling technologies and information management practice.

Regulations rule out data deletion

While regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPAA) are widely recognized as covering publicly traded companies and healthcare organizations, most industries must also comply with a dizzying array of electronic information laws and standards. For example, financial institutions must abide by the Check Clearing Act for the 21st Century, and merchants that accept credit card purchases are tasked to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Being able to audit records often forms the foundation of these regulations and standards. Midsized businesses in any industry may be required to produce old tax records, financial data and supporting information by state, provincial or federal tax agencies.

Aberdeen Group's Dortch also suggests that the possibility of litigation is a growing concern for businesses—and legal matters require data. You don't have to be a big company to be sued—and you don't have to be a big company to be called upon to discover and produce documentation, perhaps from long ago and far away," he says. "Anything a company can do to improve its archiving profile and reduce the time it takes to produce information from archives can have a direct, bottom-line effect."

Plus, archived information is no longer limited to e-mails, word processing documents and spreadsheets. Medical images, PDF documents, electronic check images, instant messages and Web traffic statistics must now be archived as well. All of this data not only has to be archived, but must be both accessible and recoverable.

"You don't have to go back and reset the bar every time there's a new change."

Separate the old from the operational

With more types of information requiring longer-term storage, the risk of overloading information systems increases. Today's data archiving solutions can help keep information systems free of electronic clutter, helping to ensure that midsized businesses have quick access to the data they need for day-to-day operations while maintaining the ability to call up historical data required for regulatory compliance.

At first glance, the hardware component of many data archiving solutions may resemble a file cabinet. However, data archiving solutions are much more than just data repositories. With a variety of tape and disk drives, these products can be instrumented to determine when and where certain kinds of data are put into long-term storage. Thanks to policy-based and event-based data management, midsized businesses can decide what should trigger the automatic archiving of information. Is the e-mail two years old? If so, it can be sent to the data archiving solution. Has the bank account been closed? Data archiving solutions can store all the relevant information away for as long as the law and business processes require.

Other features of an interconnected, well-instrumented data archiving solution include:

Tiered storage management lets midsized businesses choose the most cost-effective type of storage for different purposes. Images, for example, might be best stored optically, while other kinds of data may be better stored on disk or tape.

Integrated data migration moves any kind of data from disk to tape, ensuring that all information can be read or examined upon retrieval.

Integrated backup enables midsized businesses to back up every kind of data in the archived storage environment.

Data encryption enhances information security in a network where daily operational data is stored. Some solutions encrypt data before and after archiving for maximum information security.

Data shredding helps prevent data from being re-created after it is deleted.

Chronological and event-based data retention avoids premature deletion. This feature is typically triggered by events such as an expiration date.

Archiving helps build long-term business continuity

Many data archiving capabilities also give midsized businesses a critical component of an overall business continuity strategy. Aberdeen Group's Dortch suggests that midsized businesses start out by prioritizing data. He explains, "Instead of trying to boil the ocean and archive everything, a good first step for a lot of companies is to sit down, look at [their] business requirements and business goals and needs, and from that prioritize what is the importance of data to the business."

This also means carefully examining ways to mitigate the risks and potential costs associated with data loss. Midsized businesses must identify their mission-critical systems and the types of data that are essential for business operations. Then they must determine the required recovery time for each data category and develop a suitable back-up strategy that takes into account important factors, such as frequency, type, aging, roles and responsibilities.

These days, some midsized businesses manage data archiving themselves while others have these solutions hosted and managed by outside vendors. This outsourced model, Dortch says, "can provide a lot of advantages—especially to resource-limited small businesses—because you can archive your data without having to own and operate the actual hardware and software that makes up the archive."

But no matter who manages data archiving, the benefits can extend beyond business continuity. With data archiving, the space savings can be extended to the servers and storage devices needed for everyday operations. An adequate back up and recovery plan also can help optimize system performance, increase energy efficiency, support green initiatives and reduce overall storage costs—all while keeping midsized businesses compliant and several steps away from disastrous system failures. And that’s critical in an interconnected world where data must be integrated across systems.

"Regulations always change, business requirements always change, legal requirements always change—and each change presents both a challenge and an opportunity to the savvy business decision maker," Dortch says. "Best-in-class companies that succeed in aligning IT with business goals almost invariably view these kinds of changes and challenges as opportunities to set the bar a little bit higher than the specific challenge requires. That way you don't have to go back and reset the bar every time there's a new change."

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