Users: Information life-cycle management standards needed

IT managers said they face a daunting task in trying to classify data so it can be stored on systems appropriate to its importance and overall business worth. Not the least of those challenges is changing the attitudes of business units used to getting premium storage for every byte of data.

But users at the first-of-its-kind ILM Solutions Conference here said information life-cycle management (ILM) isn't an easy option.

"The ramifications are absolutely huge," said Joel White, lead IT architect at the Allstate Corporation, "Just look at any company that's made the front page of The Wall Street Journal. That's just a symptom."

White was referring to companies' difficulties retrieving data for government or industry regulators in a timely manner because it wasn't indexed when archived.

Users and storage vendor executives alike at the conference, which was sponsored by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), agreed that ILM strategies are still works in progress because ILM still lacks many industry standards. They also said it lacks integration between business applications and storage systems, automatic migration of data across all tiers of storage and tools to fully search and continuously access that data once its been archived.

But the sheer volume of information makes it imperative that companies begin classifying data and managing it via policies, users said.

"Compliance provides the opportunity for us to bludgeon our business units to where we need to go [with ILM]," said Scott McIntyre, CIO at San Jose-based Quantum, a maker of disk and tape drive technology.

Mike Peterson, program director for the SNIA's Data Management Forum, said the key issues driving ILM include the inability of companies to effectively manage data, changing business needs brought about by increased litigation and regulations, and the fact that data has traditionally been stored in silos that are unavailable to the entire enterprise.

"It's really an ominous challenge for the IT group," Peterson said.

Peterson and storage executives from EMC, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Computer Associates International said IT shops must take time to understand the business processes and goals that could drive ILM policies. They also said the storage industry as a whole must create standards around business application integration with storage systems.

Peter Delle Donne, CEO of Iron Mountain, called full-text indexing the "Achilles' heel" of ILM because, with the exception of e-mail, IT shops are unable to perform searches on the full content of archived databases and other large documents.

Another major issue users identified was the need to keep old applications around in order to read archived data.

Donne said his company recertifies its infrastructure on upgrades to older business applications first used to create and read data stored in its archives. But he has sometimes been able to avoid the costly practice by saving data in Portable Document Format.

"Therefore, we can present the information for a long period of time," Donne said.

Others disagreed that PDF file formats are a viable means of staving off business application upgrades for archived data.

"I don't think the answer is to find a format that won't change for 20 years," said Juan Loaiza, vice president of the system technology group at Oracle.

Tom McGuire, director of IT for a large pharmaceutical company, said, "PDF is not the answer. In fact, it's a big problem." He noted that an upgraded version of PDF software he purchased last year wouldn't access data archived in an earlier format.

Like other users at the conference, Jim Zhou, a senior programmer analyst in the IT architecture and engineering group at Genentech in San Francisco, said a major issue with the cost of storage is that every business unit wants its data stored on the highest-performing systems, such as his Lightning arrays from Hitachi Data Systems. Zhou's company has about 200TB of storage capacity today, but its storage needs have been growing 200% per year.

Zhou said storage vendors should come up with procedures for user firms to follow in classifying data and providing service-level agreements (SLA) with business units. The units could then choose from a menu of options, allowing the IT department to then build the architecture to support those SLAs.

Zhou also said any ILM technology should be built from the file system level on up, so policies can automatically regulate how every file is stored from the time it's created.

"This type of information about the file doesn't exist in file systems today," he said.

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