Is Mission-Critical Archiving an Oxymoron?

Last week I was discussing Dell’s growing set of archiving solutions with some colleagues.  One of them made the Rocketshipcase that archiving had grown from “dusty library stacks” to “mission-critical.”  The other said, “wait – since when is archiving mission-critical?”

It was a good question, and I’ve been thinking about it all week.

I started with Wikipedia: Mission critical refers to any factor of a system (equipment, process, procedure, software, etc.) whose failure will result in the failure of business operations. That is, it is critical to the organization’s ‘mission’.”

Classically, this doesn’t seem to fit with archiving.  Archiving used to be about taking stale data that may have been required for, say, compliance purposes or “just-in-case” purposes, and putting it on less-expensive media.  If it were hard to get to, or slow to get to, or inconvenient, it wasn’t a big deal.  It certainly wasn’t messing with a company’s mission to take a few hours or days in retrieving it.

But fast forward to today’s archiving applications.  First off, I suppose it’s not quite accurate to call this class of applications “archival.” Growing amounts of unstructured data – machine generated, rich content, and other types – have driven the development of a variety of innovative technologies.  I still think of them as “archival” because they leverage less expensive storage platforms; in truth that moniker may be outdated.

Semantics aside, the applications in which this data growth is being realized are often mission-critical to an organization. Take medical archiving for example:  PACS systems have become large – in some cases prohibitively large – for traditional storage platforms.  Many hospitals and clinics are taking advantage of innovative technologies for storing large amounts of data, but when a patient comes in for a checkup or an emergency, it’s “mission critical” that the data be accessible.

For a more general example, consider Microsoft SharePoint.  For many organizations whose documents are stored on SharePoint, it may not be realistic to manage the growth of these repositories using traditional SAN and NAS storage.  But moving the documents onto a different storage platform doesn’t make them any less important – if engineers can’t get to their CAD diagrams, or marketing executives to their product briefs, then they can’t do their jobs.

A final example could be the emergence of Big Data as a set of technologies designed to keep up with the growth of data and provide insights – kind of like next-generation or real-time business analytics.  These solutions often require alternate
storage solutions
to support the size of the data load.  But the real-time nature of the analytics required to know e.g., which ad to serve or which color widget to produce more of still has to work, or the model doesn’t appropriately support the business.

Maybe the problem is calling these technologies “archiving.”  But I would suggest that whatever they are, they do are mission-critical, as they support mission-critical services within an organization.

What do you think?  Has archiving (or whatever you call your plan for growing unstructured data) become inextricably linked to mission-critical services in your organization?

About the Author: Sheryl Koenigsberg