An inferno swept through Iron Mountain’s London archive warehouse last month, completely destroying the company’s six-storey, 126,000 sq ft building resulting in the total loss of all paper archives stored in the facility.
The fire occurred one day after another blaze at an Iron Mountain warehouse in Ottawa, Canada. A formal investigation is underway to ascertain the cause of the biggest blaze the London fire brigade has had to deal with this year.
The events have highlighted the vulnerability of paper archives to the risks posed by fire and floods, reinforcing the importance of off-site storage.
Demand for electronic data storage (EDS) has risen over the last few years. The Enron fraud scandal and the UK’s Buncefield oil depot explosion have forced businesses to recognise the importance of utilising secure data storage and business continuity planning.
According to Rick Brown, director of sales at Imation, the unfortunate events which occurred at Iron Mountain have "clearly underscored the need for EDS, whether it be for removable cartridges, electronic storage or e-vaulting".
The Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, implemented in the US as a result of major corporate fraud scandals such as Enron, requires companies to keep two copies of all company data and CEOs to sign financial reports.
According to Brown, the EDS industry is founded upon a single concept: "There are only two types of data – that which is backed-up and that which you are bound to lose.
"Selling EDS is like selling insurance, in that companies often don’t realise that they need it until their data is in jeopardy."
Brown continued: "When you are a big enough company you understand that your intellectual data is probably the most important thing you own outside of your company brand."
A popular method of EDS takes the form of online back-up services. These services keep data, often stored on tapes, safe and secure in remote, off-site locations.
A lot of Imation’s major customers take their back-up and send it off-site. Sometimes the data is stored in underground mines where the temperature is constantly controlled and the humidity is kept low. These places are located far away from where the companies generate their data in case of natural disasters.
Online back-up services allow users to back-up, access, update, and recover important files, documents, and other data using browser and software-based interfaces over the Internet.
The scope of EDS is very broad. Brown said: "By my definition it includes any system of backing-up on removable media, whether tape or optical.
"It can also mean leaving it in silicon which literally means on chips, and certainly it can be physical in the sense that you store data in tapes and then companies go and store them somewhere off-site. There’s electronic vaulting that companies are also doing today. This means providing companies with the fibre channel, the cable and the data or whatever else they wish."
Companies’ EDS requirements depend heavily on their size. The costs involved with implementing EDS vary in relation to corporation size and the complexity of the system required.
"Let’s say a company has 500 employees, in that instance, data storage is relatively inexpensive to implement," said Brown. "However, when you have a company with 5,000 employees, storage like this starts to get expensive.
"Another point which needs to be taken into consideration when assessing the costs of storage is that bigger companies are much stricter about meeting every legal requirement. A lot of small companies may back-up in a sloppy way or they may not back up at all."
Even though EDS methods may prove costly to implement for large corporations, it is definitely a matter of not appreciating what you’ve got until it’s gone.
On the up-side, there are very few disadvantages associated with implementing EDS systems.
According to Brown, the biggest drawback of data storage in general is trying to implement a completely secure way of storing and retrieving the data.
"The actual creation of the data and the storing of it is not the hard part. The hard part is being able to retrieve it when you need it and having it available in a way that is accessible.
"It is important that it has an archival value so that you don’t have to worry about whether the back-up tape is going to be readable 20 years from now."
The Iron Mountain London warehouse mainly stored paper archives of inactive business records. The facility was fitted with a sprinkler system but for reasons unknown, the system failed to operate on the night of the fire.
The failure of such contingency measures appears to have fanned the flames heralding the end of traditional paper storage, and placed new impetus on the percieved security and reliability of off-site electronic data storage.