Regulatory compliance, business continuity, and the burgeoning growth in corporate information are creating headaches for users and opportunities for resellers.
It is undisputed that companies are having to dedicate more and more time and resources to the effective management of data storage. In most cases, there are differentand sometimes conflictingreasons for this focus. For instance, the legislative requirements of the US Sarbanes Oxley Act make it a legal requirement to ensure that important data and documents can be easily accessed, down to a very granular level, over protracted periods of time. In parallel, heightened security fears have brought disaster recovery and business continuity to the top of the agenda. Information management is also central to increasingly pressing risks such as reputation management and protecting the company against e-business risk. For instance, if business managers have to go to Court to protect the assets of the organisation or to defend themselves, how can a defence operate if relevant e-documents cannot be found?
Companies are looking to their suppliers to understand and support these pressures. It is vital for companies to acknowledge the varying data retention requirements of each business risk and establish a properly thought-out storage management strategy. A key element of this is choosing appropriate underlying technology. There has been much press attention recently reporting that data storage is taking up a huge proportion of the IT departments time, blaming the proliferating volumes of business data and the confusion surrounding storage requirements. Aggregated sources point to further annual increases of between 35 to 50 per cent in data volumes so companies must address this or face a serious operational impact.
The role of analogue
Much attention has recently focused on digital storage media but this does not meet long-term storage requirements. Firstly, it is unlikely that the organisation needs to access the documents on a regular basis; and secondly, digital formats run the serious risk of becoming obsolete. Modern computing lifecycles tend to be much shorter than document retention requirements, for instance it is unlikely that an e-document created in the 1980s could be read, without modification that affects its authenticity, in a contemporary software product. Yet many digital documents created in the 80s are still valid now and could be for another decade. For certain industries, such as insurance, retention requirements span many decades and technology obsolescence poses a serious threat.
Despite huge advances in the price performance of magnetic storage, microfilm remains a cost effective long term storage medium that has recently been re-discovered as a reliable method to spread document risks.
It is therefore recommended that long-term storage should depend upon at least two technologies and the greater their diversity the better the spread of risk. On the basis that one format will be digital, the other should be analogue. Despite huge advances in the price performance of magnetic storage, microfilm remains a cost effective long term storage medium that has recently been re-discovered as a reliable method to spread document risks. Some states in the USA now demand the all e-documents with a significant life cycle should be stored in analogue format in addition to digital. The Government of Singapore has also made this a requirement for firms operating in their country.
For over a century microfilm has enjoyed a reputation of being an excellent long-term, analogue storage medium. Recent claims by media manufacturers have extrapolated a usable life expectancy for microfilm from accelerated aging tests. The results showed that microfilms produced today will store images in human-readable format for up to a hundred years or more. Consequently, Gartner also recommends that any record stored longer than 10 years should be stored in an "analogue, human-readable form" such as paper or microfilm. Analogue formats are inexpensive, the media are relatively stable, the storage method is bi-directional, and, most importantly it spreads the risks involved with long-term storage.
Achieving a balance
Within any one enterprise, it is clear that there is a need for both long and short-term document storage provision. To mitigate legal risk, the audit obligations of much legislation (such as SOX) tend to focus on the integrity of long-term stored information. But information availability and retrieval is also important in the short-term. In some cases it may be necessary to be able to demonstrate that all information on a specific topic is available for review at any time.
The precise balance between long and short-term archiving can only be defined once the company has identified exactly what needs to be kept, and for how long.
A balanced document archive strategy for an organisation of any size or complexity will include frequent back-ups to remote locations, periodic transfer of documents to archive servers, and an analogue component comprising paper and film. The precise balance between long and short-term archiving can only be defined once the company has identified exactly what needs to be kept, and for how long. It should be emphasised that a company does not need to store everything, nor is rapid access and retrieval always the norm. In fact, most documents have a value for a short period of time. Some documents have value in the medium term; and these documents can be managed in filing cabinets or on secure IT systems that are regularly backed-up. But documents that have a permanent significance are increasing in number, and can represent the companys most valuable information assets and should be the focus of long-term storage.
Make the most of the opportunity
The current focuses on regulatory compliance and business continuity concerns are placing added pressure on businesses to prioritise storage management, in addition to the need to take firm operational control of the ever increasing flood of corporate information. A balance must be achieved between short and long term storage needs, and suppliers must understand that risk is best mitigated using a combination of digital and analogue technologies. This presents an ideal opportunity to demonstrate to end customers how the proper technology should bring multiple benefitsnot only meeting legal obligations and mitigating risk, but enhancing operational efficiency.
Simon Stammers is UK Sales Director for Anacomp Limited. The company provides comprehensive information outsourcing, maintenance support, and imaging and print solutions for businesses and organizations around the globe.