Documents have to be stored for several purposes such as generating decision-support information, enforcing legal rights, complying with statutory requirements, and recording history. Storing electronic data for long periods face several potential problems such as obsolescence of storage media and the software to read the data recorded on the media. It’s in this context that the issue of electronic document storage requires special attention.
- Storage devices differ in several ways, and different kinds of storage are appropriate for different requirements. Traditionally, the term storage covered even computer memory that stored data being used in work. It was seen as primary storage with the fastest access speeds.
- These days, primary storage means hard drives, which store data that can be accessed online by the system in milliseconds. The hard drives might exist on the local workstation computer or the server computer in a network. In addition to the hard drive, data on removable media such as compact discs (currently in the removable media drive) can also be considered primary storage.
- Secondary storage typically means removable media that can be accessed robotically in seconds. A few or large number of disks are stored in devices with a requisite numbers of storage slots. On command from the system, a robotic arm takes a particular disk and mounts it on a drive accessible to the system.
- Offline storage also consists of removable media. In this case, however, there is no robotic mechanism to make it available to the system in seconds. Instead, it will have to be selected and mounted into a drive by humans, which will typically take more than a few seconds.
- Production documents that need to be accessed frequently will be in primary storage. Production documents that are infrequently accessed are typically moved to secondary storage, to be quickly available when needed. Archived data goes into offline storage, to be retrieved when needed.
- The media in secondary storage will be catalogued so that the system can consult the catalog and instruct the robot to select a particular disk for moving online. Unless the media in offline storage is also labeled and catalogued, time might be wasted searching for specific documents.
- Offline storage media is used to store backed-up data, and in these cases, they might be stored away from the main office. In case a natural disaster strikes the primary facility, the remotely stored backup can then be used to restore the data.
- Where data in the backup is mission critical, they might be stored in secondary storage media (the robotic mechanism) to be quickly retrieved in case of damage to primary data.
- A current practice is to use third-party Web services for storing data. These dedicated data-storage companies will not only have specialized expertise to safeguard stored data, but can also provide incidental services such as systematic backup and maintaining data in a readable state.
- Readability of data is an important issue because fast changing information technology can make current storage hardware obsolete and new versions of software might not be able to read documents created with older versions.
- Data is made readable using electronic file structures. As computer architecture moves from 32 bit to 64 bit, for example, major changes can occur in the way data is stored and old data might become unreadable. Specific strategies are required to cope with this problem.
- Storage devices are also changing. Paper and punched tapes have practically disappeared while magnetic tapes are used less and less frequently. New devices like flash memory and solid state storage devices (with no moving parts) are increasingly used. These developments can also affect continued readability of old data.
Good document management systems can help you store data in ways that meet your processing needs. They will also have facilities for backing up data, conversion of old data into new formats, and for other requirements that ensure safe document storage for periods desired by your organization.