ILM - to all data there is a season

Every weekend across cities, people chase bargains in garage sales. Sellers pick up a few dollars for books, clothes, CDs and other knick-knacks no longer desired or required. Consider clothing for a moment. Undoubtedly stored in the main cupboard and worn regularly when bought new, the clothes probably traversed a life of being moved to a secondary cupboard (maybe for the winter), returned to the main cupboard for the following summer before being packed in the attic and finally relegated to the garage to be sold off for a fraction of its original purchase price.

Organizations are starting to focus on treating their information, the lifeblood of many companies, in a similar manner - to understand the value of this information (be it an e-mail, file, document, Web page, blueprint or music clip) and how that value alters over time and equate that varying value to the resources and costs to store, protect, access and maintain that information. Historically, limitations in technology made the idea of matching an IT infrastructure to information's varying value, through its lifecycle from creation to archive and/or disposal, a pipedream.

However, over the last couple of years, with the burgeoning growth of data, organizations have started to take selected applications (such as e-mail and document management) and implement some level of information lifecycle management (ILM). In some cases, less-valued data (often measured by access, size, project or owner) is moved from a primary storage platform to a secondary or tertiary storage platform (whether it is a slower disk system, a specialised archive platform or a tape system).

Whilst there continues to be a buzz around ILM, organizations have certainly developed a good understanding of what ILM is and are starting to derive some practical benefits. IT organizations have started to work with their business units to understand the varying values of a company's information (typically on an application basis). In some cases though, this has not been considered since the advent of Year 2000 or disaster recovery planning projects.

Despite some vendors' claims, it is clear that having tiered storage platforms is only a very minor part of ILM. Indeed, ILM is primarily a combination of processes and software technologies to help data flow through the environment based on its value. A number of organizations have projects to improve their data recovery (using techniques such as backup-to-disk and remote replication), to improve their approaches to data archival (as industry pressures dictate longer and more formalized data retention schemes), to comprehensively manage their content or to improve their storage resource management (SRM) in areas such as comprehensive reporting and monitoring.

Most importantly, the major realization is that ILM is a journey - one that many businesses have now embarked upon. Having a closer tie between the business' view of their corporate information and improved and more effective utilization of expensive IT infrastructure is at the very least a worthwhile goal for most organizations. For many others, it is an imperative to control the challenges associated with the explosive data growth.

Mark Heers is national product manager, EMC Australia & NZ

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