The Tale of the Tape

Opinion: The heart of the problem for all the recent corporate scandals was not the decision to use tape but the poor security and logistics management of tape resources.

In recent weeks, the unexpected appearance and disappearance of backup tapes have led to several embarrassing corporate scandals, illuminating the indispensable role of IT and sound IT management practices—especially tighter tape management policies.

In all cases, the portability of tape, which has made it the medium of choice for off-site storage for decades, became a liability. Portability makes tapes easy to steal and misplace—a fact that has been amplified by the legions of disk-based backup vendors that seek to replace tapes as the preferred backup medium.

The heart of the problem for all the affected companies, however, was not the decision to use tape but the poor security and logistics management of tape resources.

In Morgan Stanleys case, the late discovery of hundreds of misplaced backup tapes, which may or may not have contained incriminating data, drew the ire of U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Maass and became a factor in the financial services firms recent courtroom loss to Ronald Perelman. The defeat, as it stands now, will cost Morgan Stanley hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about how data minimization could help fix security breaches.

To executives everywhere, the message is clear—judges will have zero tolerance for companies that cannot produce subpoenaed information in a timely manner. CIOs and the IT staffs they supervise are on notice that their competence is critical in the storage and retrieval of that information. Further, although tape backups may have been treated as an afterthought heretofore, such an attitude is no longer tenable.

Meanwhile, recent tape thefts and disappearances suffered by Time Warner, Ameritrade and Bank of America put into peril the personal data of more than 1 million people, soiling the images of these companies and leaving them vulnerable to class action lawsuits.

Yet it didnt have to happen. IT managers need to assume worst-case scenarios when data is physically exposed to the outside world. The implementation of tape encryption technology, which would have made the stolen and misplaced tapes virtually unreadable, could have saved these companies and their customers from the grief they are suffering today.

Despite the many improvements made in disk-based backup and archiving solutions, these products still need to establish a track record in long-term storage, preserving data for years, before IT managers can completely do away with tape. So, like it or not, tape backup will be part of most corporate storage infrastructures for the foreseeable future.

With compliance and regulatory concerns driving the upgrade of business policies and data storage, now is the time for IT managers to get their tape management houses in order.

Whether on tapes, on laptops, on PDAs and on networks, information must be promptly and reliably accessible to authorized parties while also being robustly protected from everyone else.

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