Storage Networking World: ILM a business matter

Users at this week's Storage Networking World said they are developing information life-cycle management (ILM) schemes within their storage networks in an effort to more efficiently and cost-effectively store data according to business policies.

But before those policies can be set in place -- and before products that move data across tiers of storage are bought -- the business side must define the importance of different types of data, users said.

Paul Seay, chief information architect at defense contractor Northrup Grumman, said his company is focusing on changing attitudes so that business executives at the company understand the cost savings associated with storing data on the best medium according to its importance.

"We're focusing on the cultural problem first," Seay said. "That's the answer to 80 percent of the problem. It's going to be a hard sell. Get your CXOs lined up to help you on this one."

Seay pointed to XML as one standard that could be used to tag metadata. But companies will still have to keep the software used to create the data so it can be read in the future. That brings up digital rights management issues.

Ken Walters, senior director of enterprise platforms at PBS, agreed that management must buy into creating policies and procedures before technology can be installed.

A spot poll of about 900 users and more than 1,000 vendors at the conference showed that ILM was the second most important storage management issue. The most important issue was the need to find good storage resource management tools that measure the performance of SANs and identify problems before they create downtime.

"ILM is a must-do," said Rod Mueller, manager of technology and infrastructure at International Paper. "I'm truly excited about what it could do for us. ILM gives me a huge competitive advantage by reducing the cost of storage."

After learning about ILM at last fall's Storage Networking World, Mueller began pitching the scheme to his company. Today, International Paper's seven business units are in the process of evaluating the "validity" of their data according to how old it is and how often it's used.

Mueller said changing attitudes within the business was, and continues to be, difficult. That's because no one wants their data -- no matter what that data is -- stored on anything but top-tier arrays. But once chargeback for the cost of that storage enters the conversation, he said, mind-sets begin to change. "They're becoming very receptive to it," he said.

Steve Duplessie, an analyst and founder of Enterprise Strategy Group, said much of the technology being pitched by vendors as ILM is actually aimed at specific issues, such as migration of data from secondary storage to tape or the creation of a layer of abstraction between storage management and disk arrays.

"ILM is still more hallway discussion than practical technology," he said.

John Halamka, CIO at CareGroup, a company that operates six hospitals, has already imposed on his 100TB storage-area network an ILM strategy that automatically migrates patient documents and medical images between tiers of storage consisting of EMC. Symmetrix, Clariion and Centera arrays. It is eventually archived off to tape.

"We've literally taken every application and said, 'What's our tolerance for downtime, and what's our tolerance for recovery time,' and written SLAs to that," Halamka said. It's critical that one vendor be tapped as the general contractor who would take full responsibility for servicing the SAN.

Still lacking, however, is the ability to manage data movement at the point of creation by business applications such as SAP, Oracle or Sybase.

"ILM will have arrived when I can take the Oracle database and say '20 percent of the data is very active, so let's put that on Symmetrix and 80 percent of it isn't, so let's put that on Centera,'" he said.

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