Archiving Data

Most of us today are blithely heading for our own personal data disasters. We generate and store vast volumes of information, but few of us really look after it.

So says the New Scientist. And then there’s the matter of professional data. Ever since solicitors invented deed boxes and tying docs up in pink ribbon — £31.08 for 109 yards — lawyers have fretted over the safe storage of information. Now that much of what’s important isn’t amenable to loops of ribbon or even file folders, old practices alone are no longer adequate.

The New Scientist piece introduces two interesting technical developments relevant to the archiving of data, personal or professional. One is the product of research at the aptly named Storage Systems Research Center (SSRC) at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Just looking at the names of their projects is enough to make a non-techie long for the deed box days:

We have active projects in archival storage, scalable distributed indexing, large-scale distributed storage systems, file systems for next-generation storage devices, and data deduplication. We also have particular focus in cross-cutting issues such as security and reliability in file and storage systems.

This is, of course, the sort of stuff that one hopes law societies and the big law firms are investigating, so that useful standards and software can emerge for all members of the profession, and so that law firms aren’t wholly captives of commercial operations and their proprietary software.

The particular SSRC project that caught the attention of the New Scientist is Pergamun, an attempt, as I understand it, to reduce the cost of storage of distributed electronic data by keeping it on disks that are “spun down” and that consume just enough power to stay “alive.”

More glamorous is Stanford’s Self Archiving Legacy Toolkit, or SALT. Here the aim is to help individuals (“luminaries”) bring order to their diverse collections of papers, notes, books, videos, emails etc. The best way to understand what they’re doing is to look at the video describing the project. Then have a go at the demo, featuring the works of the truly luminary Edward Feigenbaum.

I can see real possibilities here for this sort of toolkit in law firms, “debriefing” busy senior partners about important files, developing useful and sharable knowledge, and just making sense of the mess of documents in a case. But whether it’s Stanford’s SALT or some other set of tools, there will need to be developing systems of making coherence and sense out of the mix of data types that now confront — beset? — lawyers.

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