Redoing data management

Redoing data management

I spent one weekend this month putting my personal paper files in order. This meant spending a few hours shredding old bills and bank statements and moving payroll stubs and other IRS-sensitive documents to the tax folders. Boring? You bet. However, the predictably recurring chore helps keep my files at a manageable size, while preserving important documents such as last year's tax return.

While organizing my files, I couldn’t help making the parallel with that new "killer" application that is ILM (Information Lifecycle Management). The concept of ILM is still evolving, but its aim is to help companies efficiently use their storage space while remaining compliant with legal data-handling requirements.

Those general objectives may be easy to state, but building ILM solutions is probably not. I am not sure when this began or why, but we have become accustomed to managing storage according to just one or two criteria, namely size and performance requirements for a file, ignoring others that are equally important, such as age and business relevance.

Obviously, to make intelligent filing decisions, one must know the files' content, which is not always possible or easy because companies often have no idea what’s in their computer files. Consider, for example, packaged applications: company reps can probably display or print a customer statement blindfolded, but usually have no clue as to which file contains the same data.

Diversified data content inside the same container creates another challenging problem for ILM. For instance, many applications store data to relational databases, which usually pack several content-specific tables (such as customers, order details, or invoices) into the same computer file. How future ILM apps will treat database tables with different handling and compliance requirements is anybody’s guess.

Unstructured data such as user files and e-mail messages create an even greater challenge for administrators who often don’t know for sure whether those archives contain business data. Even assuming that they are business-related, will ILM offer the tools to link isolated files or e-mail messages to other data -- say, database tables, -- that belong to the same business context?

Well I don’t know the answer, but EMC’s offer to acquire a content-management-savvy company such as Documentum is an indication that in the future, we’ll probably look at storage with more awareness of its information content. To paraphrase Mark Lewis, executive vice president of Open Software at EMC, ILM will be the sliced bread of storage.

Putting billions of dollars on the table to acquire Legato and Documentum, EMC has the most glamorous news in the storage and ILM areas. However, other vendors such as Connected and StorageTek are joining forces with other companies to create new ILM solutions or to merge specific tools, such as e-mail management applications, to a broader storage context.

It is quite plausible that ILM will become another checkmark on your vendors’ and solutions requirement sheets, but hold on until we better understand what all the fuss is about. Meanwhile, I'm going to keep managing my bills and files the same way I always have. It works.

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