The amount of corporate data required to be stored and managed has been growing exponentially over the last three decades, writes John Hope-Bailie, technical director of Demand Data. The already-astonishing rate of growth shows no signs of slowing. Much of the data is semi- or unstructured content comprising documents, images, video and audio clips and other data.

Industry experts agree that as much as 80% of the content could either be deleted or moved to an off-line archive where it would be quietly forgotten. Such a move would facilitate significantly shortened backup and restore times and generally improve application performance. It would also reduce the need for ever-expanding, costly on-stream disk storage repositories.
However, in the face of new governance and retention compliance regulations, it is becoming clear that all corporate data – active or inactive, worthless or mission-critical – needs to be stored for posterity.
Today, the challenge lies in keeping all corporate data active and capable of being referenced in an on-line archive. Adding complexity to the problem is the fact that corporate data – often confidential and mission-critical data – is generally located in diverse places such as departmental file servers, on the corporate storage area network (SAN), on backup tapes in remote stores, on individuals’ laptop or desktop computers and in application-specific repositories.
A new solution, embracing new technologies, is needed to deal with these problems that could threaten the ability of businesses to meet regulatory obligations in the not-too-distant future.
One of the technologies geared to resolve the storage challenge is ‘active archiving’. This is described as the process of identifying and moving infrequently used data from an overloaded storage repository onto another storage medium. This data can be kept available in an on-line archive, possibly cloud-based, and capable of being easily and quickly retrieved on demand.
Today, active archiving is becoming a specialised service driven by third party service providers, such as Iron Mountain, which generally provides e-discovery, storage management, business continuity, security and disaster recovery in a single, integrated portfolio.
Active archiving technology, unlike traditional archiving and hierarchical storage management (HSM) programs of a few years ago, allows archived data to be quickly accessed or restored while maintaining its referential integrity – the correct relationships between it and other records.
According to the recently-formed (April 2010) Active Archive Alliance, active archive technology is a combined solution of open systems applications and disk and tape hardware that allows users to access all their data while giving them an effortless means to store and manage it.
In effect, active archiving combines tape drives and disk subsystems – including high density SAS-and SATA drives and performance-optimized RAID arrays – to maximise the benefits all systems and appliances.
A key to the broad acceptance of active archiving technology – says the Alliance – is the rapid development of software applications with the ability to connect file systems and automated tape archives while optimising performance and data security.
Active Archiving has the ability to easily scale by adding disk drives to any tier of storage on the fly and move disk-based file systems seamlessly onto tape. This gives users the opportunity to extend a file system over different storage structures to appear as a virtualised, single, logical storage volume.
In the near future, active archive applications will allow authorised people – corporate or government – to view, access and search data on tape or disk through a file system interface.
At the same time it will enable organisations to deploy a mix of file system software, disk and tape to better manage their stored data repositories. These solutions will be easy to use, scalable and cost-effective. Importantly, they will fulfil both retention compliance and day-to-day business requirements using a single, automated system.
Active archiving will therefore change the implementation model of data accessibility and the economics of information lifecycle management. It will result in organisations being able to take far better advantage of their institutional knowledge, often gained over many years, frequently mining this information to help them gain competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In addition, new advancements in tape libraries and archival technologies should boost active archiving technology’s ability to become one of the most sought after applications in data centre modernisation and upgrade programmes.
For example, it will give data centre managers more flexibility in terms of designing efficient and more cost-effective archive solutions because of the technology’s ability to leverage the cost benefits of tape with the direct and random access advantages associated with disk storage in a ‘mixed’ environment.