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Protecting students and faculty from irreparable data loss

Tips on safeguarding data now, tomorrow, and in 15 years

Recently, a school in the United Kingdom was criticized for losing the personal data of almost 20,000 parents, students, and staff members. Names, addresses, medical information, and photographs were wiped out.

Last year, the University of Miami had backup tapes stolen that contained financial data, Social Security numbers, and health information for approximately 47,000 people at its medical center.

In K12 schools, the issue of data protection is an even greater concern. Parents tend to want to protect their children more than themselves, and when they hear that their child’s data is in the hands of others, they can’t help but be concerned.

School district leaders are faced with numerous backup and disaster recovery challenges, including:

  • Rapidly growing application data
  • A continuous threat of hacking and cyberattacks
  • Limited IT budgets and staffing
  • Aging infrastructure
  • Increased use of virtualization
  • Implementing and maintaining replication to the cloud or remote data center

It’s important to understand the latest issues, technologies, and trends affecting data protection in K12 institutions to safeguard critical information.

Look to the future

Data protection is the cornerstone to education recovery in the future, and these are lessons all IT professionals can benefit from. It’s important to protect electronic test scores, transcripts, digital curricula, teachers’ planning documents, and other data belonging to students.

Some schools also must comply with government regulations for data protection, such as ensuring that backups are kept at least 10 miles from the primary storage location and that the data is available upon request up to 10 years (or more) in the future.

The fact is that school IT staff must not only protect data now, but also be able to retrieve that data tomorrow or in 15 years.

Another thing to look for is the ability to migrate data to new types of media and technologies. For example, if your system uses LTO5 (a tape backup) today, what type of media will you have in 10 years? LTO5 drives will be hard to find and may be unavailable.

Migrating data from LTO5 to LTO10 or some other technology is extremely important when the law requires schools to be able to provide access to the data. Without this feature, all the data protection effort is worthless.

Data relevance

IT managers in educational institutions can drive up the cost of storage unnecessarily by treating all data the same and storing it all on the same media. Let’s face the fact: a child’s art is not as important as the transcript database or even the email database.

Using one policy to rule all data is simple, but it kills the bottom line. What’s needed is a data protection solution that lets users treat data differently. Data that is important is “tier one” and should get backed up often and fast and can stay on disk for fast restore.

Everything else that is not business critical is “tier two,” or junk data. Tier two data should go directly to tape to be stored.

Data protection solutions should help schools reduce costs by providing automated, policy-based data life-cycle management. And they should move data to the most cost-effective tier of storage while still meeting service level requirements, ensuring recovery objectives and enabling transparent data access. Automated data archiving also helps schools ensure compliance with data retention policies and reduces the costs associated with compliance.

Controlling data growth

The amount of data that needs protection is growing faster than ever. So are the number of devices and platforms that data lives on. Keeping up with this growth using traditional backup is getting harder and harder, while the backups themselves are taking longer and longer.

Data reduction technologies are critical to curbing rapidly expanding data volumes and costs.

Education facilities need a data protection solution that provides built-in reduction technologies, such as progressive-incremental backup, data deduplication, and data compression. Compression enables a reduction in backup storage capacity by as much as 95 percent. The solution should also provide advanced tape management and efficient tape utilization capabilities to further reduce data storage capacity requirements.

Jarrett Potts is director of strategic marketing for STORServer.