How to Manage eDiscovery Costs for Backup Tapes

By Michele Hope

Restoring data from backup tapes in response to an eDiscovery request is not a smooth, repeatable or manageable process. That's because backup was never designed as an archive. Despite this challenge, there are still ways to make the process repeatable, reliable and defensible.

Legal departments often work with IT teams to produce relevant electronic data in response to eDiscovery requests. However, just because the legal team is used to doing this task does not mean it enjoys the process.

Legal teams are only too aware of the factors that can make eDiscovery costs skyrocket. One of these is the scope of discovery, which often extends to a company's legacy backup tapes. Despite the legal and IT teams' best efforts, costs can mushroom to include the recreation of now-obsolete software and hardware environments upon which the backup tapes were based. It can also involve high resource expenses when in-house IT staff must search for and restore data over an extended period. The crux of the issue is that finding eDiscovery data in backup tapes is not a smooth, repeatable or manageable process for most companies.

Organisations need to understand the current state of tape, as well as its continued use for eDiscovery. Only then can companies explore new ways to reduce hassle and better manage the cost involved with tape-based eDiscovery.

Tape: Long-Term, Low Cost

Part of the reason for tape's continued popularity is its undeniably low price point and ability to be stored long-term. Tape remains an attractive option when viewed in light of advances in tape technology, such as LTO file system-based software, as well as enhancements in tape capacity (the new LTO-7 tape format can hold up to 6 TBs per tape).

But tape's role has changed. Disk-based backup and the cloud have revolutionised modern backup and recovery. Yet, organisations recognise such technologies are not economical when copies need to be kept for the long term. This has caused the benefits of tape to come back into consideration as a lower, more economical tier within a company's larger, tiered backup or archive infrastructure. Tape also ages better than disk storage and is less prone to data corruption, making it a reliable option for long-term storage.

This process may work as follows: Suppose your backup data may is stored initially on a disk or in the Cloud. After the data reaches a certain age, it may then be transferred to tape as a long-term, offsite archive. This allows the data to be preserved for compliance or legal reasons, or even as a form of just-in-case insurance.

Tape is still the primary storage medium for more than half of corporations that needed to archive 500 terabytes (TB) of data or more. As of 2012, the Enterprise Strategy Group found 54 percent of organisations with more than 500 TB of data use tape for offsite archiving, and 35% were likely to use tape for onsite archiving.42% of organisations storing less than 100 TB of data were also using tape for offsite archiving.

Is Tape Less Probable for eDiscovery Today?

In an age of reliance on local disk and cloud solutions for backup and recovery, is backup tape less likely to be needed for an eDiscovery request?

Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding, "No." We live in an increasingly litigious world. According to a CSO Online article, an average global 2000 company deals with a staggering 143 concurrent lawsuits. An average medium-to-large company deals with 20. The question is no longer, "What do we do if?" but "What do we do when?"

In response to an eDiscovery request, one critical issue for restoring data from backup tapes remains: Organisations typically need to restore from tape first before they can search the contents. If the company is using a live backup system, this process becomes time-consuming and problematic. IT must devote resources to this task that might otherwise be spent copying (or backing up) current data to disk, tape or the Cloud. This task becomes next to impossible if it also involves restoring data from a legacy system that now requires IT to repurchase or reconfigure the legacy system's missing hardware, software or catalogue before it can successfully restore the data.

Unfortunately, despite the latest legal changes (such as changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the U.S.), judges continue to exercise discretion when determining whether the discovery of corporate backup tapes is necessary for particular cases. In one InsideCounsel commentary, the author explains that, "the reality is, while the new rules create an opportunity for a much more rational and predictable approach to eDiscovery issues, those that prefer the old approach will be working to maintain the status quo. There remains significant room for interpretation in several important areas of the new rules, and how those areas are interpreted will dictate whether spoliation sanctions continue to be an ever-present and common threat to corporations."

Until a new case law emerges to negate the need for backup tape discovery, the use of tape will remain a sizable eDiscovery cost for legal teams to plan for and manage as best they can.

Steps to Better Manage Tape eDiscovery Costs

Despite the time and money involved in tape-based eDiscovery, there are ways to ensure companies don't get more than they bargained for.

First, don't make IT departments do an expert's job when it comes to finding data on backup tapes. Look for outside experts who are already versed in the latest methods to defensibly restore and retrieve tape-based data from current and legacy backup formats. Experts can often restore data in a fraction of the time it would take for the IT team to do so in-house, and do it with a defensible, repeatable process and at a predictable cost.

Another way to manage costs is to go on-demand – a valuable benefit using a managed program. In the age of digital, on-demand cloud services, it might be surprising to learn there are on-demand managed tape restoration services that can search restored tape archives. By converting variable and ad-hoc IT discovery costs to a fixed, monthly OpEx amount, legal teams can better anticipate and budget for discovery costs. They can also reduce one of the highest costs of preservation. According to a 2014 report on preservation costs prepared for the Civil Justice Reform Group, up to 90% of the total cost of preservation is the variable cost involved when non-legal employees must find data in response to a litigation hold.

Finally, organisations should aim for repeatability, defensibility and proactivity in their eDiscovery processes. Legal teams that are tired of being on the defence when fielding the latest litigation requests can start reclaiming their power over the process of tape-based eDiscovery. Look for managed restoration services that stand by their own repeatable processes for the defensible restoration of tape data. Also, select services that prove chain of custody with auditable, end-to-end eDiscovery procedures.

By following these steps, organisations can keep the costs of eDiscovery down to a manageable, predictable amount, even when the process involves searching through years of tapes.

Partnering with a vendor like Iron Mountain can also help your company meet its eDisovery goals. Watch this data restoration video to learn more.