Backups serve a very important purpose: they provide protection against many forms of data loss by creating multiple, regular, distributed copies. While they ensure short-term integrity, they are not intended to store data over a long period of time. Rather, they are designed to restore a system to a fixed time and date, and are dependent on maintaining the infrastructure of the system they back up.
Long term information access is one of the purposes for organisational recordkeeping and information management strategies. This makes generally backups unsuitable for long term information management, because they do not provide an easy means to go back and analyse past data. Organisations need both information management strategies and backup processes to comprehensively protect their business information.
Managing backup systems is a specialist role for ICT staff, and State Records does not prescribe detailed requirements for them. However, agencies need to remember the following when considering how backups can assist with the maintaining the integrity of their information.
You need all of the following to extract information from backup:
- the software used for the backup (probably within a short version range)
- a physical device that will read the backup media (for example an SDLT tape drive to read SDLT tapes) and
- a similar physical infrastructure to the original environment that was backed up (for example, a Windows server with particular disk characteristics).
All of these components will be readily available in short term scenarios but as soon as you move into 3-5 year timeframes, gaining access to appropriate components will become increasingly expensive or difficult. Once any of these components are no longer available, or no longer work effectively with the other components, access to the backed up information is effectively lost. Backup media also physically deteriorate without active management which increases the likelihood of information loss if backup is used as a longer term information management strategy.
Backup processes copy data only as it was maintained in your corporate systems and networks at a particular point in time.
Access to information, and determining where you might find it, therefore relies on knowing the administrative and IT structures that were used to create and control the information. Administrative and IT structures can change significantly quite quickly. One or two years down the track, it may be difficult to determine where it was located or what disk it was on. This may necessitate restoring large volumes of data, at great expense, to find the required information.
Records and IT staff work together to develop coordinated information management and backup strategies.
Business continuity strategies and information management strategies must work hand in hand, and the information management strategies must be relied up to protect and maintain information of long term business value.
To develop these coordinated approaches, records and IT staff need to:
- work together to understand their respective approaches
- determine where information management strategies are needed to support long term value business information
- develop appropriate information management approaches to create, capture and sustain long term value business records
- ensure ultimately that backups are used for business continuity purposes and that information management strategies cover all your organisation’s longer term needs for information accessibility, accountability and sustainability
Published April 2014