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The retention period refers to the amount of history you want to keep on your data. The longer you keep media before reusing it, the longer the retention period. Longer periods protect you better against problems that are gradual and take a while to notice. They give you more flexibility to go back and see how things looked in the past. If you have a single backup tape and use it for every backup, your retention period is extremely short. If you've been putting a snapshot of your entire hard disk on a CD-Recordable disk every month for the last three years, you can go back and see what any file looked like at those time intervals, any time you wish.
For most people, very long retention periods are not that important; they need only enough to enable them to deal with problems that may take some time to notice. For example, if you are lax about virus scanning, and your retention period is only about a week, you run the real risk of having virus-contaminated programs not only on your hard disk, but on your backups as well. If you are working on a large document and only have history on it going back a month, you have no chance to undo any large deletions that you decide you regret two months later.
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