Initiative calls for thorough process planning

Information life-cycle management can reduce costs of IT operations through automation and deployment of policy-based IT systems

Information life-cycle management is grabbing the attention of IT executives, because the discipline promises to reduce the cost of many IT operations through automation and deployment of policy-based IT systems and tools.

In theory, QoS improves, while management and equipment costs for storage, replication, classification and security diminish. ILM also aids in protecting data for regulatory-compliance initiatives.

ILM implementation requires a clear and visible strategy. IT managers must dedicate personnel and operational resources, and also improve their understanding of how data must be handled. Launching an ILM project requires integrating, synchronizing -- and perhaps even unifying -- the plans of disparate organizations outside of IT. At many organizations, irrespective of their size, turf wars and other political considerations can turn out to be serious impediments to the process.

Although vendors may have you believe otherwise, ILM is not a single product you can purchase. It's a combination of technologies, services and, as much as anything else, an understanding of stakeholder requirements.

Involvement of folks from other parts of the business is vital. As ILM moves data to different tiers of storage as the data's value, placement needs or application requirements change, what deserves top-flight storage today may deserve only second-tier storage later, and may be archived to tape further down the road.

How do we know when requirements change? A key part of the process will be to have organizations develop valid methods for valuing the information they use.

This means asking different groups what may be hard questions for them to answer. Is all their data really business-critical? Perhaps not. Getting them to understand this, and to have that understanding reflected in their service-level agreements, will allow better allocation and prioritization of IT resources. As a result, IT can fine-tune the infrastructure and keep everything optimized as to cost and value. Unfortunately, getting stakeholders to understand that not all data they work with is vital to the business at each stage of its life cycle is often not a trivial effort.

ILM can't happen overnight. Large organizations that require buy-in from many groups may take weeks (or months) just to get through the early planning. Because every situation will require refining data-migration policies, which must then be thoroughly tested, pilot projects should always precede companywide deployment.

An ILM project also is a good opportunity for infrastructure investment, so many sites take advantage of such projects to consolidate their widely distributed storage assets. In other words an ILM project, from beginning to end (assuming there would be an end, which is unlikely), may take years.

First come a good strategic approach and lots of stakeholder involvement, but ILM also necessitates adopting new automated data-management techniques in replication, migration, protection and security. Many vendors can help you achieve more-nimble operational levels. What follows is a guide to step-by-step planning, strategy and analysis of the major vendors offering components.

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