Storage Soup

Jan 3 2011   2:06PM GMT

New Orleans backup snafu shows inefficient data protection

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

The recent loss of mortgage records in Orleans Parish in New Orleans shows how important it is to have an efficient data protection process and efficient use of storage resources, and how the two are related.

Newspaper articles in the New Orleans area highlight a double failure data loss. Successful backups stopped after an update to the backup software, despite a message saying the update was successful. No one checked for successful backups after the update. The second failure came when the servers with the original data crashed with significant data loss. The backups were cyclical — as most are — and the older backups were expired (read deleted) according to a 90-day retention schedule. There were paper records for most of the transactions, but the index of the paper records including the location of documents was part of the lost data. This is like burying the key to the treasure chest along with the treasure.

The result was that primary digital data was lost and much of the backup data was either unrecoverable or does not exist. There are a number of process problems that can be pointed to here, but mainly this shows the need for a sound strategy for effectively and efficiently protecting records. Efficiency in this context is about both cost and the protection process.

Mortgage records are static, they do not change. Additional records for affected property are created and added to the records collection but each record is retained in perpetuity as an historical and legal document. These records should be kept in an online archive with infinite retention and protected with multiple copies at the time of archiving. Keeping the records in a volatile disk system where the protection depends on regular backups is extraordinarily inefficient.

Since the records don’t change, continual backups waste time and physical resources. The records are required when a real estate transaction affecting the property is done, so having them on a primary storage system may not be the most cost effective location. With the “forever” type of retention required, migrating the records every few years when the current storage system is replaced also would add extra operational costs.

This is one example where looking at the strategy around protecting information and being efficient could have yielded great return – and avoided a disaster. The disaster will be costly in the heroic efforts required to recover lost data, and in the careers or reputations of those involved. The real failing is in not re-examining the strategy around protecting the valuable assets and how to do that efficiently and effectively. I’ve written more about data efficiency here.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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