Data Storage Media Volatility: eDiscovery Challenges, Solutions, and Good Habits

Guest Post By Peter Sternkopf
TERIS Chief Technology Officer

As 2013 begins, legal technology industry service providers and their customers face a growing challenge: the responsibility to mitigate the risks and exposure of managing and maintaining client data (PII, PHI, PCI, etc.).

Considering the sheer volume of data currently circulating, not to mention the volume of data being created on a daily basis; the idea of managing all that customer information becomes extremely overwhelming.  And even more so, when contemplating the necessity of storing, cataloging, and sourcing that data becomes almost unfathomable. eDiscovery Data Storage

According to the International Data Corporation, the amount of digital content created worldwide this year (2012) is expected to exceed 2.7 zettabytes (1 ZB is equivalent to one billion terabytes). This is the highest recorded data volume in history, yet that number is expected to double by the end of 2014. For a visual of how much data 2.7 ZB is, imagine each byte as a grain of sand and the amount of sand it would take to build the Hoover Dam; the total amount of data created could build about 1,080 Hoover Dams.

Meanwhile, data storage itself continues to be more challenging and efficiently sourcing that data is becoming more complex. Data storage media that have been safely used for many years are now becoming unstable, unusable or corrupt, sometimes within 5-10 years. What’s the point of storing such large volumes of data if those records become so quickly inaccessible? What are the best long-term solutions for data management, both in terms of physical hardware and long-term management philosophy?

Data Storage Challenges

You know that archiving and maintaining data is vital for the life and reputation of your company, but what’s the best way to do this? Although there are several types of storage formats, one thing to keep in mind is that each format and every interface will eventually become obsolete. This is a matter of constant concern for IT professionals: how long do you have to back up your data before the physical backup method used, eventually becomes corrupted or obsolete?  And even the backup media itself is subject to the same physical elements that peeled the paint off your 1978 Datsun B210 and warped your Rolling Stones- Steel Wheels vinyl LP: the laws of thermodynamics (heat, light, and moisture).

Changing temperatures and exposure to light are the two main culprits when it comes to physical corruption of backup data that even data forensic recovery methods may not be able to salvage. Under perfect conditions (stored without being used in a perfectly controlled environment), the most popular backups still have a frighteningly brief shelf life:

  • CD-ROM (compact disc): 2-5 year lifespan

  • DVD (digital versatile disc): 3-7 year lifespan (highly susceptible to scratching)

  • HDD (hard drive): 3-7 year lifespan

  • SSD (solid state drive): approx. 10 years

  • SDHC card (secure digital high-capacity): approx. 10 years

  • Blu-ray discs: should last 10-15 years, and hold up to 25 GB per layer 

A Simple Solution

Of these, TERIS suggests that for long-term data archival (longer than five years) for critical company and client data, further investigation should be made into Blu-ray (Gold) media storage.

Blu-ray has several positive points. Unlike DVDs, Blu-ray media is required to meet a base level of scratch resistance, making them sturdier over the long haul. Also, compared to other types of storage, they’re relatively cheap and can hold more data, up to 25 GB per layer.

On the downside, they’re sensitive to both light and heat, and could degrade quickly if not a gold-coated archival disc.  And, current ‘burn’ speeds are limited to the HW and media available… but that’s quickly improving.

Embracing Good Habits

The truth is; standardized long-term digital archiving solutions to aid eDiscovery simply don’t exist. The best way to make data last is to adopt better data habits for storage. The answer lies not in hardware or media, but in vigilance.

Redundancy remains the best protection available against data loss. Multiple copies across multiple platforms are still your best bet; never place all your faith in one single service, format, media, or location. For example, a system comprised of external hard drives, Blu-ray discs, and secure Cloud backup allows you to keep copies of your sensitive data in several locations at once. If one crashes, becomes corrupted or suffers from other forms of data loss, you still have other back-ups available. If possible, keep your backups in completely separate locations.

Even redundancy can have its issues, however. Staying on top of data management by periodically checking your storage for signs of corruption or degradation is a key element in the success of long-term data storage. This is a small price to pay for having a reliable backup of critical files and client data, and should be considered as a necessary and reasonable cost of doing business. If litigation rears its head down the road and you’re required to deliver your records for eDiscovery, the money you save on digital forensics services will more than pay for any storage methods you’ve used in the interim.

The most important thing is maintaining your critical and/or customer data in the most secure and incorruptible state as possible, until you either need it or destroy/discard it.

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