One of the most troublesome issues IT teams ever have to face is managing the complexity of media migrations and, yet more troublesome, of their data contents!

From the 60’s up to today many things have changed, but the in the last 20/30 years it all increasily became much more complex!
Tapes are for sure still the cheapest and safest media for big amounts of data, but nonetheless, we can’t ignore that technical and commercial motivations lead to a de-facto incompatibility among different media generations.
Technological advancements might (and actually do) lead to impair the recovery of old data when needed!

the problem

During the first digitalization wave, many users thought it would be safer to keep a digital copy of their paper files (digital pictures, digitized prints….) saved on media touted as everlasting! (you surely remember Magneto-optical discs and UDO, don’t you?)
The biggest issue most of the users underestimated, was not “how long will the media be readable”, but “will there be a device capable of reading it in the next future?”
Actually many media formats (as well as the companies who devised and supplied them) vanished, along with hardware, drives, vendor support and so on…
But this is just the beginning: technological evolution resulted not just in media and hardware obsolescence, a more subtle issue arose: the impossibility to extract the data stored on the media, since data format also changed and current recovery softwares no longer support many older formats.

Many companies have tens of thousands or even more tapes, stored inside their silos or carefully vaulted, but as time passes it gets more and more difficult to keep track of all the media and provide safe and certain ways to recover the data they hold.
Furthermore, regulatory compliance requirements get more and more complex, many types of data must be retained for a very long, if not never-lasting, timespan. Just think about health records or land office data.

The issue gets more and more serious, sometimes even insurmountable. When a company chooses (or is forced to) to change backup / archival system, there will be decades spanning data to migrate. Often the company will not be able to perform an online conversion, being forced to maintain the old system for several more years, along with the new one, having to cope with huge costs.

a pleasant meeting

Yesterday I had the pleasure to meet Giancarlo Gaggero and his company, Data Strategies International. Giancarlo and his team developed a set of technologies, tools and services aimed to help those who have to face the problems I just mentioned. Their headquarters are in Houston (USA), their EU subsidary is in Lomazzo (Near Como in Italy), they specialize in migrations they call “off line data migrations” approach.

We stayed and talked for several hours and they showed me some terrific success stories from all over the world.
One of the most impressive was a migration they performed in 2007: from more than 12’000 DLT-IV to 1’400 LTO-3 tapes while migrating data format from the legacy backup software to the latest version of a different one, and encrypting the data in the process, all carried out off-line in few months, without needing active participation by the customer’s personnel

This service is not suitable for every company, but these projects’ ROI are awesome!

I recorded a long interview with Giancarlo, which I will publish hopefully soon here on Juku.