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When compliance-related best efforts for data archiving aren't enough

When it comes to compliance, regulations often dictate that an organization must demonstrate “best efforts” for archiving data. The term best efforts is vague, at best, and can mean different things to different people.

But for regulators, the term best efforts has its roots in the ability to retrieve and audit data. For CTOs, it means a backup and archiving platform. For CFOs, it means the lowest-cost solution that meets the minimum requirements. Defining best efforts in a meaningful fashion is usually a task that IT managers responsible for compliance technology find themselves assigned.

Luckily, those IT managers can dissect the term best efforts to figure out an applicable definition by keeping one other technology term in mind: e-discovery. The requirements behind e-discovery make it easy to see that best efforts must go beyond merely storing relevant information. The e-discovery process dictates that data must be archived securely in a protected fashion that supports auditing — the key word here being auditing.

For all intents and purposes, best efforts means much more than just archiving data. It also means the ability to retrieve the data in a relevant fashion, and that is where things start to get complicated. Retrieving the data, especially if it is years old, often requires access to the applications that can report on the data. This, in turn, means old email clients, accounting systems and other relevant applications must be maintained, as well as the platforms that support those applications.

This is a major challenge when one considers that audit windows can range from a few months to 20 years or more, depending on the type of data and the regulations that apply. So what does all of this mean?

Simply put, IT managers need to plan for the retrieval of data, not just its archiving. Luckily, technologies such as virtualization make the process a little easier today. When creating an archive, IT managers can do a physical-to-virtual conversion and store all of the needed elements as a virtual machine, which can be accessed at a later date using a hypervisor.

Frank Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology arena. He has written for several leading technology publications, including Computerworld, TechTarget, PCWorld, ExtremeTech and Tom’s Hardware, and business publications including Entrepreneur and BNET. Ohlhorst was also executive technology editor at eWEEK and director of CRN Test Center.

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