Dating data

G James, a Brisbane-based glass and aluminium manufacturer and contractor, was feeling the pressure.

With 20 locations and more than 2100 people throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the company was wrestling with rapid data growth which was creating problems in its data management and storage systems.

Existing systems were becoming unmanageable and unable to cope with increasingly complex demands. The company realized it needed an information lifecycle management (ILM) strategy to cope with any future expansion.

The goal was centrally managed storage with flow-on benefits of greater efficiency, reduced costs and reliable disaster recovery.

James wanted a reliable solution that would also link in to other developments such as a planned e-mail system upgrade, and document imaging of large quantities of paperwork.

David Moy, G James technical services manager, said that with all this in mind, the company decided to extend its longstanding relationship with Dimension Data, which had also included a successful IP telephony rollout in the previous year.

Dimension Data deployed a storage area network (SAN) with Cisco Fibre Channel switching, including Cisco IP Services Blade, which allowed data to be replicated over IP.

To meet James' goal of cost-effective disaster recovery, the vendor created Asynchronous MirrorView, a system which set up a predetermined delay in the data being written to the disaster recovery site, so allowing cheaper IP connectivity between sites. Pre-agreed service levels between James and Dimension Data limit outages of non-critical data, serving James' twin aims of vastly improved disaster recovery and an affordable solution.

James is also using the vendor's managed storage service giving it access to the technology without additional costs in internal resourcing and training.

Other business benefits give James the capacity to manage increasingly complex storage demands, manage storage costs, improve data management, reduce risk of downtime and focus on system enhancements.

While he James project flowed smoothly, multiple claims from numerous storage vendors about information lifecycle management strategies that are perfect for your organization's needs has not eliminated confusion in the user community.

But a lot of organizations are claiming to be slowly but surely gaining control over their ever-growing data and coming to grips with ILM.

In its simplest form, information lifecycle management is a combination of processes, policies and technologies that classify information according to a company's pre-stated policies, store it in a tiered architecture and transparently move the information among those tiers based on the information's value, business process needs, user access needs and retention and deletion requirements.

If a company gets this process right, an ILM system can ensure that information moves to the right place at the right time as it changes in value, from the moment it's created to when it needs to be deleted.

Gartner research vice president for storage Phil Sargeant claims that some organizations are taking this concept quite seriously - and some are not.

"We did a survey at the end of last year with questionnaires to between 200 and 300 large organizations and half had never heard of the term," Sargeant said.

"I've subsequently explored the organizations that do know about information lifecycle management and I've found that they're taking only parts of it seriously.

"But a lot of the storage vendors talk about tiered storage and a number of organizations certainly understand the concept of storing on different devices and they're very interested in that, they're taking that part very seriously."

While Sargeant claims there are plenty of tangible benefits to ILM, such as lower costs for storage, security and automation with stored information, there are other, less tangible benefits.

"It allows you to understand your information a lot more intimately," Sargeant said.

However, he is quick to point out that ILM is a strategy - not a product.

"Most of the major multinational storage vendors have some ILM strategy, but it's not a product, it's a concept, a strategy," Sargeant said.

"A couple of vendors have been acquiring companies to flesh out their ILM offerings, and then there are other vendors that have partnered with other people, such as HP, they're very much into partnering."

The analyst predicts that the future will see vendors striving to provide more complete ILM offerings.

"ILM is really everything from when information is created to when you get rid of it, and everything in between," Sargeant said.

"I think there will be more and more partnering and acquisitions among vendors to fill in the gaps and provide an end-to-end storage solution."

Computer Associates' principal consultant and storage practice leader Jacob Van der Eyk agrees that many vendors are working together in this area.

"This is one of the most fascinating areas in the IT industry, because all vendors agree on ILM," Van der Eyk said.

"The industry isn't that competitive in this area because we all agree; competition is when people are pushing different view points, but this area is fascinating because of the agreement.

"The difference is where we go from there."

Van der Eyk claims that the biggest challenge concerning ILM is 'what's next' or 'where do I start?'

"Those that have been thinking about ILM for a while are saying, we've done our data profile, what is the next step?" Van der Eyk said. Backing up Sargeant's view that ILM is a strategic, not technology, decision, Van der Eyk said it's vital to get the right information at the beginning of an ILM project.

"If [customers are] talking to the hardware people, then they'll think it's hardware; if they're talking to software people then they'll think it's software, and they're all legitimate next steps, but unless they're tied in to initial data profiling, they'll simply be small technology activities; you have to keep in mind the end game."

The vendor therefore recommends that organizations first work out what they've got, and move from there.

"An ILM strategy will give you a window into your environment that's business related," Van der Eyk said.

"It brings together the value of the information or data and starts aligning it to people and processes and then controlling and determining what the business should do around this data."

Computer Associates offers the BrightStor storage management solutions that include storage resource management, storage area network management, backup and restore solutions.

IBM also provides an extensive range of products to help companies with their ILM strategy, with Grant Smith, IBM regional manager of Tivoli for Australia and New Zealand, claiming that three key factors are driving this whole area.

"The main one is cost containment, including how many people they need to manage data," Smith said.

"Another factor coming into play is compliance.

"The third aspect is about content management, having the data where you need it, when you need it."

IBM's products in this area include its San File System, which the vendor claims can provide customers with the capability of adding tiered storage, cost and availability to applications with no disruption to the application or the end user.

The company's Tivoli Storage Manager also aims to help in the ILM process, implementing retroactive policy changes without disruption or recall of legacy data.

Smith claims the next big step in ILM on the horizon is companies integrating ILM with other parts of IT management.

"We started off from an infrastructure perspective, and now the next step is how we integrate this into the business processes and work flow."

However, Hitachi Data Systems technology evangelist Tim Smith says his company has a different approach to ILM.

"HDS takes a slightly different view when implementing a storage strategy with our customers," Smith said.

"We've seen a shift from reporting to the CIO, to the CFO to the CEO, so for a lot of businesses now it came down to cost.

"So now ILM looks at where to move this information based on time and cost."

But Smith says that organizations are now looking beyond the cost factor.

"We bought into ILM heavily a few years ago, but in the last 18 months we've seen our customers say 'cost is important but now can you make our applications more resilient?'.

"Organizations always take seriously the concept of reducing costs without affecting applications. We have a number of customers now who want this implemented," Smith said.