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Information Lifecycle Management

ILM is more than technology

Information Lifecycle Management is not just a set of storage technologies or products, but a whole new approach to information management. by Joy Tang

Information lifecycle management (ILM) is fast becoming a buzzword among storage vendors in an industry that's used to hype. But there may be more to it than a fancy way of saying 'storage solutions available here'.

"ILM is not an individual product or service, but an overall approach to information management that empowers organizations to take control of their information," says Ajit Nair, Technology Solutions director, EMC South Asia. "Asia-Pacific customers have responded well to EMC's ILM vision. They see the benefits of assigning the right value to the right storage platform as it frees up a lot of resources for them. The more we can save them money, the stronger their interest."

Simon Hum, marketing manager, HP Enterprise Storage & Servers, Asia-Pacific, HP, adds that ILM is more than just storage.

"It recognizes that information has a lifecycle and is able to effectively place, migrate, protect, archive and remove data based on business policies or regulations with little or no human intervention."

IT managers have been managing information all along, as backup, retrieval and archival of data are standard in any organization. However, things have become quite a challenge today. Consider that data volumes—think e-mail—are growing exponentially and may need to be archived for years as a regulatory requirement.

Right time, right place

Enter ILM, a methodology to get the information in the right place at the right time with the lowest TCO, assuming that information diminishes in value over time. A sales order that is being processed needs to be immediately available, but not after processing.

"As the value of the information diminishes and it continues to reside on a high cost storage platform like a SAN, it is taking away precious IT resources," Nair explains.

Ramon Karingal, director, Asia-Pacific Processing Center, Operations and Technology Asia-Pacific, Citibank, comments that ILM is very critical. "We are now focused on the infrastructure requirements of managing information rather than simply data. It is a more advanced concept of how you manage information transactions."

This sounds easy enough, but like business process re-engineering before it however, ILM is not going to be cheap or quick to implement across an enterprise.

"It is a pretty easy concept to get across. A good idea on one hand versus how do I get there—that is what needs to take place," summarizes Claus Egge, research director, European Storage Systems Research, IDC.

Vendors acknowledge that ILM does not provide instant benefits. "ILM is a process and a long-term partnership with a customer to house data on the most appropriate media for its age and importance, and from a technology standpoint, include components such as archival, searching, hierarchical storage management, setting policies and automation," says Hum.

Josh Krischer, vice-president and research director, Enterprise Servers and Storage, Europe, Gartner, agrees: "The two most important factors [for ILM] are hierarchical storage management and automation. If you don't have a wide selection of the pieces, then something is missing."

Similarly, EMC says ILM includes networked storage platforms, infrastructure software, information management software, policy-based storage management software, and storage and data optimization services.

Besides buying the wide range of solutions, which may not be standardized across vendors today, decisions have to be made about how data should be migrated from one storage platform to another.

Graham Penn, research director, Enterprise Storage, IDC Asia-Pacific, notes that ILM offerings may never be standardized as a high level of customization is needed.

"The answer is going to be very different for every organization because they have to deal with different data types, different exposures to risk, different compliance requirements and different ages of the data. What has become very clear is that to have the information contained in storage silos (not networked and easily accessible) is to completely miss the point of the ILM message," says Penn.

Adds Nair: "In the Asia-Pacific, customers are deploying parts of the ILM vision. We do not envision customers deploying on the whole ILM vision in a single implementation. But rather, it would be more realistic to expect customers to phase in the implementations and work towards the ILM vision."

To make ILM more 'real', StorageTek introduced last October reference architecture that illustrate how ILM can play in various situations, beginning with open systems archiving, mainframe archiving, and open systems data protection.

"It is a proof-of-concept tool, backed not only with the product but with a services component," says Jill Kenney, corporate vice-president, Worldwide Marketing and Corporate Strategy, StorageTek.

"Reference architecture help to establish the framework for setting policies and automating data movement to drive the full potential of the ILM strategy. In doing so, customers can expect greater efficiencies and enjoy higher cost-savings from an ILM strategy," Hum concurs.

All vendors are also fleshing out their ILM strategies a product at a time, making reference to compliance to new data retention and retrieval regulations. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) enhanced its Hitachi Lightning 9900 V Series family of enterprise storage systems in Oct 2003 in response to 'evolving regulations'.

The new Open LDEV Guard data retention manager will allow customers to preserve and protect sensitive enterprise information by allowing data to be retrieved and read by authorized applications, but not altered or deleted, for the mandated retention period. StorageTek has introduced the StreamLine SL8500 Modular Library System, called 'the ultimate ILM repository' by Fred Moore, president, Horison Information Strategies, and '24 x forever' by the vendor.

StorageTek claims competitive offerings have to be hard-partitioned at the magazine or drive level in order to use multiple media, whereas the SL8500 can be shared across mainframe, supercomputing, Unix, Linux and Windows environments, and supports the StorageTek T9X40 family of tape drives, as well as the LTO Gen2 and SDLT 600 formats. The SL8500's hot-swappable, redundant robotics can provide more than 1000 mounts per hour, and can handle with more than 50 cartridges per square foot.

"It sets the foundation on how to really migrate data, make multiple copies (of it), expire on multiple dates, migrate that automatically to the back," says Jon Benson, vice-president and product line manager, Automated Tape Solutions, StorageTek. "It changes the rules of recovery."

And while Veritas is drumming on the utility computing platform, rather than mentioning ILM, the company did launch Data Lifecycle Manager 5.0, which it called 'compliance-specific', in November last year. According to Veritas, the product would meet 'global regulatory requirements for data management, from creation to deletion, across all storage media'.

The software automates the placement and management of data in virtual archives that can span online, nearline, and offline storage media, including unalterable media —all according to user-defined policies. In addition, the product automatically indexes and archives Veritas NetBackup software tapes, the company says.

Making a start

Analyze your situation before beginning on ILM, vendors and analysts advise. "Know your data, what needs to be kept and what needs to be deleted. If you know your requirements, then you can put in the appropriate life cycle management strategy. Without understanding your data or applications you don't have a chance to do ILM," says Moore.

"ILM starts with an assessment of the value of data to the user. It is not about technology, although technology will be used to implement an ILM solution," says IDC's Penn. "Prior to implementing the actual ILM solutions, it is recommended that customers consult their IT partner to identify gaps in their current ILM strategy and compliance to retention standards for their industry," Hum adds.

"Instead of just throwing tools and hardware at the problem you have to make sure ILM actually saves you money. ILM is all about leveraging the whole hierarchy. Be wary of solutions which are only on one tier, like on performance disk, or on ATA," elaborates Todd Rief, director, Operational Strategy, StorageTek.

EMC's advice on a successful ILM strategy comprises of three C's. "Think consolidation solutions to increase asset utilization, for example, in Exchange or Oracle environments; continuity solutions designed to reduce business risk, and compliance, which is especially critical in certain highly regulated sectors such as financial services where e-mail transactions need to be retained," Nair recommends.

According to Nair, many of EMC's customers have already taken the first step of eliminating direct-attached storage, and are automating key aspects of the storage environment.

This article first appeared in Network Computing Asia

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