What Law Firms Should Know When Accessing Data Tape Cartridges

What Law Firms Should Know When Accessing Data Tape Cartridges

Data tape restoration can be challenging, particularly when the data is pertinent to a legal action. That’s true for both archival data migration projects (backups retained by a law firm to comply with court orders and/or regulatory requirements) and tape restoration projects.

At Total Data Migration, we work frequently with law firms and electronic discovery services. In this blog, we’ll address some simple questions that can make data tape services more manageable for legal professionals — by answering these questions, you can create an appropriate plan for data tape migration, duplication, or restoration.

Establish the goal of the project.

Defining the scope of your data tape project helps to prevent miscommunication. Most law firms will start with a simple goal: They need to access data on tape cartridges, and they need help to complete that process. By collecting a few more details and sharing them with your tape migration professionals, you’ll be able to establish a customized plan that addresses your needs.

What is preventing you from accessing data on the tape(s)?

Your data migration team will need to know why you’re unable to access the media in question. You may not have the necessary hardware to read the cartridges; you might also have a limited technical background, and you’re not sure how to restore backups. Similarly, you may not be familiar with different file formats. That’s important — if your team provides you with a full set of files, but you’re unable to open them, the files won’t be useful.

Provide clear detail about why you’re unable to access the tapes. This will help the migration team create useful deliverables.

Will you use the data as evidence in active or pending litigation?

For electronic data to be useful in litigation, you’ll need to be able to provide a chain of custody. That chain of custody should include anyone who handled the tapes, and that certainly includes your tape migration team.

Legal professionals must observe ethical and compliance considerations when handling data, so regardless of the nature of the data, communicate clearly with your tape services team. Tell them exactly why you need the files. That information will allow them to take appropriate steps.

What are your time constraints for data tape services?

In some instances, timeframes are important — in others, that’s not the case. As a general rule, high-priority services require more expertise, so if you need files by a certain date, put that information in writing. Make sure that your data tape partner understands timeframe requirements.

Will you need a report with details of the files on each data tape?

Reporting can make electronic discovery and archival migration easier, but it’s not always necessary. Inform your data tape partner if you will need this type of report. Consider asking for example reports to ensure that the information is useful.

Collect as much information as possible about the data cartridges.

While developing your goals, record any information that could be useful for establishing the scope of the project. You will not need a strong technology background to gather this info — you’ll simply need to ask several simple questions. For example:

What format are the data tapes?

Many tapes are clearly labeled. Write down the full name of the tape (for instance, “LTO-8″) before contacting a data migration company.

Common tape formats include LTO, DAT, DLT, and AIT, but dozens of other formats exist, and they’re rarely interchangeable. The data migration firm will need to have appropriate hardware available to read the tapes. Know how many tapes you’ll need to access (and if you’re looking for specific data, provide any other information that the team might be able to use to find the target files).

What backup software was used to create the tapes?

Features and capabilities can range considerably depending on the backup software. Some programs may use different types of compression and encryption; certain programs only work on certain operating systems.

Your data tape service will need experience with the software used to create the backups. They will also need a license to use the software — this can be difficult to acquire for some legacy programs.

How many tapes will need evaluation?

Write down the number of tapes that may require evaluation. Find out whether they’re expected to be independent — in other words, each tape has a complete set of data — or groups. If the tapes are grouped, determine whether you can identify the tapes that make up each complete set of data.

This step can be especially important, because in a set of data cartridges, a single file may “span” across two or more tapes. The cartridge order needs to be maintained in order to access the file.

Are the data tapes encrypted?

Encryption is crucial for security, but it can also present challenges during migration and data retrieval services. If you’re accessing tapes from your own archives, you should be able to find information about the encryption techniques used during backups; if you’re accessing data tapes on behalf of a client, however, getting information about encryption may be more difficult.

Nevertheless, try to determine the method of encryption and request any necessary keys/passwords during discovery. Few modern encryption technologies can be easily overridden — but in many states, organizations are required to retain electronically stored information that is reasonably understood to be relevant to the action.

Consider how you’ll receive deliverables.

After defining the scope of the project and collecting basic information about the data tapes, take a moment to think about deliverables. Few law firms have the resources to read any type of data in any type of format — you’ll expect your data tape partner to provide everything you need within a reasonable timeframe, but they’ll need some basic guidance.

Do you need all of the data, or just a subset of data?

If you’re looking for specific file types (for instance, emails or accounting data), you may not need to restore 100% of the data from every single archive. Restricting your search can allow for more efficient delivery — and cut out a significant amount of work when you’re actually ready to access the files.

Determine which files (or file types) If you’re restricting the search to a certain set of dates, make sure to provide that information to your data tape services team.

What operating system do you want to use to access the data?

This is an important consideration because some types of archival data cannot be accessed natively in certain operating systems. Your tape services team should be able to help, either by converting the files (addressed in detail below) or by providing guidance for using third-party applications to securely access the data.

Will you need files converted to specific formats?

By default, data tape services will provide files in their original format. However, an experienced firm can perform conversions when necessary, which limits the law firm’s workload.

Formats are an important consideration for law firms, particularly when working with emails and databases. Ideally, the data should arrive in a format you’re comfortable with — for example, that might mean converting Exchange .EDB files to .PSTs. Likewise, consider how you’ll accept the data; encrypted flash or USB drives may be preferable, but some firms prefer to receive files on types of physical media (for instance, encrypted hard drives or optical discs) or via secure online portals.

Work with an established data tape migration firm.

By asking the questions above, legal professionals can ensure efficient access to data. If you’re unable to find certain information (for instance, you’re not sure whether you can open a certain email format or you don’t have details about encryption methods), communicate with clients or request information via discovery. Your tape migration team should be able to provide assistance as the project takes shape.

Regardless of your goals, make sure you’re working with experienced professionals. Total Data Migration has an established track record, and our experts can help you address the ethical duties and procedural requirements of working with legally actionable data. To discuss your project, send us an email or call (800) 460-7599.