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Issue of September 2003 

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Who moved my files?

A few years ago, I walked into a branch office to pay my insurance premium. As I stood in the long line I took in the gloomy surroundings. I saw leaky ceilings, cramped cubicles, paper-ridden floors, and rodents. But what caught my attention were the numerous box-files on racks and desktops. Yes, there were computers too. I wondered why all the data in the ledgers and box-files hadn't been digitized yet.

On a recent visit to the same branch office I noticed that the box-files are still around, only the staff look at them less. In fact, most of them gaze into a computer screen, or look down occasionally to punch in codes.

From this experience I gather that the information in the ledgers is mainly historical, and hence still required. But new information is keyed directly into electronic databases, which are all backed up of course.

There is a parallel between the old way of storing information and the way it's done today. Just as the number of ledgers increased over the years, information in databases also increases. The difference
is electronic databases swell quickly—faster than the number of box-files increases.

Let me put this in perspective. Texas Instruments India saw its data triple from 3 TB (terabytes) in December 2000 to 9 TB in 2001. Today the company sits on a mountain of data—40 TB in all. Banks, the leaders in data generation, account for 5-10 TB of data annually. The Indian BPO segment generates 2-4 TB of data every year.

Before the advent of desktop computers and electronic databases, clerks did a remarkable job of managing ledgers and box-files. Everything was neatly labeled and indexed—and stored away in filing cabinets. Information was immediately available as long as files were accessible or near by.

But in the electronic age it's a different game altogether. Stored information is accessed by more people; they want to extract specific information immediately. These people are dispersed and work at different locations, even in different cities and countries. If the filing clerks of yesteryear were given the responsibility of managing all this storage, they'd apply a few commonsense techniques. They'd segregate and prioritize mission critical data while doing backup and retrieval, for instance. They'd also apply certain techniques that facilitate easier storage management: storage consolidation, virtualization, and networked storage.

The Network Magazine Storage special this month focuses on Storage Management. Our Bangalore bureau has put together three stories that focus on the management aspect. They tell us why it's important to have an enterprise-wide storage management policy, and how the policy helps companies control costs.

As the stories unfold, you'll agree that there are a few creases that need to be ironed out before storage management gets simplified. The biggest problem that enterprises face today is interoperability. There is a lack of standards in the storage industry, which has mushroomed without any uniformity. While we are waiting for the mess to be sorted out, there are some approaches to deal with the situation. Read on to find out.

— Brian Pereira (Asst. Editor)

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