Archiving remains misunderstood and inefficient, according to a new study.

Commissioned by BridgeHead Software, a company that sells storage management software, the report found that a small minority of respondents are archiving because of legal mandates, while many say that legislation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOXA) is not affecting their business.

This may well be because privately held companies are not subject to the Act, which requires data to be stored for lengthy periods of time.

It's also the case that corporate legal teams, who could be expected to drive compliance within a corporation, are likely to take a pessimistic view and insist on complete adherence to the letter of the law. Business and IT managers a more pragmatic bunch - explaining why the survey found disaster recovery was a more important driver for archiving than legal compliance.

Yet, according to Bridgehead, a large portion of US companiesmay be jeopardising their business operations by failing to archive properly while remaining complacent about regulatory compliancy and confusing the functions of backup and archiving.

Almost a quarter of respondents (23 per cent) said they do not archive data. As a result, the hypothetical task of retrieving a vital file from three months ago would be hit-or-miss: 20 per cent of all respondents do not know how long such a file would take to retrieve, 10 per cent say more than a day, two per cent say more than a week, and six per cent said that they simply would not be able to find it.

However, 77 per cent of respondents claim to archive data to some extent, 74 per cent say their organisation has a file archive solution and 66 per cent have an e-mail archive.

Solutions for hierarchical storage management, storage resource management and information lifecycle management are all only possessed by 10 per cent though.

Manual archiving dominates - 29 per cent - with 32 per cent archiving automatically with archive software and four per cent archive manually using archive software. However, a remarkable 35 per cent claim to archive manually using backup software - what Bridgehead calls "an entirely inappropriate tool for tracking file-level data over long time periods and a ‘red flag’ that calls into question the likely efficacy of the resulting archive".

Archive media
A mixture of archive media prevails. Tape is used by 61 per cent; optical media by 22 per cent. But disk, with its potential vulnerability as a long term data storage medium, is also used by more than half of companies. Many companies also continue to pay top dollar for expensive forms of storage, instead of migrating old, but important-to-retain, data to less expensive storage media such as tape and optical.

BridgeHead Software's marketing VP said: "This is interesting reading for the storage industry: despite the relentless use of the 'compliance’ buzzword, it seems that, out in the field, only a minority of IT directors feel affected by new regulations. One hopes that they believe compliance to be the by-product of good day-to-day data housekeeping.

"The complementary roles of archiving and backup are not clearly understood. The figures regarding the lost three month old vital file may seem extraordinary, but they exemplify how traditional file journaling during backup is not up to the truly complex task of managing off-line files for long periods of time which archiving and media management technology address so well."

“Despite the fact that many respondents mistakenly use the terms backup and archive interchangeably, this research shows there is a danger that many of the companies surveyed have neither the data protection nor the archiving systems in place that they believe they have,” said analyst Dianne McAdam of Data Mobility Group. “IT directors and administrators need to think outside the box and look for a comprehensive all round solution to data management to bring about corporate governance, compliance and efficient storage management.”