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Long-Term Care for Your Data

Today the challenge is managing digital media to ensure that your storage hardware can access your data years from now.

Organizations should have at least one IT person whose job or duties include managing archived data. This "go-to" long-term storage-manager position, however, has been the exception rather than the rule in most companies. But that could soon change. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other privacy-related government regulations are driving organizations to come up with well-orchestrated and managed archival strategies to better protect and preserve their long-term data. Your long-term storage person should work closely with your legal department, as well as with individual department heads, to determine their data-retention requirements. For instance, if the accounting department needs to hold financial data for seven years, then you'd want to set up a deletion schedule so that archived data remains manageable.

A long-term data-storage policy and procedures plan is crucial if your company develops software for internal use or for customers. Old code may be reused or studied, so it makes sense to keep it. Detailed sales records, customer data and other information can be used for analyzing trends, and archived company communication can pay off if you find yourself involved in a patent dispute (it can prove the code was written internally). On the other hand, you can save your company unnecessary legal problems and costs by deleting nonbusiness, or even some business, e-mail correspondence that isn't protected by law.

For the technology part of your plan, you need a simple way to locate and correlate data on a tape or CD. So choose a lookup system, such as a document-management system, with automated or report-based alerts that let you know when data has expired and can be deleted based on your storage policies.

In addition, make sure you set up a budget for long-term data storage, which should include the cost of converting old digital formats to newer ones, whether that task is performed in-house or is outsourced. Don't forget to factor in maintenance for machinery--like tape drives that read your older digital formats once you've converted them.

The Hard(ware) Part

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