Most organizations routinely backup their data innocently thinking their processes are robust, and their data is safe. However, a variety of issues can hinder data retrieval. Some of the most common include failure of the backup software or the storage media, the sheer volume of the data held by the organizations, aging archaic systems, forensically unsound methods, simple human error or disasters caused by such as fire, water damage, mud, extraordinary cold, heat or other natural catastrophes.

In most industries, organizations have a regulatory duty to preserve relevant data for review. Therefore, managing data in a manner that makes it difficult to access when required can lead to a serious breach. To ensure that you are not gambling that your legacy data will be accessible and usable if needed, it is important to undertake the following four-point plan:

Inside Dataprev's Rio de Janeiro data center
– Dataprev

Define the project

The success of a project involving the manipulation of stored data depends on the ability of those tasked with the work to identify and understand the project scope and challenges so they can plan accordingly.

Recording the type of media and its condition is just as important as clarifying the suitable target medium. Even with devastating damage (such as through water and fire), there is usually some sort of recovery possible. However, it is important to work quickly before the media becomes unusable. Also, consider what data protection requirements exist. For example, data may not be allowed to leave the premises meaning conversion will have to be done on-site.

Analyze the data

An organization must identify the contents of the media to make informed decisions later about data retention, destruction, or suitability for compliance or litigation readiness. Depending on the business needs, scanning, cataloging, or indexing the media can help an organization narrow their focus to the relevant media. 

Enterprise backup software is usually designed for managing large quantities of data, not for identifying and accessing specific content. It is complex and requires a relational database to manage backup parameters, sessions, schedules, errors, and other statistics. Without the original backup software and/or the specific tape machine or equipment that recorded that data, content identification will be the biggest hurdle and one of the higher costs of the project.

Manage and refine the data

Organizations regularly complete daily or weekly incremental backups and full backups at month-end. Although this is industry “best practice”, it results in the creation of multiple copies of the same data.

Based on the previous analysis and knowledge of an organization’s backup procedures, the relevant data set can be culled further, and assuming there is no active legal hold on the data, the duplicate data can be deleted. If the data must be retained, backups can be consolidated by restoring them to higher capacity tapes.

Review data conversion or manipulation needs

It is important to understand the degree of complexity involved to keep the project on schedule and within budget. Some conversions are straightforward, such as copying files from one computer system platform, so they are readable by another platform. Other conversions may require more technical expertise.

A more complex conversion may involve the manipulation of fields in a database. For example, Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance requires disguising cardholder data when storing credit card numbers. In this scenario, a data management expert could expand and extract the contents, find the cardholder numbers, and apply masking characters (such as “X”s) to the appropriate data.

Streamlining your effort

A project involving the management and manipulation of stored data can be triggered by a variety of regulatory, compliance, or e-discovery needs. Planning for data accessibility streamlines the effort required to meet those needs and mitigates the associated risks.

Historically, it has been time-consuming, technically difficult, and cost-prohibitive to incorporate legacy data into an organization’s information life cycle management plan. After relying on IT to restore the data, Legal would work with IT to analyze the relevant data required to support an investigation or lawsuit. Due to budget and infrastructure limitations, restoring thousands upon thousands of tapes was simply not feasible.

The problem has been solved by using technology to streamline the entire process. Rather than relying on a false sense of security, many corporations are seeking consultative assistance from experts with proven experience in legal, compliance, and IT issues. We suggest you do the same.