Traditionally, ‘archiving’ means preserving historical records. The records maintained are unique, unlike books in a library which typically have many copies in circulation. Archives served as original sources for research into particular topics. For example, Coca Cola has a historical archive that records the company’s history, and can use the details to relive old memories and enhance its brand appeal.
- In modern electronic document management software, archiving has a distinct meaning. It can mean offloading little-used data from expensive primary storage to less expensive secondary storage devices. The data offloaded is still accessible when necessary.
- Such an archiving strategy not only reduces expenses but also improves system performance, which can otherwise get slowed down. It has been estimated that up to 80 percent of production data might not have mission-critical significance, and hence need not be immediately accessible.
- Electronic-data archiving often uses automated programs that identify low-use records and moves these to secondary storage devices that might still be accessible on-line. For example, data can be moved to third party Web-storage facilities.
- Electronic archiving can involve concatenating many files, often compressing and encrypting them. Such a practice can reduce storage space requirements and encryption can make the data accessible only to those who have the key for access.
- Ensuring integrity of archived data is important and error-detection algorithms are typically used to check that the copy is the same as the original.
- While archiving production data has the objectives of reducing costs and improving performance, non-production data is typically archived to meet regulatory requirements (in addition to recording history). Government regulations require that certain records, such as financial accounts, be kept for specific numbers of years.
- Preserving electronic data faces some unique problems. Technological progress is extremely fast in the information-technology industry, and this leads to the hardware and software used for creating the data becoming obsolete fast.
- Storage media is becoming more compact, and new media using different file formats might not be able to read data created by old media. New versions of software are also introduced regularly to take advantage of technology improvements, and current versions might not be able to read data created by old versions.
- Several strategies have been suggested to cope with the readability problems associated with archived data. These include regular copying of old data to new media, regular conversion of old data to new formats, and developing emulation programs that can enable current systems to simulate earlier environments and read data created under those environments.
- Archiving electronic data has to handle readability issues, and this is often handled by tagging each document with a retention policy. Data that has passed its useful and statutory life can then be moved out permanently, saving the cost of maintaining old data in a readable format.
- Archiving involves assessing why and how long each document should be preserved. The method of disposing expired data should also be determined.
- Considering that one major objective of archiving is to meet statutory requirements, attending to the readability issue becomes even more critical. Otherwise the business can find itself in serious trouble, as when electronic discovery of particular documents required for litigation or audit purposes becomes impossible.
Archiving documents is a critical function of document management. It can save on costs, improve system performance, and prevent the business from landing in serious legal problems. Special attention must be paid to ensuring readability of the archived electronic data during its lifetime because the data can easily become unreadable when old technology is replaced by new technology.