By Tim Kaschinske

When you archive your data, how long do you expect to keep it? Will you keep it for five, ten, twenty years, or longer?

In healthcare, there are regulatory requirements that mandate how long you keep much of the data that you have archived. Because of these requirements, you will likely keep your data for a long time: most for at least seven years, up to 21 years for patients whom are minors and, for many types of data, you will plan to keep it indefinitely.

The key question to consider, therefore, is what storage technologies will you use in the future to store your data? And, how will your data migrate over time from one generation of storage to another? To put this another way: for the data that you archive this year, which you need to retain for 20 years, which storage technologies will be in use in the year 2033?

For perspective, think about the technologies that were used to store data 20 years ago in 1993: Floppy drives were still widely used, the average disk drive on a PC was 2-5GB, DAT tape was a common backup media and CD-ROMs were just becoming popular. In the world of 1993, systems that needed to archive data often used tape jukeboxes.

In short, 1993 was a different planet for storage media from the world we now live in.

Fast forward to today, a world in which we select from a modern range of storage technologies such as SAN, NAS, LTO and cloud. This world was impossible to imagine in 1993, and the future of storage in 2033 is, likewise, unimaginable to us now.

Not convinced? Consider the evolution over 20 years in RAID technology. Disk drive sizes have made RAID 5 obsolete, requiring the double parity that is available with RAID 6. It is predicted that in 2019 RAID 6 will also become obsolete (read our related article on this topic). Will triple parity systems be required to replace RAID 6? As parity requirements increase, more disk is required to store that data. Data that is archived will need to be moved from RAID 5 to RAID 6 and beyond.
As I’ve said, it’s not predictable for us to imagine which storage media will be in use in the world of 2033. However, what is certain is that your hospital will need to migrate the data you archive now – not just one time, but many times – to keep pace with the evolution of storage technologies which we know will occur during that time span.

To ensure that your data is safe and secure through migrations and across many storage platform technology changes, the archive software that you use today must be storage agnostic. This means that the archive software writes the data in a manner such that it is independent of the actual storage system.

How can you be sure that your archive vendor offers software that meets this requirement? Here are some questions that you can ask to help you make a more informed archive decision:

  • Ask your software archive vendor what storage platforms they currently support
  • Do they support both old and new storage devices?
  • Most vendors support SAN or NAS, but what tape devices do they still support for older data that is still stored there?
  •  Do they support cloud storage?
  • Do they support storage from multiple vendors?
  • Do they support all of the storage vendors that you need today?
  • Are they likely to support all of the storage vendors that you may need in the future?
  • Is the vendor independent of a particular storage brand?

Archive software, which is truly storage agnostic, is capable of preserving data for many years, across many generations of storage systems. Make sure your hospital archive software can pass this test.