Wednesday, 5 February 2014

And what do we do with the media after we recover the data ?

Last night I had a disturbing dream.
I dreamt that the cleaners had thrown out the boxes of tape media stored in front of my desk. Of course they had done no such thing.
But it raises a question. What do we do with legacy media once we have recovered content?
There is a lot of born digital archival data out there stored on legacy media such as dat tapes, zip drives, five and a quarter inch floppies and the like.
And in the main we can't read them - well not easily. We can either buy and maintain the equipment ourselves, or else employ a specialist recovery company to read the media for us. Typically we send off boxes of tapes and get back a single terabyte drive containing the recovered content. And on the whole we are quite good at creating procedures to ensure that the media is handled correctly, as after all, it contains the only record of the data and has cost time and money to produce.
But after we have read an ingested the contents of the terabyte drive, verified that data is readble, created metadata and the like, what do we then do?
Actually, of course there's two problems, disposing of the recovered media and disposing of the original media.

Dealing with recovered media

When we get recovered data back from the data recovery company we use it comes on either a usb stick or on an external hard drive. The data recovery company keeps a copy of the recovered data for a short period of time just in case the courier's van suffers a mishap. Once we've confirmed we've received and and been able to read the recovered data there's no reason for them to keep the data, although I'm sure they'd be happy to keep an archival copy for us using a service like Glacier if we asked nicely and gave them our credit card number.
Once we've ingested the data into our storage system the drive containing the data becomes pretty redundant. However, as they don't take a lot of physical storage space we might as well keep them just in case. For a year or two at least.
After then we have a choice:
  1. Offer them to the data owner. They might have their own reasons for keeping them
  2. Dispose of the media using a secure data disposal service
In both cases it's important to document what we did, and get some sort of formal receipt from either the disposal company or the custodian. (I was once involved in a problem where. as part of resolving a contractual dispute, a whole pile of emails had to be retrieved from a tape archive, and it turned out that someone had had a little finger trouble and had prematurely wiped some of the archive - records and incident reports were key to showing it had been a genuine stuffup and not malicious)

Dealing with the original media

This is a little more contentious. It's basically useless, and given that you've just spent a few thousand dollars having it read by specialist contractors it's unlikely you are going to repeat the experience.
This is of course assuming that the data has been recovered successfully. If the media was corrupt or otherwise not able to be read successfully you might well want to keep the originals in case someone has a bright idea about how to recover the data.
Legacy media is also bulky to store. A cubic metre's worth of DAT tapes will fit on a single external hard drive. The data owner may not want it back for this reason.
However what we do with it is basically just the same as we do with the recovered data:
  1. Offer them to the data owner. They might have their own reasons for keeping them
  2. Dispose of the media using a secure data disposal service
But of course in both cases document what we have done. That way we have a provenance for the archived copy of the data and a history of what was done and how.

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