Active Archive vs. Archive

Active archive is not synonymous with archive. It is fair to say that all active archives are archives; however it is not true that all archives are active archives.

SNIA defines an archive as, “a collection of data objects, perhaps with associated metadata, in a storage system whose primary purpose is the long-term preservation and retention of that data.” Active archive, as defined by the Alliance, is an archive – for long-term data preservation – that uses metadata and appropriate software and hardware to make the data readily accessible and available to all users, all the time, while moving data across storage platforms automatically, following user defined policies.   So what separates an active archive from an archive? Automation and availability.

Archives are predominantly implemented for regulatory compliance and for intellectual property protection. While this data must be retrievable, it is not implied that the information will be actively available to end users. Often, as is true with paper-based archives as well, an intermediary step is required to retrieve archived data. In the digital world, this often rests on the shoulders of the IT department. Active archives clearly differ: they present all data as online and available to end users regardless of the data’s age or usage. The latency for data retrieval may increase as its use decreases, but at no point does an administrator have to get involved for an end user to retrieve archived data.

The second differentiator is less obvious, but equally as important when differentiating active archives from traditional archives. The data stored in an active archive is actively moved between storage platforms to meet storage requirements set by the archive software’s policies. Hence data may reside on tape until its retrieved, at which time it may make more sense to migrate it to a lower latency platform such as disk or solid state. This policy-driven data movement within an active archive optimizes storage platform use, which provides the cost savings and availability that make active archives so attractive.

Availability and data mobility are what separate active archives from traditional archives. The practical implementations save users and administrators significant time and money. Active archives still adhere to the definition of an archive ensuring long-term data retention and preservation. However, they do it along with providing flexibility and availability in a multi-platform storage environment.