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State of the Art: Long-Term Storage Strategy

Migration as Data Ages

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Once you've gotten upper management on board, get your software and hardware systems team leaders involved in the planning. This will ensure that no one gets blindsided by the project. Then work with your business units to identify what data needs to be saved long term. Financial reports, for example, probably need to be stored, while five-year-old e-mail messages about a co-worker's birthday celebration clearly are nonessential. Get your legal department involved in the process, too, to ensure data that needs to be retained by law is properly stored.

Don't forget to determine retrieval requirements. The rule of thumb for data retrieval: The faster you want it, the more the equipment and software will cost you. Find out how long each business unit needs its data stored, when it will become obsolete and when it can be discarded. This information provides a baseline for time and capacity, which will help you purchase the appropriate storage hardware.

The reality is that no matter what kind of long-term storage technology you choose, someday it will be obsolete. Choosing carefully today can ease the pain of the evitable migration.

One option is simple tape technology. Although tape shelf life varies, most tapes survive 20 years or more if they're stored properly. But even the toughest tape is worthless if the drive required to read it breaks. Tape formats such as DLT, LTO, AIT and VXA have built-in backward read compatibility, but beware: Look closely at the manufacturer's road map for the drive's read compatibility. Formats early in their lives will have better long-term read options than older formats. Another trade-off is that tape is slow, so if you need to get to your data quickly, it's probably not the format for you. Tape works best when you want inexpensive storage with a long shelf life.

Another option is professional optical media formats such as UDO (Ultra Density Optical), which are designed to withstand the years. Their road maps are carefully planned to give the user maximum life on a given media, in both read mechanism compatibility and durability of the optical medium. The nonlinear nature of professional optical makes it much faster than linear tape. Hewlett-Packard offers a full line of optical drive jukeboxes for this application.

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