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Issue of September 2004 
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Information Lifecycle Management

What's In Store For Business

As organizations grow, so does the amount of vital information from various business areas. It's important to create policies, strategies, and solutions to ensure safe storage, backup, retrieval, and archival practices at any point in the lifecycle of enterprise information. And Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) strategies do just this. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Businesses worldwide are becoming more information-centric than ever before. It's estimated that we humans will generate and store more information in the next two years than we've done in so far. Thus, the way in which enterprises manage storage will play a very important role in tomorrow's IT infrastructure.

“Indian enterprises will see new storage capacity added at a CAGR of 67.5 percent between 2003 and 2008. By 2008, Indian enterprises will have adopted around 50,000 Terabytes (TB) of new capacity,” says Sanjit Sinha, Head, Hardware Research, IDC (India) Limited. “Storage is important for every organization, and it is a complex, high-growth segment. The boom in storage capacity will introduce a new set of complexities and issues for the Indian CIO.”

In such a scenario, management of information will emerge as one of the most critical areas of responsibility for the CIO. By then storage management will no longer depend on NAS and SAN, since these are essentially technology-based solutions. The key is to use a mix of policies, procedures, technologies, and solutions in a unified manner that aims to align with businesses and create more business value.

Information Lifecycle Management is a useful strategy that can help an enterprise achieve a substantial level of optimization and efficiency in its storage architecture.

It employs people, processes, and technology to store and tap critical business data throughout its lifespan of value.

Keeping it Relevant

In addition to the challenge of growing volumes, the CIO has to consider the changing relevance of information in an organization. This is because, in reality, the importance and criticality of information in any organization changes over time.

For example, in a bank, transaction details of the previous month are important and need to be accessed regularly in order to make reports and schedules. But after a few months, the same information does not need to be accessed so often, and it can be backed up and archived.

Many organizations need to keep backups of critical data as a matter of business policy or regulatory compliance. But the existing storage infrastructure may not be structured to automatically move older information into backup and archival servers —critical information into disk-based backup, and less important information to relatively cheaper tapes.

This is where ILM can help. ILM strategies permit an organization to align the various classes of critical applications and data across the business to an appropriate level of access, availability, and protection.

“ILM allows an organization to manage information in a manner that is based on its changing value to the business over time. It means that the organization can map the value of information and the resources to align it to the goals of the business—all at the right time,” explains Sagar Sule, President, Cyquator Technologies Limited.

ILM to the Rescue

“ILM helps to create visibility through the lifecycle of a document. There will be a reduction in management costs, and the benefits can be felt in the long term,” says Arun O Gupta, Senior Director, Business Technology, Pfizer Limited.

The benefits of the strategy can especially be felt in environments that have a large storage setup, with hardware present in dispersed locations. A good example is VSNL India, which manages around 80 to 100 TB in five nationwide data centers.

Sanjay Srivastava, Head, Products, Tata Indicom Enterprise Business Unit, feels that the most important benefit of ILM is that it allows the company to focus on the core business—once the strategy is in place, the company will know what it should do with the data. “The other important benefit is that the company will now be able to define the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), once it is clear about aspects such as how the data will be stored, whether to outsource storage requirements or not, the scope of the infrastructure, and the level of scalability,” he adds.

Sagar Sule lists a few ways by which enterprises stand to benefit when they use ILM strategies:

  • Overall process automation
  • Rationalized costs of data archiving and preservation
  • Optimized storage utilization and management efficiencies
  • Affordable protection of more information
  • Availability and accessibility of useful information
  • Reduced cost and risk of application upgrades
  • Reduced cost of regulatory compliance
  • Matching service levels and cost to information value

Practical ILM strategies

When an enterprise gets down to realigning itself with an ILM strategy, it is likely to go through three steps: implementing automated networked storage, applying ILM practices and policies to specific applications, and creating an ILM infrastructure across all applications.

The first step is to eliminate any Direct Attached Storage (DAS). The company must network all the storage components and then automate key aspects of the storage environment so that it is possible to manage these resources in a cost-effective manner and ensure business continuity.

“It's important to consolidate storage in order to implement ILM. The company must also go through an enterprise-wide process of data classification. It has to catalog and organize data according to value, type, and requirement, including availability, recovery, security, cost and compliance,” explains Manoj Chugh, President, EMC India & SAARC.

The second step is to define business policies for various information types. In addition, at this point the CIO should target a number of key applications and start applying the ILM approach.

The third step is to create a tiered storage infrastructure. In this kind of architecture, it is easier to move the data between tiers on the basis of value of information to the price and performance of the storage where it resides. It offers an opportunity to use less expensive disks for data used less frequently.

These three steps lay the groundwork for the ultimate value, which is a couple of years away from the complete automation of ILM.

“It will always be wise to look at best-of-breed and complementary technologies while designing architecture,” cautions Sandeep Dutta, Director, Strategic Partnerships & Marketing, Network Appliance. “You could be digging your own grave if you try and force-fit various offerings from the same vendor.”

Applying Business-driven Policies

After going through the three steps mentioned above, a company can create an integrated environment. This will allow it to apply

business-driven policies across the entire heterogeneous IT infrastructure and match the right application to the right service level at the right time, all from a single console.

At this point, ILM will help optimize the business by constantly and automatically making decisions that ensure the availability of information, based on predetermined business rules and policies. It also works by making adjustments in real-time, based on the awareness of the changing value of that information.

Go Comply!

The need for compliance with regulatory authorities is important for many companies in India. Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) companies, for example, have to archive data for at least seven years. MNCs in India have to comply with the specifications of audit processes like Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), if the parent company in other developed countries has taken these compliance initiatives.

Even in the absence of regulatory authorities, many companies will need to store and archive plenty of business-critical information. An insurance company in India will need to store personal and updated financial details of customers throughout their natural life. Plus it has to accomodate information of new policy holders each day.

Do Indian Enterprises Use ILM?

It is not possible for a single organization to adhere to the entire range of ILM specifications. This is because ILM specifications are very detailed, and cover various areas and aspects like backup, DR, policy compliance, SAN management, clustering methods, process re-engineering, and operations realignment.

In most cases an Indian organization will follow only a particular set of guidelines, which deal with specific aspects. For example, Cyquator Technologies, an Internet Data Center, uses ILM-specific backup policies. VSNL has five data centers nationwide and uses a heterogeneous mix of storage devices, running a totally automated management schedule. LG Electronics has a documented storage policy and automatic media management. HDFC Standard Life Insurance employs strategies that allow it to switch protocols and share files between different environments without having to make infrastructure changes.

“ILM has gained importance in the Indian context, especially among companies in the services sector. As new regulatory rules are created and the number of DR implementations increase, ILM will play a pivotal role in helping IT professionals adhere to new standards while incurring minimum management headaches,” says Rajendra Dhavale, Director, Consulting, Computer Associates India.

The Degree of Automation

Especially in large enterprises it's essential that there is a high level of automation in the storage infrastructure. “The use of ILM-specific solutions provides a degree of automation where the intelligent software sorts information according to its relevance. The information is then automatically pushed to the appropriate storage media, which may be online, nearline, or on cheaper tapes,” explains PK Gupta, Director Strategic Development (Asia-Pacific, Japan and Korea), Legato Software, a division of EMC.

Since the organization does not need to perform manual functions, the CIO only has to set up the required automation policies in the software. Classification can be done based on the age of the data, or even how frequently it is accessed.

“In a large environment like ours (80 to 100 TB storage capacity), it's impossible to even imagine manual storage and backup management procedures. All our storage infrastructure-related operations are automatic,” says Hari Nair, Technical Director, VSNL.

The Early Mover Gets the Business

It's important for enterprises to get started on storage infrastructure management immediately, since any delay will only add to the costs. “Early movers will get business and market advantage,” says Sanjit Sinha of IDC.

Storage infrastructure and environments will get more complex as people, processes, and new areas of business are added over time. The solution to this complexity isn't simply pumping in more money. The smart thing to do is to use a set of defined strategies like ILM to derive better performance and business value from storage infrastructure in the near and long run.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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