Dealing with (and reducing) tape’s legal discovery nightmares

When litigants initiate the process of legal discovery, the longevity of tape and its opacity presents IT with abundant headaches.

Lots of data still resides on tape. And, by all accounts, it can continue to “live” on tape for a long time to come, with little or no maintenance. That’s generally considered a good thing. However, when litigants come knocking – initiating the process of legal discovery – the longevity of tape and its tendency toward opacity (a lack of easily discernible file structure and indexing) can present IT with an abundance of headaches.

There are two tactics for reducing those headaches, experts say. One involves reducing discovery exposure in the first place and the other focuses on automating or offloading discovery-related tasks – so that your whole IT organization doesn’t have to stop what it’s doing to deal with a discovery crisis.

Dana Conneally, who previously ran the litigation unit of a large law firm and is now partner at Evidox Corp., a Boston, Mass.-based company that provides e-discovery services, said his company uses an Index Engines appliance to speed and automate discovery for clients. “Index Engines lets us plug in a tape to the appliance and it indexes every file and also dedupes.”

Evidox then attaches a unique ID to each document stored within the data of a client firm and, based on a keyword search and a date range, they can limit the data set and just pull out those files that are relevant.

Being able to use dedupe and search limiters is a great way to keep the cost of litigation down, Conneally said. “When we explain our costs to clients, we have to remind them that the most expensive part of the process is always the attorney review – and that is what we are trying to limit.”

DIY or hire?

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Katey Woods said some companies have stored a lot of “stuff” that doesn’t have to be retained.

“Many folks are hanging on to 30 years of tape and have then been hit by an employee lawsuit that delves into that tape and ends up costing them two quarters of profitability,” she said.

So, she suggests, maybe companies shouldn’t have that data “hanging around.” Woods said companies can become proactive by indexing the tapes they have, then figuring out what they have to keep, what they aren’t sure they need and what they know they can get rid of. “Then you can move that data to a formal archive or to a different tier of storage or simply get rid of it,” she said. In other words, simply archiving information is comparatively inexpensive. Dealing with a discovery request is not.

And in the short-term, she said the answer should be a service provider because your organization will have neither the bandwidth to handle the issue nor the wherewithal to invest in additional technology.

Indeed, noted Brian Dykstra, senior partner at Jones Dykstra and Associates, Inc., an e-discovery service company based in Columbia, Md., who said a product like Index Engines may be overkill for many tasks. “I feel they are too expensive for normal use due to their per-gigabyte pricing [and] because you may have a known number of tapes but an unknown number of gigabytes,” he said.

Furthermore, with a discovery process, the unknowns are almost a given, he added.

Tackling tape

“We receive huge batches of tapes and cartridges from clients, sometimes with little or no information, so we have to do a lot of background research before we can start to look for data on the tapes,” Dykstra said. For instance, if you can determine anything about the date when the tape was created, what drive product it was created on, and the backup software in use at the time, Dykstra said it can save hours of work for the service firm.

And, even if no one in your organization knows, Dykstra said former employees are usually willing to help and provide those missing bits of information. Longer term, Dykstra said, it’s a good practice to keep track of your tapes and maintain basic information about when they were created and the nature of the data they contain.

It’s a relatively cheap “fix” that can save substantial costs later on, when or if litigants come knocking.

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What about ltfs? A few companies are working on search tools for tape.