Choosing to tape archiving for long term, rarely accessed company data (aka “Cold Storage”), means more than simply hitting save and storing it in a secure facility. We see companies on a daily basis who could either not access their data or who have tapes that are long past their disposal date. The following tips could have saved them time, money and headaches.
When I think about tape archiving for cold storage, it reminds me of my deep freezer at home, and not just for obvious reasons. My family purchases our beef a quarter cow at a time. We rely on the butcher to label it and then we pack it in our freezer until we need it again in the future. I will pull packages out one or two at a time when required. There are cuts of meat that I have no idea what to do with (aka liver) which tend to sit idle. About every six months we clean out the freezer, granted, sometimes it is a little longer depending on how busy we are. At cleanout time, we have to go through each package to determine what packages are good, bad and, for some, identify what it is. Tape storage can be painstakingly the same way if precautions are not a part of considerations.
Tape Archiving Outlasts Hardware
Tape is an excellent method of archiving if you need to retain the information for cold storage. Much like the deep freeze does for food, tape preserves data for a longer period of time than most of its modern competitors. So long in fact, that the hardware used to store the data can become end of life before the tape reaches the disposal date. Much like the liver in my freezer, those tapes will sit idle because companies don’t quite know what to do with them until they need to come up with a solution. For example, an audit of a bank required the submission of 35,000 booking records dating back to the 1980’s. This bank in particular took archiving its data very seriously and kept everything archived on tape since tape was an option. Unfortunately, the appropriate hardware and software to read those tapes were no longer available.
In another company, an internal audit ordered the restoration of all Lotus Notes mailboxes from an AS/400 system. The company no longer had the hardware used at that time and did not have a way to read the tapes.
Fortunately, in both instances, the archived data could be recovered in the laboratory at Kroll Ontrack and migrated to newer media formats. Maybe, I should hire a professional to show me how to properly cook liver in a way where I would eat it…or Google it…or just be happy with the fact that I don’t like it.
Classify Your Data
Migrating to current formats isn’t the only challenge of tape archiving for cold storage. Classifying the data before archiving it also poses its challenges. As I rely on a butcher to label my packages before putting them in the freezer, I am also relying on his/her accuracy. If the writing is illegible or if something has an incorrect marking, I could end up thawing steak instead of ribs which have two entirely different methods for cooking. Media that is mislabeled could result in lost data or data that is disposed of before it’s time is up. Even the most carefully planned system can have failure points after a long period of time. IT managers who blindly rely on the archiving system risk losing business-critical data. To avoid data loss, responsible staff should check the archive system’s copied data, at least randomly, for readability. For me, it is just crossing my fingers that the package is indeed what it says it is.
On every package of food, there is an expiration date. Luckily for me, I can just toss the liver in the garbage the when the expiration date has passed. When backup tapes reach their disposal date, it is not that simple. The data on a backup tape needs to be sanitized before the tape can be disposed of to ensure sensitive data does not fall into the wrong hands. The best way to securely erase data is to demagnetize the storage media with use of a degausser. In this method, the degausser produces an extremely strong electromagnetic field and thus all magnetic structures are destroyed on the tape. This is the only way to guarantee the data on the tape is irrevocably destroyed.
It is clear that safe and reliable tape archiving for cold storage involves more than just hitting “save”. Managers must always take into account hardware end of life, classification, retention periods and proper disposal. Taking the time upfront to define processes and policies will save you headaches down the road. I need to apply some of these tape archiving tips for my cold storage at home.