What to do with old users

Something that is becoming increasingly important in my current role is what to do about old users that have left the organisation. Specifically:

  • What do you backup?
  • How long do you need to retain the data, and;
  • Where do you store it?

Choosing what to backup is usually fairly simple- most users have little more than a personal drive and email mailbox. Then there are the other often forgotten stashes of data. The users workstation, which is mistakenly thought of as “theirs” is usually a treasure-trove of information. Documents saved to desktop, C: drive, and anywhere else on the machine. User profiles are also another consideration, in environments with roaming profiles, Terminal Services or equivalent.

When the user leaves, there is typically a period where the data needs to be stored onine for access by the replacement staff member. For us this is three months, though I have worked in places where this has been longer, and places where it has been shorter. Once it is archived off however, this is where it gets a bit murky. There seems to be a few schools of thought here; keep it in line with other document retention policies (if they exist), keep for 7 years (as for financial documents), keep forever, or trash it completely.

With storage being so cheap these days, the favour seems to be to never remove it. Whilst this is fine if your company spends money on IT infrastructure, this is not the case for me. This leads to saving this information to another medium- second tier storage (SATA disk), or removable media. Whilst tape has a great lifespan if stored properly, this is not particularly useful if you need to restore a user’s data (because we all store our tapes offsite, don’t we!). DVDs can also be used, but personally I feel the lifespan of DVDs can not be relied on (particularly when using cheap media!), and the reletively low capacity of disks can be painful when you have data hoarders.

The question then becomes online storage, or offline? Online storage is great if you have somewhere on your network for second-tier storage. Being online makes recovery quicker, and with the right equipment, maintains the data integrity. This does add a slight cost in overhead to run the extra equipment, but in a well-maintained environment this should be easily managable. This does have the potential to get expensive if you outgrow the storage however. Which is where offline storage shines- if you need to archive something, switch it on and dump the data on the device, then turn it off again. This approach means you can use any disk that is lying around. Too bad if that disk is unreadable when you try to access it though…

So, what do you do with your old users?