SMBs need a strategy for long-term data archival.
The amount of data created and stored is simply mind-boggling. According to IDC’s latest DataSphere and StorageSphere forecasts, 64.2 zettabytes (64.2 trillion gigabytes) of data was created or replicated in 2020, unusually high growth due to the number of people working and learning from home. The research firm predicts that data volumes will see a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent through 2025.
Most of this data was ephemeral or cached temporarily. Nevertheless, the installed base of storage capacity reached 6.7ZB in 2020, and IDC recommends that organizations prepare now to store more data in order to achieve their business objectives.
Any data storage plan should include a strategy for data archival. It’s simply not effective or even feasible to maintain all data in primary storage, particularly when information must be retained long-term for legal, regulatory or analytics purposes.
Archival is the process of moving data off of primary storage when it no longer needs to be accessed regularly. Organizations must be able to identify data that is no longer active, and develop policies for determining where the data will be stored and how long it will be retained. Done right, archival can save money, improve information access, and facilitate compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Archival vs. Backup
Data archival is often confused with data backup by many small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs). Both processes are critical to data protection and utilize some of the same technology to copy data. But understanding the distinction between archival and backup is important to maintaining an efficient storage infrastructure and strategy.
Backup involves copying data, as well any revised versions of that data, for short-term retention. This enables organizations to quickly recover files in case of a disaster or security breach that results in data loss or corruption.
Archival involves preserving data in its original form for long-term recordkeeping. It’s not a matter of copying everything but rather moving data and files that are seldom accessed onto cost-efficient long-term storage media. This data is typically retained for research, auditing, legal or regulatory compliance purposes.
Archived data must be searchable so that specific files can be located and retrieved when necessary. Recovery speed depends upon the use case — archived data used for analytics or required for legal e-discovery will require faster storage than data that’s simply maintained for audits or regulatory compliance.
Benefits of Archival
Implementing a sound archival strategy can help SMBs by:
- Reducing storage costs. Archiving data that will be rarely accessed, if ever, frees primary storage capacity, which is more expensive. Archived data can be moved to a less costly storage tier, such as tape or cloud-based “cold storage” platforms.
- Reducing backup windows. Tools such as data compression and de-duplication dramatically reduce the amount of storage and bandwidth consumed by backup processes, but backup windows are stressed by exploding volumes of data. Archival reduces the strain by eliminating the need to back up unaltered files over and over again.
- Maintaining legal and regulatory requirements. Archival preserves and organizes data that must be saved for a certain amount of time to meet regulatory requirements. It further ensures that relevant data can be located and accessed quickly in the event of a lawsuit or other legal proceeding.
- Retaining knowledge. In a world of big data, effective archival and analytics can deliver competitive advantages. According to IDC analysts, long-term data retention enables organizations to adapt to business disruptions, monitor employee and customer satisfaction, and develop new and innovative solutions.
Organizations that lack an archival strategy end up saving far too much redundant data. This results in unnecessarily high storage costs, disorganized data and an inability to monitor data growth rates.
Developing a Strategy
The first step to developing an effective archival strategy is to identify what data must be archived, for what purpose and for how long. Email, transactional data and unstructured files all require a somewhat different approach.
It’s also important to choose archival software with comprehensive search and retrieval tools. Legal and regulatory compliance requirements should be considered when selecting a software solution.
Once the archival strategy is in place, organizations must choose an archival platform. Storage media should be evaluated based upon cost, performance, data integrity and other factors. Cloud storage can be a good choice, particularly for SMBs, but it isn’t always the best option for every use case. A qualified managed services provider (MSP) can help evaluate the various types of data to be archived and recommend storage platforms.
Data archival is a distinct discipline with different considerations than backup. It requires an understanding of the location and nature of data throughout the IT environment, and an effective strategy for placing that data on the most cost-efficient storage. A qualified MSP can help organizations determine their archival requirements, evaluate their options and optimize their storage strategies.