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Mark Sheldon Villanueva

By: Mark Sheldon Villanueva on September 13th, 2023

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How Long Should You Retain Data for Backups?

Data Backup

Backups help keep you safe from losing critical data needed for your operations. The only problem is that storing large amounts of data longer than necessary can cause some complications for your business. 

For one, it can increase storage costs as the information adds up. Keeping large amounts of data can also turn management into a complex mess, making it harder to retrieve the data you need. On the other hand, if you don't retain your backups long enough, you could lose vital information in an emergency. 

So, how long should you retain your data? 

Intelligent Technical Solutions (ITS) is an IT service provider that has helped businesses manage and protect their data for 20 years. In this article, we'll use those years of experience to help you understand what you need to know about data retention policies. We'll do that by going over the following:

  • What is a data retention policy? 
  • Why is it important to determine your data retention policy? 
  • How to determine what data retention policy to use 

What is a Data Retention Policy? 

policy with magnifying glass

A data retention policy is a set of rules or guidelines that determines how long your company should keep certain types of data. It helps you decide how long to store information like customer records, financial data, or employee files before you can safely dispose of them.

It might seem straightforward, and in a lot of ways, it is. However, many organizations need help to get it right. That's because many need help determining the type of data to store, how much they need to retain, and how long they need to keep it. That's where data retention policies come in. 

The policy should consider legal requirements, industry regulations, and the specific needs of your business. Having one will ensure that you keep data for the necessary period to comply with laws and regulations while also helping you manage storage costs and protect sensitive information. It's a guide that tells you when to hold onto data and when to say goodbye to it. 

7 Rules even the most Basic Backup Disaster Recovery Plan should follow

Why is it Important to Determine Your Data Retention Policy? 

Determining your company's data retention policy is crucial for several reasons: 

1. Legal and Regulatory Complianc

Different industries and jurisdictions have specific data retention requirements mandated by laws and regulations. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) has a log retention requirement specifying that any log, note, or record relevant to it must be retained for six years from the date it was last used or was last effective. 

Failure to comply with laws and regulations like HIPAA requirements can result in legal consequences, financial penalties, or damage to your organization's reputation. 

2. Efficient Storage Management

Data storage can be costly for businesses. A well-defined data retention policy will help you optimize storage management, specifying how long different types of data need to be retained. That will enable you to avoid unnecessary storage costs associated with maintaining data longer than necessary. 

Also, efficient storage management will facilitate faster data retrieval and reduce the complexity of backup and recovery processes. 

3. Data Security and Privacy

Data retention policies are vital in ensuring data security and privacy as they help minimize the risk of unauthorized access or misuse of sensitive information. Cybercriminals like to aim where you are not looking, which means they could target outdated or unused data to avoid your gaze. 

If you retain data unnecessarily, you increase your exposure to a data breach. A clear data retention policy helps you dispose of data when it's no longer needed, helping you reduce the risk of such an incident. 

4. Effective Data Governance

A data retention policy establishes consistent guidelines for managing data across different departments, functions, and systems. That will enhance data quality, facilitate discovery and retrieval, and improve overall data governance practices. That helps administrators make informed decisions regarding handling stored information, such as backup schedules, storage locations, and archival processes. 

How to Determine What Data Retention Policy to Use 

person on data server

Determining a data retention policy for backups depends on several factors specific to your business requirements and considerations. Here are some key points to consider when figuring out how long to retain your information: 

1. Identify All Regulatory and Legal Requirements

Before you even start creating a policy, it's vital to evaluate any industry-specific regulations or legal obligations that dictate data retention periods for your organization. Specific industries, such as healthcare or finance, may have specific guidelines that require data to be retained for a certain period. Identifying those requirements will heavily influence your data retention policy. 

2. Align with Your Business Continuity and Recovery Objectives

How long will recovering your systems after a disaster or data loss incident take? Determining the maximum tolerable downtime and recovery point objective for all of your critical systems and data will help you understand how much data you should store and for how long. For the most part, your policy should align with those objectives to mitigate downtime and damage in case you suffer an incident. 

3. Determine Data Criticality and Value

Assess the importance and value of different types of data within your organization. Data that is critical to your business operations or has significant value may require more frequent backups and longer retention periods to ensure its availability and integrity.

4. Consider Cost Implications

As we mentioned before, storage costs add up over time. That's why it's vital to balance the cost implications of data retention and your backup needs when creating your policy. It will allow you to determine how long to keep data to avoid incurring unnecessary costs storing data you no longer need. 

5. Assess Growth and Scalability

How much new data do you generate in a week, a month, and a year? It's essential to consider the growth rate of your data and the scalability of your backup infrastructure when creating your policy. That's because you must ensure your backup systems can handle increasing data volumes and scale as your organization grows. 

6. Review and Update Your Policy

It's important to understand that your retention policy shouldn't be static. Regulations and technology change constantly, with it, your data retention needs. That's why you must regularly review and update the policy as your business progresses. 

7. Get Help from Experts

Engaging an expert, like a managed service provider (MSP), will bring specialized knowledge, experience, and a comprehensive approach to your data retention policy. Their assistance ensures that your policy is well-crafted, compliant, and aligned with your unique business objectives, allowing you to effectively manage and protect your data assets. 

Need Help with Your Data Retention Policy? 

data retention policy

Figuring out how much data you need to store and for how long you need to keep it is crucial for businesses. A data retention policy establishes guidelines for securely retaining and managing data over time. That will help your business meet compliance, protect your data, and improve your business continuity, disaster recovery, and overall data governance.  

However, to create an effective policy, you first need to consider the following: 

  • Regulatory and legal requirements 
  • Business continuity and recovery objectives 
  • Data growth and scalability 
  • Storage costs 

At ITS, we have been helping businesses manage and secure their data for over two decades. Our team has the experience and the know-how to ensure your data retention policy will meet your organization's specific needs. Find out how we can help by scheduling an IT assessment with us. Or you can learn more by checking out the following resources:

7 Rules even the most Basic Backup Disaster Recovery Plan should follow