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Digital archiving helps avoid ediscovery litigation

Implementing digital archiving technology for your data storage customers will help them avoid litigation by keeping copies of critical data stored properly and easy to access with ediscovery.

Digital archiving is difficult for customers to define, which means it isn't unreasonable for a value-added reseller (VAR) to step into the role of trusted advisor and help customers get a handle on digital archive technology.

Digital data archiving is just as important for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as it is to large enterprises. But different sections of the company often times have different ways to define what is data archiving.

"Most users have a hard time defining what digital archiving is," said Paul Myerson, senior channel analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group. "Legal, IT and the records department all have to access to archives, but each group views it differently."

With so many different hands in the cookie jar, and each department not knowing what the others need from archiving, resellers can clear up the confusion around digital archiving.

Data backup isn't good enough

In order to help customers understand digital archiving, resellers first have to understand how their customers think of data storage and teach them why data backup isn't archiving.

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"Two-thirds of users use backup as primary archiving," said Myerson. "That's a problem. Backup is used to ensure that a recent copy of production data is available for recovery in the event of a disaster, outage or accidental data loss."

This misconception that data backup is data archiving gives resellers the opportunity to change the conversation and help customers understand why proper data archiving is crucial to their businesses.

"Let's face it, it will only take one instance of a company being sued and having to produce data that it can't find to make archiving important in that shop," said Mike Jude, research director for Ptak and Noel Associates.

The problem with data archiving and backup usually begins with the data itself. Unstructured data is a problem that Bob Panos, vice president of technical services for Deerfield, IL-based Meridian IT, has been talking about with customers for some time.

"Most midmarket customers know that data regulations exist, but don't have the experience to make the changes in their shops to meet regulatory compliance," said Panos.

The importance of a data management plan

"Unstructured content is any data that exists anywhere but in a database," said Myerson. "The content in email that's not the email itself is also unstructured content, and lends itself well to a data management plan."

Unstructured content lives on servers, workstations and anywhere else users store information. Because there is no easy way to find the information -- aside from users remembering where they stored it -- this is a problem for companies that have to produce information in legal situations.

"Recently all electronic modalities have become susceptible to electronic discovery," said Jude. "This means emails and instant message conversations. Not being able to find that content because it is unstructured can have serious ramifications for any company."

This data jumble does give resellers the opportunity to get their foot in the door with customers.

"Because everyone is aware that not complying with regulations can mean litigation, resellers can use unstructured content to land contracts," said Panos. "Quick indexing and searching is becoming a more important part of businesses every day."

One option on the path to creating a comprehensive digital archiving system for a customer is to provide meta data around unstructured content. By having these indicators on each piece of data, resellers and customers can search for a document and find out what it is about.

"If a customer has to come up with a specific contract and there's no meta data, it might take a while for someone to track it down," said Panos. "But with meta data in place, that contract can be loaded into a database that can easily do a search for those certain meta parameters."

Unfortunately, meta data won't create itself. "There's a large manual element to the process," said Panos. "A channel pro might be asked to do that work, but realistically, only someone from the company knows enough about the data to write useful meta tags."

With meta data and a database in place, digitally archiving data becomes more reasonable for channel professionals and customers alike.

How to implement digital archiving

A digital archive project can be taken on once data has been structured and customers have moved from backup to digital archiving, resellers are in a position to help customers move to digital archiving technology.

"There are three camps for digital archiving: compliance and litigation support; IT efficiency; and, workflow and business process improvement," said Myerson.

Each facet of a company has a need to move business critical information from a backup state to an archived state, but compliance and litigation support has the most readily available funds. This camp provides a good opportunity for resellers to create a data management outsourcing agreement, an archiving service and sell the accompanying hardware.

"Information that is critical and that needs to be kept on hand should go through a data management process," said Jude. "Typically, content will start off online, then move to network-attached storage (NAS) then to digital archive, but there are numerous ways responsible companies can archive that information."

Because the data is archived and has the proper meta tags to make it easily searchable, should a company need to produce data because of a lawsuit or any other reason, the digital archives can be searched and the data can easily be found, said Panos.

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