There have been some high profile situations in the media over the years that have been centered on the topic of data retention and data retention policies. The 6-month data retention policy of the IRS is one that comes to mind. Since it seems to be an important topic, we thought we’d take a look at what goes into developing and adhering to a data retention policy. But first we need to lay some groundwork.
Back-up vs. Archive
Often when it comes to data retention, we find that people tend to use the terms back-up and archive interchangeably. They are often mistaken as the same thing, but in reality they are different.
Back-ups are intended to be a protection for your data so that, in the event of a disaster or data loss, you can restore or recover that information and effectively resume your normal business operations. Back-ups by nature do not need a lot of history because the older that data is, the less useful it is likely to be in the event you need to recover.
Many storage technology products these days design their data retention policy schema around the premise that back-ups are to protect you from accidental data loss or damage to data. The way that many of these products handle this is that they don’t ever actually back-up everything in one single copy. Many people mistakenly think that their back-up is just multiple big copies of all the data on their servers. That may have been true at one time, but these days the technology is much more hybridized. It uses intelligent indexes that make it unnecessary to make a full, complete copy of all the data each time you run a back-up.
On the other hand, the purpose of an archive is to take older, unused data that is sitting on live systems/servers and either move it or make a copy of it on some other type of media in order to de-prioritize it and clean the system. Think of your data like books in your house. You have your bookcase, where you keep your older books, but there’s also the coffee table, where the books you’re using now are kept. The bookcase is your archive, and the coffee table is your active data. Archiving keeps your coffee table from becoming cluttered, or bigger than you want. If you decide you want to re-read an older book, you retrieve it from the bookcase and put it back on the coffee table. Similarly, when you need an archive, you may have to go find it on a tape somewhere to recover and gain access to it again.
As we’ve said, some people confuse these two concepts although they are very different models of technology. When that happens, we find that they are using the back-ups as their archive. This CAN work if you have an older-school, more simplistic back-up system, but as systems become more complex and more integrated in day-to-day activities, it becomes less feasible. Consequently, most of the current back-up technologies provide archive mechanisms inside of them that are external to the normal back-ups which allow you to do both.
Because these systems are becoming more and more sophisticated and complex as time goes by, they are essentially forcing companies to consider back-ups and archives as separate concepts and that’s why we thought it important to make that distinction before tackling the topic of Data Retention policies. These days, companies have to determine both their back-up needs as well as their archival needs.