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Data Archiving Best Practices

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Some of the best tips regarding dos and don'ts of data archive are elaborated in this document.

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Data Archiving Best Practices

  1. 1. Data Archiving - Best Practices There are certain dos and don'ts of data archive that you must be aware of for ensuring that the potential of this facility is made the best use of. Let us have a detailed analysis. 1) DO: Draw a clear demarcation line between data archiving and backing up solutions In the recent years, certain mainstream vendors have tried to present data backing up and archiving as the same concept. However, both are discrete functionalities with different purposes. Backups serve to facilitate data recovery. As opposed to this, archives are meant to store information for longer durations and are not intended as disaster recovery tools. Few healthcare providers refrain from backing up or replicating their archives as they believe that altering of archived data is a taboo. Archives, like other IT mechanisms, are liable to fail and result in corrupted documents. An extra copy of archive should always be maintained although daily backups are not recommended. Any organization that uses SAN or Storage Area Network should embrace storage replication mechanism for ensuring presence of extra archived copy which spontaneously updates itself or gets copied to the cloud for ready availability when disaster strikes.
  2. 2. 2) DON’T: Set up archive storage in a manner that can potentially crash if a single constituting component gives away Organizational priority is retaining critical information rather than spending significantly on expensive storage devices for archiving is rarely accessed. Consequently, cheaper quality hardware is procured for archiving data. This hardware is prone to fail unexpectedly, as a single lapse can trigger entire damage, and result in massive loss of sensitive organizational information. Such loss can result in levying of suitable penalties as per HIPAA regulations. Storage system would experience costly downtime if a component fails prematurely, although without causing any information loss. Archived content is accessed for critical reasons and it imperative that the construction of the archive system should be strategic enough to prevent any single point failure to drive total crash. Such proactive measure is one of the data archiving best practices and would ensure zero data loss, corruption or archive system outage. 3) DO: Define explicit policies for storing data in various storage tiers A healthcare organization has mammoth volumes of information that are carefully stored within its archive system. The concomitant cost of maintaining such archives can be significant. To reduce the associated costs, organizations customarily use multi-tier storage. A typical pattern is to distribute the archive amongst SAN, Cloud and tape/ disc storage media. Organizations need to formulate explicit policies to dictate the usage of different storage tiers. The policy framing should take into perspective stored data’s average age, type or criticality of data, frequency of access needed and other important factors. In case of healthcare organizations, it is judicious to have patient’s health related information for past few years stored on spinning disk for ready access, whereas antiquated information may be stored on cloud or other devices. Such a move would streamline organizational performance by allowing seamless storage archived data that needs frequent access while delegating rarely accessed data to cheap storage devices or platforms. 4) DON’T: Accord equal importance to entire array of data for archiving purpose The need for robust policies to govern archiving in different storage tiers based on prioritized criteria is inevitable. Equally important is to understand that entire array of documents cannot be homogenously treated for archiving purposes. Data types dictate the mode of storage. The different media to be allocated for tier based storage is contingent on retention needs of the organization. To instantiate this, we may consider a scenario wherein the healthcare organization’s internal standards seek retention of patient’s health related history for ten years after the patient’s demise whereas finance related documents need to be safely stored for five years.
  3. 3. It is equally vital to realize that all data need not be sent to the archives. Garbage, temporary files that has fulfilled the requirement for which it had been created should be treated as trash and may not be stored. A relevant example is the case of PowerPoint presentation that had been prepared to promote a medicine which has now become obsolete. 5) DO: Initiate measures for automating data lifecycle management. Manual intervention in the domain of archiving sensitive data from the perspective of healthcare organizations, irrespective of the scale of operation or revenues, is neither realistic nor logical. A volley of reasons renders manual archiving method unrealistic. At the outset, archiving data manually calls for employment of dedicated staff which is a recurring cost for the organization. Initially, this cost and related process might appear manageable, but with passage of time and steep rise in the magnitude of organizational data, the process may become uncontrollable and burdensome. Historic trends have proved this fact numerous times. Data emanating from healthcare segment is getting amplified at the rate of 40% annually. Such an unwieldy proposition may appear affordable to some healthcare providers based on long term projections. But, such a venture is wasteful from the perspective of utilizing the time of IT professionals. You may appreciate the fact that deploying your erudite staff for manual archiving process is not prudent as products related to automated data lifecycle management are present to facilitate data archiving process. Another argument in the favour of automated managing of data lifecycle is that consistently performing manual archiving is tedious process. Any organization does not carry out manual management on day to day basis. This may compel the IT professionals within the organizational fabric to overlook regular management of lifecycle data and concentrate on more important tasks at hand. Another reason that decimates the validity of manually managing data lifecycle is that flaws can inadvertently and surreptitiously creep in due to manual involvement. Accidental deletion, assigning of data for archiving to unintended storage device or premature purging can result in information loss. Such errors may lead to grim consequences for the healthcare provider as mismanagement of patients’ health related documents may invite legal penalties. It is advisable and prudent to invest forthright in data lifecycle automation software. Such an initiative to invest in a data archiving software program would lead to significant savings in terms of employment costs and other overheads. It would also render the organization immune from punitive action by concerned legal bodies.
  4. 4. 6) DON’T: Take security of data seriously, particularly when using cloud for archiving Stored content, although comprised of antiquated information, is critical. Any provider does not undertake archiving unless such an action spell usefulness in future or facilitates conforming to federal retention stipulations in the long haul. The document that has been archived may pertain to financial records, safeguarded electronic health records, employees’ personally identifiable information or other sensitive information. Such sensitive archives need to be secured adequately. This assumes importance when cloud is used for storage as the service does not fall under your operational purview. As per the provisions of ‘The Omnibus rule’, providers of cloud services are considered as business associates. The onus of security breach is shared by the organization with its business partners. This makes it mandatory for the healthcare organization to ensure the security provisions of HIPAA compliance of the partnered cloud media provider. 7) DO: Evaluate the advantages and vulnerabilities of different storage solutions Data storage can be carried out in multiple ways. Each storage option has its own set of pros and cons. Before finalizing the data archiving strategy, it is important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the medium. This can be instantiated by the fact that data storage cost per GB on tape is very low and the medium can be relied upon. However, accessibility quotient is compromised as tape has to be mounted prior to each data reading session. Tapes are portable and offer avenue for any unauthorized person to copy the classified information easily. Tape tracking and security mechanism have to be installed to monitor and authenticate tapes’ usage. An option that is gaining in popularity is on-premises online archiving, wherein data is stored by spinning disks on SAN or other network based device. The data can be accessed readily and loss due to component failure is ruled out. However, the method is expensive compared to removable devices. The storage mechanism is scalable but requires additional infrastructural support in terms of more floor space and power costs. Once the storage turns obsolete, one has to incur additional costs in terms of archive migration and hardware upgrading. Cloud storage data archiving system is cheaper than on-premise version and is scalable. The only thing to remember is that documents storage would happen outside your operational ambit. This means that the credentials of cloud service provider should be scrutinized carefully for ensuring top notch security. 8) DON’T: Venture alone for automating data lifecycle management Eventually, always keep in perspective that as a healthcare provider, you have to exhibit optimum compliance to HIPAA data retention stipulations and can be subjected to punitive action for incompliance. It is important that the decision to implement automated data
  5. 5. lifecycle management should be taken after due professional consultation with agencies that assist IT section of healthcare providers in implementing robust archiving mechanisms with state of the art solutions. Thus only experienced digital archiving companies can ensure optimal data management and archiving. It is therefore recommended to get indulged in an extensive brainstorming process before you finalize your selection.

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