The history of the IT industry is littered with arguments over standards, scraps over terminology, and garbage mounds of ‘killer apps’ that died through lack of uniformity. The storage industry has had its fair share, but unlike some sectors of IT, it has done something positive to avoid or solve problems as quickly as possible by establishing the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) where vendors and OEMs can get together and settle on agreed standards.
Its current task is to define exactly what Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) is really all about. Depending on who you listen to ILM is either the best thing since sliced bread or the most confusing thing since Rubik’s Cube. Analysts claim it’s not working and will cost more not less, but vendors say give it a chance — it is so new that its development is not yet complete and when it is it will represent good value.
However, there is disagreement among vendors over who gets the most benefit out of ILM.
Some say it is only for large enterprises, but others claim medium-size businesses can get as much value from it.
As with so many other new technologies, vendors cannot even agree on what to call it. One half of the industry calls it ILM while the other half refers to it as Data Lifecycle Management (DLM).
It is only a small difference but in an industry where acronyms come and go as fast as mushrooms in May it is just another confusion that neither the channel nor end-users need.
For the purpose of this article we will continue (without taking sides) to refer to it as ILM.
The basis behind ILM is that not all information/data is equal and its value may change as it ages, therefore a proper management strategy is required to ensure that it can be accessed according to its importance. That is often misinterpreted as tiered storage.
StorageTek’s storage strategist and tape business manager, Rob Nieboer, said that what amazed him about the popular disinformation about ILM, was that it was seen as another way of talking about tiered storage and hierarchical storage management.
“Most vendors and nearly all customers miss the point of ILM, that it is really about a business-value driven approach to the broader storage infrastructure,” he said. “It includes tiered storage, but it is not all about tiered storage.”
Hopefully, this ongoing confusion will be clarified soon.
SNIA’s three-month-old Data Management Forum (DMF) has the job of defining what ILM is and will work toward establishing specifications that agencies can use to archive their electronic documents.
The association’s US chairman of marketing operations, Warren Smith, said end-users would be able to compare all the marketing claims against independently developed, vendor-neutral guidance.
He said the Information Lifecycle Management Initiative (ILMI), which came under the DMF umbrella, was focused on defining and unifying the many approaches of ILM. Its charter was to unify these disparate definitions as outlined by vendor-centric efforts and bring clarity and best practices to data centre infrastructure operations.
“Each vendor is taking a different cut at ILM from their own particular area of interest,” Smith said. “The consequence is a lot of confusion. Management systems need to work across vendor platforms.
“Emerging government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC 17a-4 and Health Information Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] are forcing companies to examine their policies around data retention. Through the ILMI, we can bring real business value by providing clarity from all the vendor-hype and work with the IT community to develop solutions that meet their needs and business requirements.”
The Association’s job has not been made any easier by the latest META Group research which bluntly states that “currently, ILM doesn’t work because there are several key components missing”.
In a report released on March 16, entitled Migrating Information Life-Cycle Management from Hype to Reality, analysts Charlie Brett and Phil Goodwin concluded that contrary to the belief that ILM was the silver bullet to reduce storage costs, it would be more likely to increase them.
On the positive side it was a way of making sure that your information was accessible whenever you needed it at the right service level.
ILM, as defined by storage vendors EMC, StorageTek, HP, IBM, and HDS, is in the strategy and thought development phase, and its goal is managing all organisational data/content (active, structured, unstructured, archival) throughout an organisation based on business rules and policies.
Currently, however, the status of ILM still relies on measures of time as the rule set for the migration of data. The promise of ILM lies in helping organisations meet the challenges of managing both structured (database and financials) and unstructured (documents, images, email) content from its creation to final disposition.
ILM as a concept has moved into the spotlight of storage vendors in the past year. This has been catalysed by EMC’s acquisition of Documentum, as well as organisations searching for solutions that will help them meet US regulatory requirements such as SEC 17a-4, HIPAA, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, all of which dictate strict provisions for the creation, storage, access, and security of content.
However, ILM had failed to deliver on its promise, the report said. Current ILM capabilities were missing several key components. They included tight linkages to explicit and implicit content metadata coupled with capacity and migration/usage technology that interpreted and mapped content to storage based on the value of the data being stored, and the ability to detect material changes in the criticality of any changes in this content.
To be fair, unstructured content technology/vendors also bear some responsibility, because it is these systems that must provide certain data to ILM infrastructures, the systems that manage and provide metadata, retention schedules, and record management processes to the storage ILM backbone.
From a service perspective, ILM providers were increasing their capabilities, but the maturity levels of these services were one-off oriented and reflect the general maturity levels of ILM overall.
Business process outsourcing vendors are also buying into the hype to some extent, with content-related outsourcers now offering tiered storage, access, and migration options for specific content types such as books/records, statements, payables, proof of delivery and email. But this is still a manual migration or redundancy model, with little work being done to classify data according to its value and migrated automatically through the storage infrastructure.
The bottom line, according to Brett and Goodwin, is that as ILM begins its migration from hype to reality, the integration required between content and data with storage infrastructures, development of cross-industry metadata models and standards, and one-off implementations not necessarily sustainable through a true ILM maturity model, will likely increase storage costs rather than decrease them in the long run.
But EMC marketing director, Clive Gold, said ILM was still developing and had yet to be implemented in its entirety.
Triple play for channel
There are three major phases to ILM. So far two have been reached. The first was to get the basic infrastructure into place and the second was implementing the ILM philosophy on a particular application or set of applications. And the third phase will be the overall ILM policy that cuts across the entire infrastructure.
We are solidly in the second phase.
Gold is confident that ILM is a viable option across the board for medium to large enterprises.
“The principle is about being able to keep the right information in the right place at the right time at the lowest cost,” he said. “Organisations that have 50 to 100 seats are suffering because of the growth of their email, the growth of their file shares.
“If we can take that and consolidate it so you are not looking after information on the online system that you don’t have to, and users are not having to manage their mailbox every day, you are getting tremendous productivity and capital equipment gains.”
Gold said the channel needed to use its expertise to go into an organisation and show it where it could get its best return on investment. It was a business issue not a storage issue.
Senior product specialist for IBM content management, John MacLeod, said regulatory pressure was one of the key reasons ILM would play an important role.
In terms of compliance and overall good business management, it is vital that organisations quickly bring formal lifecycle management to transactions based on all document formats. This includes fax and email, which are not suitable for management by traditional database structures.
ILM is only a part of a complete solution that combines enterprise content management and storage management software.
Management of information required proficiency in both of these areas, he said.
Hitachi Data Systems was one of the vendors that preferred DLM to ILM and it also believed data lifecycle management was only for the big boys: large enterprises and government departments, marketing manager Tim Smith, said.
However, Smith said there was plenty of opportunity for the channel.
“You are starting to see a lot of organisations realising that IT is not part of their business, it is their business,” he said.
“Mail and their finance systems are now mission critical, but the piece that is missing is that they do not understand what their information consists of so they have not profiled it and cannot tier it to a value.
“The channel can add a lot of value, particularly in the health checking and data profiling phases of a DLM solution, using third party tools and the enterprises own policies to get an understanding of the information so it can be categorised as to its importance and to avoid duplication. As a general rule the channel can be a lot more efficient at doing that than a vendor.”