Conversations with IT people about long-term archiving usually begin by focusing on a specific storage device, and then it quickly becomes apparent that much more is involved. Addressing a long-term archive is a complex issue that requires education to understand. There is no single silver-bullet product.
The technology discussions include devices/media for storing data and the storage systems and features utilized. Storage systems that automatically and non-disruptively migrate data from one generation of a system to another are key to long-term archiving. I use the analogy of pushing something along in a relay race.
The information maintained in an archive is another key consideration. Information is data with context, where the context is really an understanding of what the data is, what it means, and what its value is. Maintaining information over time requires applications that understand the information, devices that can read the information, and a method for determining when the information no longer has value as part of a data retention policy. Kicking the can of information down the road for years when it has no value makes no sense.
The ability to read and understand the information years into the future is another major concern for long-term archiving. Without applications that do this, the issue of addressing long-term archiving becomes moot. I try to divide the problem into two parts. The first is defining information that is “system of record” where the data must be processed by the application to produce results. The simplest example of this is business records that produce reports, statistics, or other numbers. In this case, there must be a linkage between the information and the application.
If the application changes or is replaced, then the information also must be carried along with translation so the new app understands it. If not, the information no longer has value.
The second part of the application issue concerns information that needs to be viewable in the future where no application is needed. This case is created by putting the information in a viewable format that will persist for a long time. Today that would be a PDF document. At some point that may change and the PDF documents would have to be translated or transformed for the new viewable format, once again requiring a linkage between the information and application.
You must address all of these points for a long-term archive to achieve its goal of making information available and readable when it’s needed.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).