Enterprise Software

Disaster recovery options for legal firm file servers

Mike Talon takes a look at disaster recovery options for file servers in legal firms.

In the last column, I focused on the special requirements for protecting and backing up healthcare file servers. Continuing the theme of file server protection, I'm going to look at the specialized needs of legal firms in this week's column. No matter if your organization is a single lawyer working without a staff, or a multinational firm with hundreds of attorneys, law firms of any size and type often run into the same issues when it comes to file servers.

Legal departments and law firms generate documents—tons of them. There is paperwork that accompanies every step of a legal proceeding, and since every correspondence is part of a case, there are documents and e-mails to back up the documents. To top it all off, most members of the firm have to be able to search through these records on a moment's notice, leading to all kinds of new issues for disaster recovery (DR) to handle.

Document retention and protection is now a vital part of the regulatory requirements governing publicly traded companies. There's no sense in demanding that all corporate communications be preserved for 10 years if the legal department can't keep their records for more than a few months without data loss.

Put all of these issues together and you end up with some real challenges for DR planning. The first of which would be where you're going to store all this backup data. The production servers are going to be bad enough, with gigabyte after gigabyte of file data on server after server in your data center. Even smaller firms tend to have enormous file servers in their offices, so you're not exempt just because you're not a large organization. You'll need a lot of space for all the production data and even more to back it all up. This equates to either large numbers of backup tapes, or large disk systems for backups, or perhaps both. Since the technology exists to give you either of these types of storage, the major issues here are cost and floor space.

Tape backups

Tapes are a relatively cheap backup solution when compared to other technologies. However, while tapes are cheaper than other systems, the cost adds up quickly when you need a lot of them. You will also require a more sophisticated tape library than a simple single-tape backup hardware tool if you're going to try to avoid constant swapping of tapes. The bottom line is legal firms require a generous DR budget, even when using the less expensive technologies.

Replication tools

Replication tools can also assist you, especially if you're looking to fail over to alternate data-systems in the event of emergency. Since legal documents are typically created over a number of weeks or months, but once finished they're only read from then on and not often changed, replication systems can be very effective at protecting this type of data. These systems only send the changes to your documents, and typically don't replicate read operations. So after an initial synchronization, they'll only send the new information, no matter how large the overall file store becomes.

The only drawback is that the data will take up the same amount of space at the backup datacenter as it does at your production site, so you'll need twice the disk as you would if you didn't replicate at all. You'll also need someplace to put the replicated systems, so floor space is an issue again. Also keep in mind that most law firms will have to use some kind of indexing product or tool in order to allow employees fast-search access to these documents. Normally this wouldn't pose a problem, since the indexing tools are generally independent of the file servers, and therefore don't cause a lot of changes. However, indexing tools that sit on the file servers themselves will generate a CPU and I/O overhead that could easily interfere with your replication systems. Keep this in mind when selecting indexing tools, or make sure that your DR plan won't conflict if you're already using the indexing systems.

Law firms and other legal entities have very specific DR needs that extend beyond the normal organization. Keeping these in mind will help you create a smooth DR plan, while not infringing on the needs of the law firm, or leaving them open to potential data loss.

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