When you shop for storage hardware, bring a lawyer

Thanks to such regulations as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, choosing your storage hardware may have legal implications

Is there a worse time to start thinking of what to put in next year's storage budget than just before the holidays? Probably not , but setting aside the nuts and bolts of storage now so that you can focus on the legal implications of next year's purchases will be the best present you can give yourself before the new year.

Shopping for storage, as many of you know, is among the more challenging purchasing endeavors you must face in IT -- mainly because your extensive variety of requirements is surpassed only by the extensive variety of solutions competing to fulfill your needs.

The latter, in my view, is a direct consequence of the former: Storage demands are so varied -- even among companies similar in trade and structure -- that vendors can do little but offer as diverse an array of solutions possible.

As a consequence, the storage industry is riddled with crannies, a.k.a. market segments, that offer everything from systems to support your transactional loads to those aimed at data parking to those geared for protecting the crown jewels. But with so much to choose from, how can you keep focused and make sure you get the most bang for your buck?

It used to be relatively simple: Research your requirements; conduct a critical analysis of how your current infrastructure meets those needs; and then make Draconian decisions on what to toss, what to buy, and what can be reasonably integrated with new systems.

And when it came to requirements, they traditionally boiled down to balancing capacity and speed. Thanks in large part to regulations such as the FRCP (Federal Rules of Civil Procedures), however, that is no longer the case. These days, choosing a storage system without knowing your company's legal obligations can cost you dearly.

Last year's amendments to the FRCP, which took effect Dec. 1, 2006, give judges greater authority in forcing companies to produce e-mails, electronic documents, and even IMs during litigation. Are judges putting that authority to good use? You can bet your last e-mail message they are. As Ephraim Schwartz discusses in a recent Reality Check blog post, even information stored in memory for a short time can be the target of a subpoena.

Although the case in question, Columbia Pictures Industries v. Justin Bunnell, may be extreme, it does prove that judges are serious about bringing computerized data inside the court when necessary.

Couple that with the increased cost and embarrassment of a lost tape or laptop containing sensitive customer or employee data, and you can see why layers of targeted management apps that empower you to prove information was not tampered with, or to make relevant data promptly available when requested, should fast find their ways onto your storage shopping list.

Many storage vendors have adjusted their products to respond to companies' increasing compliance and security needs, but their focus thus far has largely been on corporations. That means that if you are shopping for an SMB, most of the compliance and security solutions on the market will prove too broad in scope and too expensive.

But because it is an evolving and profitable market, expect security- and compliance-minded solutions for SMBs to proliferate.

Until that time, hosted services that offer remote access for e-discovery and similar activities are a worthwhile alternative to building a layer of compliance applications in-house.

Whatever you do, don't come up short on security and compliance initiatives in the new year. Take some time this holiday season to plan. The nuts and bolts of storage can wait.

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