BackUp Tapes: Friend or Foe?

I’ve been involved recently in three separate cases where backup tapes have been a major factor in some data recovery efforts.  And not a useful factor unfortunately, although more due to lack of a good inventory of some very old tapes than anything to do with the tapes themselves. Still we’ve been presented with some major issues when dealing with boxes of the normal tape rotation of daily, weekly and monthly and yearly. So I was quite pleased to see an article by Craig Ball in the most recent Law Technology news called “The Lowdown On BackUp Tapes“.  

There are some great tips on working with backup tapes in the article (or, to use the technical term “Tape Tips”) but before I mention several that I think are particularly important, let me mention the biggest issue, which is not technical at all. It’s the people.

Here’s the typical exchange between an attorney (generally outside counsel) and an IT person at the clients shop:

Attorney: hey Charley, I’m looking for some emails and data from the Boise office that deals with that big fire they had out there in ’98. Do you have anything that goes back that far?

IT:  Fire?

Attorney:  Yeah, remember the plant burned down in 98 and about 20 people got killed?

IT: Yeah, that kind of rings a bell. Not sure though, I was working in the Flummox Division IT back then.

Attorney:  Uh huh.  So nobody ever asked you to pull any documents for the litigation around the fire.

IT: Not me, no.  (Editors Note: remember this answer)

Attorney: OK, well, that’ s unfortunate but still I need to gather anything. Can you see if you have data gong back that far.

IT: It’s on backup tapes.

Attorney: Wow, that was fast. You don’t remember the fire but you know you have data on backup tapes?

IT: Everything is on backup tapes.

Attorney: OK, can you pull the Boise tapes for say 1997 and 1998 and give me an index of what’s on them?

IT: I don’t know where they are.

Attorney:  OK, you don’t keep all the tapes in one place?

IT: No each location keeps their own tapes and the Boise shop was sold off to Kumquat FAG in 03.

Attorney:  OK, well can you please check?

IT: Sure

Two weeks later

Attorney:  Charley, never heard back from you on those tapes. Any luck?

IT:  Yeah, we found some.

Attorney: UH, ok where are they?

IT: Here

Attorney: OK, can someone look at them?

IT: We don;t have the software for those tapes any more. I hade Master Blaster do an inventory of the labels.

Attorney: OK. Master Blaster. Is that a company you work with?

IT: No, that’s my night on-call IT guy.  He’s a big Mad MAx fan so, well  …  never mind.

Attorney:  OK, can you send me that inventory?

IT: Sure.

Two weeks later

Attorney: Hey Charley, thanks for sending over that label inventory today. Can you please send the tapes labelled Boise 97 and Boise 98 to the Acme Tape Restoration Company?

IT: Oh no, not the original tapes dude. We would have to copy them.

Attorney:  OK that’s fine.

IT: We can’t copy them.

Attorney: Uh huh. Why not?

IT:  They’re too old  and we don’t have software to do that.

Attorney: OK, I’ll have ACME make copies.

IT: I don;t know man.  What if something happens to them?

Attorney: It’s OK I’ll take responsibility for them. And by the way, I was just looking at a litigation hold letter that Bob at your legal office sent around back in 07 when this case was filed. It specifically lists the Boise backup tapes. I thought you said you hadn’t seen a hold on these tapes?

IT: No dude, that went to Ralph in corporate IT at the main office. I’m head of IT for branch offices. He didn’t send it to me.

Attorney:  But you knew about it.

IT: Sure, everybody knew about it.

I could go on but you get the point.  IT people can be like a well prepared deponent or a 14 year child.  They will answer only specifically the question asked of them and they will adhere to a strict set of grammatical rules  known only to them and their closest confidants. So be sure you know what questions to ask and how to interpret the answers before you begin.

As for Craig’s  article, the two points I found most interesting were the discussion of “non-native” or “virtual” restoration and the reference to the  restore time study done by eMag Solutions. But read the entire article: it’s well written and informative about the technical issues surrounding back up tapes.

You should really have this information before you begin talking to the IT Department.

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2 comments so far

  1. […] From docNative Paradigm Blog: I’ve been involved recently in three separate cases where backup tapes have been a major factor in some data recovery efforts.  And not a useful factor unfortunately, although more due to lack of a good inventory of some very old tapes than anything to do with the tapes themselves. Still we’ve been presented with some major issues when dealing with boxes of the normal tape rotation of daily, weekly and monthly and yearly. So I was quite pleased to see an article by Craig Ball in the most recent Law Technology news called ‘The Lowdown On BackUp Tapes’. […]

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