• Two Main Storage Considerations: Multiply and Reproduce

    When considering the long term storage of data, the storage industry likes to promote two processes:

    1. Redundancy
    2. Technology Refresh

    Redundancy is about having multiple copies of the data in case of loss and technology refresh is about having the data stored on technology that has not been obsoleted. You can see why we like to promote this stuff. Both processes require you to buy more storage and to keep buying it!

    In the last episode we talked about the difficulties associated with trying to keep archived data for hundreds or even thousands of years. Neither of these two approaches will be much help here as that solution is more dependent on choosing some kind of incorruptible and easily readable medium. My years of experience in the storage industry led me to understand that very few vendors care about very long term archiving. The business focus is on data which must be kept for financial or regulatory reasons and the time-frames are usually 5, 7, 15 or 25 years. Let’s limit today’s discussion to this kind of archiving.

    Firstly redundancy. The word has always bothered me because multiple copies of valuable data are not redundant, they are a valuable asset. Redundant means excessive or unnecessary. If I am made redundant at work it does not mean that I am a valuable asset in reserve. Semantics aside, you must determine how much extra equipment you need to maintain continuous access to your archived data. The simplest approach is a RAID disk system. That stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive (sometimes Independent) Disks. There’s that word redundant being misused again. RAID will protect data against the possibility of a disk failure. To protect against multiple disk failures or subsystem failure you might consider mirroring between subsystems. To further protect against fire, flood, theft, terrorism or plane crashes you might want that mirrored system to be remote. Finally, to protect against data corruption or software failures you will want a backup copy similarly remote. This might be tape or optical disk or flash memory or holographic cubes or whatever. Now you are a valuable asset to your storage vendor.

    Secondly, technology refresh. Moore’s Law applies to processors and suggests a doubling of performance every two years and it has continued to amaze by continuing to apply. A similar model for storage, especially tape sees capacities and speeds doubling in a similar time-frame. Because of this the industry moves ahead and the storage medium you are putting your tax files on today will be obsolete in a few years. The vendors suggest, correctly, that you must plan to migrate to a new storage medium (removable tape or disk) or new storage system (fixed disk) every second generation. Manufacturers will guarantee backward compatibility for one or two generations of product but seldom more. You will also gain in economies of scale as the newer products will inevitably hold more, take up less space, use less power and maybe even cost less. The old technology will be getting rusty and slow anyway and the maintenance providers will conveniently increase costs on older gear to help you along.

    The cost and inconvenience to you, apart from buying the shiny, new hardware is that you must have a set of procedures and a workflow for ensuring the ongoing management and migration of your archive data. Consultants like myself can help. Just call.

    Mike Sparkes is author of the blog Obscure Aussie and an IT storage expert based in Brisbane, Australia.

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