Top secret

What makes a mess of the best-laid security plans everywhere is the messy issue of how enterprises are supposed to cope with staggering amounts of unstructured data, some of it for internal eyes only, such as ad hoc files generated by e-mail and other applications. It's a huge problem that only the smallest of vendors right now are ready to tackle.

Many technology executives are taking note of the new breed of data classification or information content management (ICM) offerings, which promise to help set policies and access controls on sensitive data buried in unruly, unstructured data sets. Vendors are positioning ICM storage software as an alternative to labour-intensive content management or metadata tools.

However, the newcomer status of data classification vendors and the level of complexity sometimes involved in harnessing ICM for security enhancement is holding back its adoption rates, according to several market analysts and enterprise IT officials now exploring the data classification market.

"ICM tools can help define security-sensitive data and prevent it from being incorrectly exposed," says Mayur Raichura, managing director of information services at real estate company Long & Foster. "If correctly done, ICM tools can provide reasonable assurances that [sensitive] data is not exposed."

Finding a balance

Yet in Raichura's opinion, correct use of ICM products can easily amount to extra work for enterprise IT shops. "How are you going to get expert users to identify and classify terabytes' worth of data, most of it unstructured, when they have regular jobs to do? Without a doubt, it can be done with the right allocation of resources," he says.

For Long & Foster, the tremendous amount of coding and testing work the company conducts offshore is a rapidly swelling source of unstructured data. "This data has expanded without any significant structure or classification. While it is secure at basic levels, much needs to be done," Raichura says.

Given the amount of unstructured data that Raichura and others are forced to contend with, further allocation of resources isn't an option and is precisely why senior IT officials are poking around the ICM market in the first place, according to analysts such as IDC's Laura DuBois.

"In talking to users, there are several key challenges they face that are driving interest in these products. The first is the sheer growth of data," she says.

According to IDC, enterprises will see a staggering 52 percent growth in data over the next year - much of it an increase in unstructured data. Besides data volume spikes, security concerns -- especially in the area of compliance -- are spurring interest in ICM, DuBois adds.

"Large companies are evaluating more automated ways in which to classify data and, in particular, unstructured data. A manual method is just not viable, given the number of files and the distributed nature of files," she says.

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