For several years now, the data-retention and records management experts have said it's unrealistic to think a business can afford to keep every electronic document it has forever. Especially since the amount of electronic data is growing exponentially. Instead, it's better to invest in technology that will allow automated compliance with various retention requirements and format requirements or litigation holds, and then will delete obsolete data automatically once the retention periods expire.
Marie-Charlotte Patterson, marketing VP at AXS-One, told me last year:
The expectation is that technology... needs to be pretty flexible so that whichever way regulation goes, or whichever way the corporation decides to take its business, the technology can be adapted pretty quickly. That includes things like the length of retention periods, what the obligations around retention are in terms of where records need to be kept, regulatory supervision...
It made perfect sense to me then and still does today.
But in an InformationWeek piece published Tuesday, Storage Switzerland's George Crump suggests it may be time to revisit the "keep everything forever" approach to information management. My knee-jerk reaction is "How could that actually work?" but I don't specialize in records management and storage, and he does. So I'm willing to consider what he has to say. (Granted, it's also his job to sell the products his company offers, so that should figure into the equation as well.)
His argument has three prongs. First, the number of regulations that require data to be retained in various forms is constantly increasing, especially for large companies that do business on a global scale. It's probably easier to keep everything than trying to figure out what, if anything, isn't subject to a retention requirement of some sort.
Second, Crump says: The technology to archive years and even decades worth of data is more viable than ever. He notes that disk-based solutions are now up to the challenge. He also notes that cloud-based storage should never be ruled out, given its scalability and low cost. He notes that LTO-5 is also an option.
Finally, he says the ease with which older documents can be moved to secondary storage is continiuing to improve.
All these things are true. The key is whether all that data, once it's archived, is easily searchable so that things that may be needed for regulatory audits or litigation are readily available.