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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.