File migration: A bit unsexy but required all the same

File migration receives little exposure in the press and yet it's a much-needed capability that all of us either have experienced the need for or are likely to require in the near future.

Once, file migration typically took place when a manager needed to move his data from one vendor's products to another or, in mainframe shops, during hierarchical storage management (HSM) operations as data was demoted from disk to tape.

Now however, in many IT rooms data is migrated regularly. Sometimes this results from an information lifecycle management (ILM) strategy that pushes data to less expensive devices as the data decreases in value to the enterprise. Other times it occurs because management has decided to move off one vendor's platform and onto another. Migration may also be driven by a need to simplify or standardize environments, to improve storage space utilization, to balance workloads between filers, or to consolidate storage management.

You will note that these reasons are quite different from the reasons that we archive data, and it is wrong to assume that migrating data and archiving are almost the same. Rest assured any similarity is at most skin deep.

Both the reasons behind archiving and its performance expectations are really quite different than what we expect to get when we migrate data between platforms. Archiving sends data offline to cheaper storage. Once there, it is in almost every respect less accessible.

Migrated data however is often more accessible than it once was, and in many cases can be retrieved faster than was previously the case. Another difference often lies in the "user experience": the location of migrated data typically looks no different to the user than it ever did, while archived data (exclusive of what we can now see in a few of the newer archiving technologies) often can be a challenge to track down.

Who provides data migration functionality? If you see a migration project in your future, it is nice to know that many vendors have built migration capabilities into their products - although curiously enough most don't talk much about it. CommVault, HP, ONStor, StoreAge, and Veritas all offer migration capabilities, and of course so do many other vendors. Also, many consultants make a tidy living through migration engagements.

One other point: if you are looking for an opportunity to move from one vendor to another, a few suppliers are offering special "migration incentives" to help you make a decision. HP for example, will provide up to US$50,000 worth of migration services to get you to move from Sun storage. Don't be surprised to see Sun offer something just as interesting to have you move in the other direction.

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