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Selecting the best archiving system.

Storage Expo : 20 August, 2007  (Technical Article)
Joe Baguley, Global Product Director of Quest Software discusses how to get the best value from information archiving.
Archiving solutions are numerous in the IT marketplace, with many options available based on organisation-specific requirements. The common denominator to these solutions is the benefit derived from archiving data once it is no longer frequently accessed to cheaper storage while retaining easy and seamless access to the information in the repository. In a sense, retaining what is needed efficiently for the right amount of time.

Archiving corporate knowledge is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Several considerations should be made. First, data may be required to be retained for many years with users frequently requiring easy access to search the entire archive for relevant emails and documents. Second, although the archive store may only be required for the occasional audit search during its lifetime, the data must be reliable and guaranteed to be accurate - potentially even after many years of storage. Having the appropriate retention policy in place, and ensuring the data is secure are paramount to a successful archiving strategy.

Selecting an archiving provider should therefore not be taken lightly. In this article we will review some of the most important criteria to utilise when selecting a partner.

When shopping for an archiving solution, determine the background of the software vendor. Is the software vendor large enough to survive 'lean' years and still be able to support their product over the term of your archive retention time? Does the vendor rely on a single product or market segment or do they have a range of products that as an end user organisation we can leverage when looking for software products in the future?

An email archive is a long term investment and as such the vendor must still be around during the lifetime of the software investment to assist with support or other customer requirements. This point is commonly overlooked but your data may have a retention requirement that scales beyond the age of many companies in the marketplace.

What development language is used in the archive software? Will it require a rewrite to continue to be current and usable in three or even a single year's time? Does it use supported Microsoft technologies and open APIs?

Archiving software is difficult to rewrite by the nature of the stored data and if it's not based on current development methodologies the cost of rewriting is both expensive and likely to cause severe issues in upgrades or support.

Further, retention of data may be required for legal or internal company policy. An archive solution, and vendor, must be available at the 'far' end of the data retention lifecycle, so the data must be secured in a mechanism that can be accessed several years into the future. This time period may be seven years for EU legislation or it could be up to 100 years for patient data, and in between there are many differing organisational requirements.

To maximise the benefit to an organisation, there must be common APIs available for other corporate applications to utilise. An archive solution should easily extend your existing CRM system and return any data stored regarding a customer when a user performs a look-up on those user details, i.e. email holds around 70% of all corporate data and if this can easily be utilised then it can provide an added value to an end user organisation without additional cost.

The software vendor should be thinking of the future and how best to store data to minimise growth and provide fast retrieval no matter how much data is stored. Given the migration of data over the required retention period of the archive, will an LTO tape still be available in 20 years time to recover archived data?

How will the archive solution you purchase today handle the migration of data from current storage technologies to devices that haven't been built and will this lock your organisation into a hardware technology into the future?

Is it going to be possible to get all my archive data back? An archive solution is a long term commitment for any organisation. Generally there is no simple or quick method to retrieve the archived data from its existing store and import it into a new vendor solution without a lot of time and custom development, and in many cases it may not be possible at all to restore the data. This makes choosing the correct solution in the first instance all the more critical to an archive solutions' successful implementation.

Similarly, indexing of archive data is a time consuming task which generally happens as data is received into the archive. What will occur when this data has to be re-indexed due to corruption or accidental deletion and the indexed data is stored as individual files on a disk or slower storage like tape or UDO disk? What is the outcome of changing a user's access to email or file data on indexing, i.e. when providing audit searching to an administrator of a user's mailbox?

An archive has the potential to allow an organisation to achieve some regulatory requirements, in addition to internal organisation audit and HR requirements. An archive may also have the potential to leak sensitive information to users that should not have access. An archive solution, as well as being configurable to whom has access to data, must also be able to report on any activity occurring with the archive solution, including: who searched, what they searched on, and which emails they opened within the archive. Without auditing, do you know who is looking at your sensitive and business critical data?

Is the archive solution easy to manage? As an end user, administrators are already busy with the multitude of products in use within an organisation, including: CRM systems, document management systems and other line of business applications on top of the core infrastructure OS and applications including Active Directory, messaging systems, database systems, etc. Adding complexity to an already overloaded IT department is not a solution - it becomes another problem. An archive solution - just like SQL or Exchange - should be close to self-managing otherwise it becomes a burden to an already overloaded IT department.

This article has posed questions and answers that I regularly hear in the field. When engaging a software vendor about their recommended solution, the questions I have posed become extremely relevant. Is the solution future relevant, extensible, scalable, based on open standards, not restricted by legacy technology, fully aware of Microsoft technologies for resilience or access and manageable.

Data stored within an archive solution will not be easily and quickly exported if the purchased solution fails to meet expectations. Making the correct decision up front becomes critical to the success of the project.

Planning an archive solution is an infrastructure project of equivalent scope to a new messaging system and it is vital that the correct decisions are made up front before changes to critical data are made.

Quest Software is exhibiting at Storage Expo 2007 the UK's largest and most important event dedicated to data storage. Now in its 7th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme and over 100 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 17 - 18 October 2007.
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