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Commentary

Does Data Retention Really Protect A Corporation?

As I have gone through the series on developing a keep data for ever strategy, one of the criticisms has been about the risk to the organization. The conventional wisdom is that email stores and PST files are fertile ground for opposing counsel looking for evidence and by keeping that data forever you are exposing yourself to further risk. My opinion is that you are at no greater risk than with a strict r
As I have gone through the series on developing a keep data for ever strategy, one of the criticisms has been about the risk to the organization. The conventional wisdom is that email stores and PST files are fertile ground for opposing counsel looking for evidence and by keeping that data forever you are exposing yourself to further risk. My opinion is that you are at no greater risk than with a strict retention strategy as explained below.There is concern over the ability to search data. Assuming that your retention strategy follows the most typical regulations, you are going to keep data for seven years or so even under a strict policy. The effort needed to build a search capability that can search data for seven years is just as difficult as one that will search data kept forever. There are search engines today that can comfortably maintain a search index on several petabytes of information. As the information repository grows so will the power of the underlying search engine. The search engine will benefit from increased and less expensive processing power as well as faster, more intelligent and less expensive storage systems.

The second concern is over legal exposure. In my experience, even in the tightest of retention policies information gets out, the likelihood that a corporation can successfully bury incriminating information in today's digital age is nearly impossible. If an employee finds something offensive or thinks its employer is not doing something correctly it is highly likely that they will email a copy of incriminating information to themselves to cover themselves in the future. Basic human nature is to protect oneself first before their employer.

In fact in this situation I would go so far as to say that a strict retention policy actually hurts a corporation that is on the defense. The policy may very well delete the evidence, but if that evidence gets out, the policy may also delete information that the corporation could have used to defend itself. For example an email reprimanding the offensive action. At a minimum the organization is leaving itself open to surprise by having the evidence brought to their attention instead of being prepared.

A final point, a keep data forever strategy, does not eliminate the job of the data retention manager. They become the data retention organizer, the master of the archive that makes sure that the processes required by a keep data forever strategy are working. It will require some focus, especially in larger archives to make sure the index is working, capacity optimization is functioning and to plan on migration to new types of storage as the present one ages.

The important message is that organizations should not assume that a strict data retention strategy is protecting them. Any information that you don't want to get out, will. You are better off being prepared for that eventuality. Hopefully it never happens, but as the book says, hope is not a strategy.

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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

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