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The pitfall of Backup Retention

on Thursday, 24 November 2011. Posted in EMC

Backup! Copy of the original. That's all it is. Not more not less.

Healthcare is an environment where not only backup is important but retention as well. Besides law and regulations, many institutions want to conform to an ISO standard. The NEN 7510 is such a standard which establish standards for the security and privacy of healthcare-related data. This standard can be considered as a framework. Within this framework, each process owner for his / her process considered relevant specification, including the accompanying measures and auditability.

In Dutch healthcare is a retention of 15 years by law required. The law stipulates that an University Hospital keep his medical record until 115 years after birth (relating to patient). You may wonder where I'm going with this.

Do we need to store data for at least 15 years in our backup?

This alone is a huge expensive. But costs are only one small detail. Many hospitals have a lot of data. They also using X-ray equipment which generate more data. Traditionally, healthcare organizations have relied on tape backup systems to protect file data as well as to archive a variety of information including digital images.  However, with storage volume use growing annually, most healthcare organizations not only are outgrowing the tape format but are also increasingly vulnerable to the inherent problems of tape backup. Asume you have to restore a record from 12 years ago. Likely you have not seen this tape for over 11 years. It is also likely this tape is corrupted or damaged in any way you can imagine. Asume it's not damaged, you probably updated your application many times. Maybe you merge with another company or have migrated to another application. It starts to look like a mission impossible. This is just one of many problems that can occur.

More and more applications comply with laws and regulations already. So, why store data for more than 15 years in your backup environment? DON'T! Everything from the past years has been saved in your applications. It's alle there and it's online available! Strictly speaking, you only need your backup from yesterday. Just for Disaster Recovery.

But obviously it's not as simple as that. We all know you have to restore data not only from yesterday. In a certain way you must have a retention policy. The wors case that can happen is someone deletes a record. If he does, he's responsable for that. But you're right when saying that it is an easy way to abdicate my responsibilities. When something goes wrong everyone looks to the IT department. They depend on it. It's like when there is no more water from the tap, nobody drinks anymore. Despite that, you need to look at retention policy. You only get this done if someone in your business is responsable for this data. Yes I am talking about the application ownership! This is a responsability too you know! Make your business aware of the impact saving all, into your backup environment. As the leader goes, so goes the organization. A backup plan needs executive sponsorship. Without executive sponsorship, these backup plans are not feasible. They are responsible for making decisions relating to  company policies, procedures, and strategic directions. Ensure that it has the attention from executive management. When it does, it's more broad-based and probably more successful.

The NEN 7510 requires auditability. It is no longer enough to have a backup. You must prove that you actually can run a restore. This can only if you frequently test your restore-procedure. And there is a difference between a daily file restore or a disaster recovery test. Try restoring 'old' data(bases) on an existing system already has been updated many times. If it fails what is worth your retention. Aspects that you need to take care of. Not to take for granted.

Data grows. We don't throw away things that easily. Partly because we don't need to, partly because it is law. For storage vendors it is big business, that's for sure. But try to be aware of the impact of long-term retentions. It's a mountain of data with its complexity and relatively high costs!


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