Post Process

Everything to do with E-discovery & ESI

Case Blurb: Zubulake I, A Hierarchy of Accessibility based on storage media

Posted by rjbiii on September 26, 2007

Many courts have automatically assumed that an undue burden or expense may arise simply because electronic evidence is involved. This makes no sense. Electronic evidence is frequently cheaper and easier to produce than paper evidence because it can be searched automatically, key words can be run for privilege checks, and the production can be made in electronic form obviating the need for mass photocopying. Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 217 F.R.D. 309, 318 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).

In fact, whether production of documents is unduly burdensome or expensive turns primarily on whether it is kept in an accessible or inaccessible format (a distinction that corresponds closely to the expense of production). In the world of paper documents, for example, a document is accessible if it is readily available in a usable format and reasonably indexed. Examples of inaccessible paper documents could include (a) documents in storage in a difficult to reach place; (b) documents converted to microfiche and not easily readable; or (c) documents kept haphazardly, with no indexing system, in quantities that make page-by-page searches impracticable. But in the world of electronic data, thanks to search engines, any data that is retained in a machine readable format is typically accessible. Id. (citations omitted).

Whether electronic data is accessible or inaccessible turns largely on the media on which it is stored. Five categories of data, listed in order from most accessible to least accessible, are described in the literature on electronic data storage:

1. Active, online data: “On-line storage is generally provided by magnetic disk. It is used in the very active stages of an electronic records [sic] life-when it is being created or received and processed, as well as when the access frequency is high and the required speed of access is very fast, i.e., milliseconds.” Id. (citations omitted).

2. Near-line data: “This typically consists of a robotic storage device (robotic library) that houses removable media, uses robotic arms to access the media, and uses multiple read/write devices to store and retrieve records. Access speeds can range from as low as milliseconds if the media is already in a read device, up to 10-30 seconds for optical disk technology, and between 20-120 seconds for sequentially searched media, such as magnetic tape.” Id. at 319 (citations omitted).

3. Offline storage/archives: “This is removable optical disk or magnetic tape media, which can be labeled and stored in a shelf or rack. Off-line storage of electronic records is traditionally used for making disaster copies of records and also for records considered ‘archival’ in that their likelihood of retrieval is minimal. Accessibility to off-line media involves manual intervention and is much slower than on-line or near-line storage. Access speed may be minutes, hours, or even days, depending on the access-effectiveness of the storage facility.” The principled difference between nearline data and offline data is that offline data lacks “the coordinated control of an intelligent disk subsystem,” and is, in the lingo, JBOD (“Just a Bunch Of Disks”). Id. (citations omitted).

4. Backup tapes: “A device, like a tape recorder, that reads data from and writes it onto a tape. Tape drives have data capacities of anywhere from a few hundred kilobytes to several gigabytes. Their transfer speeds also vary considerably … The disadvantage of tape drives is that they are sequential-access devices, which means that to read any particular block of data, you need to read all the preceding blocks.” As a result, “[t]he data on a backup tape are not organized for retrieval of individual documents or files [because] … the organization of the data mirrors the computer’s structure, not the human records management structure.” Backup tapes also typically employ some sort of data compression, permitting more data to be stored on each tape, but also making restoration more time-consuming and expensive, especially given the lack of uniform standard governing data compression. Id. (citations omitted).

5. Erased, fragmented or damaged data: “When a file is first created and saved, it is laid down on the [storage media] in contiguous clusters … As files are erased, their clusters are made available again as free space. Eventually, some newly created files become larger than the remaining contiguous free space. These files are then broken up and randomly placed throughout the disk.” Such broken-up files are said to be “fragmented,” and along with damaged and erased data can only be accessed after significant processing. Id. (citations omitted).


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