While many confuse these two terms, these are two distinct—and important—action items for managing content and data properly.
When the staffs from IT and Records and Information Management (RIM) go to the table and hammer out the differences between archiving and backing up data for the company, the company comes out a winner. Having separate processes for creating disaster recovery backup copies versus moving data into an archive are important for improving resource management as well as for responding to discovery requests.
The concept of backing up data is about making a copy of the entire system, that is, all data, the operating system, and all applications. This “copy everything” approach is designed to restore a system with its data in the event of a disaster or business disruption. When the data is copied onto a backup media, it is stored in random order and is not indexed so that the data can be easily accessed and isolated outside of the system. Disaster recovery backup copies should be made solely for the purpose of restoring the operating system or application and its associated data only in the event that a disaster destroys the system.
Archiving, on the other hand, entails “moving” data from a production system to a near- or off-line solution. The data, with its associated metadata, is physically moved, and it is deleted from the production environment to allow the production system to optimize capacity for current business needs. The archived data is organized and indexed for easy access and retrieval. Archives are created so that inactive data that must be retained to fulfill retention requirements is properly preserved and indexed until its retention is met.
Keep ‘Em Separated
Keeping the processes for backing up and archiving media separate provides several benefits to the company. The first is compliance. There is no requirement to retain backup media for long periods of time. The driver for how long a company keeps backup media is based on the business’ need. How far back would a company need to go to restore a system and its data if a disaster occurs? IT would restore the most recent backup media because it has the most current work product. There is no need to retain backup media for extended periods of time, whereas the archive has a defined period of time it must be retained for retention and compliance.
The data in an archive should be retained according to legal requirements and business needs. Those retention needs should be spelled out in the company records retention schedule and are based on the categories of information being preserved. Once data is in an archive for retention, it is no longer on the production system and must be indexed in order for the data to be found.
Second, it is more cost-effective for operations to recycle backup media on a frequent basis: Holding backup media as archives means that you are copying the applications–and possibly the operating system–over and over while taking up valuable media space. These multiple copies of system data are not necessary. If your argument is that you are only making incremental copies, then you are not copying the whole record on the backup anyway. Shorter cycle times for backups and reuse of media reduces costs for an IT operation. Archiving only the information needed also assures that media resources are being used wisely.
A third reason for separating the processes of backup and archiving is for improving response times to discovery requests. Short backup cycle times where the media is being recycled will prevent a company from having to go back beyond the most recent media to preserve backup tapes for discovery. Information relevant to litigation, audits, or investigations that is indexed in an archive is faster to find, access, and use in developing a list of responsive documents for production. The difference in time can range in days depending on the amount of information that has to be considered in review. Courts have refused to accept a dual standard set where parties had accessed backup media for their own needs, by allowing them to serve as archives, but objected to doing so for discovery. Continuing to use backup media for both disaster recovery and archiving increases the company’s risk to increased discovery costs.
Separating the processes for creating backup media and archives also involves a partnership with IT and RIM. The team approach for protecting or preserving electronic information must align with other requirements the company has for managing its information assets. The processes developed must be consistent and repeatable–followed as the normal course of business.
By creating separate and distinct processes for backup versus archives, a company can save money, improve response times to discovery requests, and more effectively select a technology that meets the specific demands of the process for ongoing improvement.
Helen serves as records management consultant in Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s Tort Section. Her expertise in records and information management has its foundation in real-world experiences forged from a career in the business that spans over 25 years. She has consulted on all aspects of records and information management, including the development and implementation of litigation hold protocols, electronic discovery response plans, and data privacy initiatives.