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Issue of September 2005 

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Information storage

The next S in storage

Information storage evolves faster than almost any other enterprise technology. Buzzwords and hype come (and go) at a rate which can be matched only by storage needs that are forever spiralling upwards. Here’s a look at the latest storage buzzwords. by Anil Patrick R

Storage is moving past devices like NAS, SAN and DAS. At present, the Indian enterprise’s focus is on getting the maximum value from storage in terms of functionality, performance and cost.

The principal reason behind this has been the emerging need to efficiently manage and extract information on demand. Information storage has to be managed effectively to help it make the transition from stored data to usable information. As most organisations have realised, storage boxes that lie around without the means to manage information just will not do.


Although enterprises have storage, there are very few that can claim to have storage that is optimally used. Under-utilisation, lack of proper configuration, and non-customisation to application or information requirements are commonplace in many storage deployments.

Often this leads to unnecessary buying cycles. While these might make vendors happy, enterprises have realised that there is more to storage than frenzied buying. The need for optimal usage of storage resources has therefore come to centre stage.

On top of these are data archival requirements as a result of regulations. With a strict focus on needs such as corporate governance and risk management, information has to be made available on the fly for competing in the market and even to survive. For example, many of the present regulations dictate the need to preserve corporate information for at least seven years. Such information might be demanded and has to be produced at any time during this period.


Demands like these cannot be fulfilled by traditional storage management solutions or backup procedures. Storage vendors have stepped in at this point with solutions that assure the mitigation of these issues. The promised solutions include technologies like e-mail archiving, application specific storage, and storage virtualisation. These promise to streamline the management of storage.

“E-mail archival allows us to automatically manage and archive e-mail in a transparent manner without the user being affected by it,” says Bhushan Akerkar, Executive Director, Information and Systems Technology, ACNielsen.


Indian enterprises are adopting storage virtualisation gradually
as the total cost of ownership goes on decreasing

Arindam Bose GM, IT, LG Electronics India

So what is the present state of these applications? Let us start with the management tool for the most commonplace of enterprise information—e-mail.

E-mail archiving promises to help companies archive and manage information in the e-mail stores, primarily for compliance. The information flow within an enterprise at present largely consists of e-mail. However, the management of e-mail with regard to retaining and deleting the same is mandatory if an organisation intends to comply with international regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA. With Indian organisations vying for the international market, these applications have started to gain widespread adoption.

Application-specific storage is next on the agenda. This technology promises to have storage solutions customised to specific application requirements. The basic premise is to have a storage infrastructure with storage and retrieval components tailored for a specific business application or requirement. The main advantage with this approach is an optimised and standardised storage architecture.

Storage virtualisation has been around in various forms since the 1970s. However, it is only in the past four or five years that the technology has acquired importance due to the need to consolidate distributed storage.

Virtualisation of storage basically helps a storage administrator create a consolidated logical volume across multiple storage arrays from multiple vendors. It is possible to manage the size of these logical volumes on the fly. As of now, storage virtualisation is largely restricted to SAN environments to consolidate disk arrays from multiple vendors.

“Indian enterprises are adopting storage virtualisation gradually as the total cost of ownership goes on decreasing,” says Arindam Bose, General Manager, IT, LG Electronics India.


While these solutions hold promise, there is an overall picture to be considered. Most of these are point solutions that do not necessarily integrate with the other point solutions.

For example, storage virtualisation still hasn’t matured to the level where it is guaranteed that your application-specific storage will talk to it. Or take the case of e-mail archival that may not inter-operate with the existing storage management solutions.

Storage inter-operability is still being pursued through the slow development of SMI-S (Storage Management Initiative Specification). Initiated by the SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and based on CIM (Common Information Model) and XML, it is intended to be the storage world’s equivalent of SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol). At present we are at SMI-S version 1.1. If it ever becomes a reality, SMI-S will make heterogeneous storage systems completely (or almost completely) compatible.

Sadly, SMI-S is still a long way from seeing the light of the day due to insufficient vendor participation.

While most of the major storage players are members of the SMI-S programme, the results are yet to show up in their product range. Till vendors work together to make interoperability the core issue instead of pushing proprietary technology, it is the buyer who will end up with boxes and software that go nowhere except within a brand’s boundaries.

Till these open standards happen, the next S in storage is still far away.

In the meanwhile, there is little to do but consider what is available at the moment. We present e-mail archiving, application-specific storage and storage virtualisation over the next few pages.

With inputs from Soutiman Das Gupta

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