Back to school: Bringing enterprise data archiving principles to higher education

Data archiving needs are on the rise among universities.

Data archiving solutions have been widely accepted in the corporate world, giving enterprise leaders the peace of mind of knowing that even in the event of a catastrophic data loss incident, their most important historical records will be retained. But why stop at the enterprise level? There's no reason that other industries cannot similarly benefit from the use of archiving tools. In fact, some sectors have an arguably greater need for these resources as the amount of data they generate is off the charts. Specifically, universities and other institutions of higher education produce a great deal of information that needs to be stored for the long haul. Given the amount of in-depth research that is conducted at these schools, historical records need to be archived and made available whenever needed.

It would be difficult to overstate how much data is coursing through university networks and systems. Everything from enrollment records to research material must be cataloged, stored and kept in a state that permits access at a later date. Consider, for instance, the widespread switch from paper-based documents to digital ones. Many student records, grade reports and even reference materials are now stored on a server or hard drive somewhere instead of in a filing cabinet or on a library shelf.

Like every other sector, higher education is making the most of big data advancements, leaning on analytics tools to improve every facet of university operations. Under these circumstances, no piece of information can be deemed inconsequential and instead must be archived in the event that it could provide some meaningful insight.

All of these factors have come together to make data archiving a pressing need for institutions of higher education. For instance, the Indiana University Scholarly Data Archive can hold as much as 42 petabytes of data for the school's research purposes alone. The platform provides a two-fold service for the organization: storing important information for later use and backing up research records in the event that it needs to be recovered following a data loss incident.

Choosing the right platform
University officials must be mindful of their data archiving needs and find solutions that meet their specific demands. Legacy tape-based platforms may not be able to measure up to today's storage standards. For instance, tapes will become demagnetized as the years roll on, increasing the likelihood that some important kernel of information will be lost forever. Writing on his StorageMojo blog, data storage expert Robin Harris mentioned another compelling reason to forgo tape as a potential archiving tool, explaining that in order to maintain the integrity of the format's materials, tape users would need to deploy strict climate control processes. In addition to being expensive and arduous to implement, such technology may not be supported by an institution's data center.

Universities require a far more reliable, durable and simple solution to their data archiving needs. Again, higher education administrators should look to other sectors for inspiration addressing this issue. Many tech-savvy companies including Amazon and Facebook have tested archiving tools that are built upon optical discs in recent months. These organizations made waves earlier this year when they divulged details about Blu-ray-based cold storage systems for their data center operations. Consumers who associate Blu-ray with movies and video games may be surprised that these discs could shoulder the data archiving workload of tech-giant like Facebook, but those familiar with the media know better.

Blu-ray meets data archiving needs
Blu-ray offers a range of benefits that other forms of storage media simply cannot touch. Perhaps Blu-ray's greatest asset is its scalability. The technology's costs are decreasing just as its storage capacity continues to rise, making it a sensible solution from a pure financial perspective. But that low cost makes it a breeze for adopters to quickly scale up their archiving operations without needing to break the bank investing in new hardware. Additional discs can be added to an enterprise archiving tool at a moment's notice. This way, university leaders won't run the risk of being caught off guard by a sudden surge in data.

Those same material and environmental factors that make tape such a gamble for archiving are of no concern to Blu-ray users. These discs are remarkably durable, capable of remaining functional for decades in less-than-ideal storage conditions. Whereas tape will break down unless treated appropriately, Blu-ray discs will offer reliable data retrieval even in poor environments. In addition, because these discs are so affordable, organizations can create as many backups as they like.

When looking at possible data archiving solutions, institutions of higher education should prioritize scalability, durability and reliability. The last thing one of these organizations needs is to lose critical data backups because it chose to use a faulty platform. Optical media, and Blu-ray in particular, provides the full range of benefits that businesses look for in a high-quality archiving tool. Universities should consider taking advantage of these resources for their own needs as well.

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