So why are exit strategies and escape plans important?

Matthew Addis, Arkivum CTO, presented at the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) from 26th to 28th October 2016, an event kindly hosted and co-organised by The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Exit Plans – Know Your Escape Route’

The video of how Pixar apparently very nearly lost Toy Story is a perfect example of how things go wrong despite the best intentions. Things do go wrong because of people making mistakes, failures to follow proper processes, failure to test disaster recovery, and of course software and systems that simply don’t work the way they should. Thankfully, things don’t necessarily go wrong that often, but whilst it might it not happen to you, the chances are it’ll go badly wrong for someone, somewhere, sometime. Identifying what could go wrong is in some senses the easy bit – recovering is harder – and that’s where exit plans come in.

The way we’re approaching exit plans at Arkivum, and how we think the wider community should also look at the problem, is summed up in three core characteristics:

First treat exit plans as a way to establish a burn line. Have live systems on one side and the exit/DR strategy on the other. That way, no matter what fires rage on one side, you know that the fires can only spread so far, that exit will remain possible, and ultimately that data is safe and secure. This is basically about ensuring that exit is independent from the service that you might need to exit from and that the exit plan will remain executable no matter what disasters might happen.

Ronald Reagan_PASIG MoMA_Arkivum

Second, “trust but verify” as Ronald Reagan used to say. You don’t see Ronald Reagan mentioned enough in digital preservation talks, but in this case his catch-phrase is very apt. Use assessment and audit criteria to help establish the level of trustworthiness of a solution, but don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t verify that the service or solution or provider is doing what they say on the tin. Being able to test that an exit plan works in practice is a key part of verification.

Finally, make sure everything about the exit plan is defined up front. When using any preservation technology or service, the most important thing is to “know how you’ll get out before you decide to get in”.

Know your escape route!

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