The new buzzwords: Information lifecycle management

Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) is quickly becoming the buzzword of the storage industry. As new regulatory rules are created, and the number of disaster recovery implementations increase, ILM will play a pivotal role in helping IT professionals adhere to new standards while incurring minimum management headaches.

What's important to remember is that ILM is not a technology - it is a combination of processes and technologies that determines how data flows through an environment. By doing so, it helps end users manage data from the moment it is created to the time it is no longer needed.

Many companies are implementing a combination of these technologies and processes to enable a successful ILM practice.

The process

ILM uses a number of technologies and business methodologies, including the following:

  • Assessment

  • Socialization

  • Classification

  • Automation

  • Review

In the assessment phase of ILM, storage administrators can take advantage of storage resource management (SRM) technologies. SRM solutions help IT administrators figure out what data resides on the storage assets in their environment.

Most SRM tools can generate reports for IT that outline data usage patterns. Once the IT department understands what data it has and where this data lives, it can begin the next steps of the ILM process: generating reports from the SRM tools, presenting them to the company's department heads and explaining the breakdown of storage asset utilization and the costs involved. This process is known as the socialization phase of ILM.

Once IT meets with the department heads, and the groups collaborate to understand data usage patterns, department heads must determine how this data is used and how critical it is to the business at any given point in time. The ability to prioritize data based on business requirements (that is, mission-critical, business-sensitive and departmental) will allow IT to determine where data should live through its lifecycle and assist in creating policies to migrate data to the proper storage "class" over time.

IT must work with department heads to set up a classification schema for the company. Data can be classified in the following ways:

  • Data type

  • Data "organization"

  • Data age

  • Data "value"

IT will use all data collected at this point to establish policies to automate the data's migration through the environment, with a minimum amount of hands-on data management.

SRM solutions should be employed throughout the ILM process, not merely for an initial assessment. SRM technology can monitor the storage environment constantly, revealing where excess capacity, duplicate files, "unnecessary files" or aged files exist. This information is very important in the ILM process, for it is essential in understanding which data should be migrated, archived or purged.

The automation phase

Once data has been classified, and IT and the department heads have agreed on a plan for where their data should live at any point in its life cycle, policies must be established to determine where (on which storage resources) the data should be located. Automated Data Migration (ADM) tools can automate the migration of data from one storage class to another based on user-defined policies.

ADM solutions are essentially a combination of intelligent SRM and hierarchical storage management (HSM) . HSM was designed to automate data migration for archival purposes, and it is access-driven. In contrast, ADM solutions enable data migration across various storage resources based on a combination of user-defined criteria, and it is data-value-driven.

Quality ADM tools assist IT in assigning value to the storage assets within the environment. Administrators can set up criteria around the data based on type, ownership, last access or age. Data from a specific type of application may be placed on primary storage, but it may be migrated later to secondary storage or archive if it has not been accessed in a certain period of time.

Another policy option allows data from one application to be mirrored or copied to secondary storage as soon as it is written. Significant cost savings can be realized when data is assigned to storage resources according to the data's value. ADM solutions also have the ability to "recover" data to a higher-level storage resource if that data has been migrated to secondary storage and is accessed repeatedly. These solutions provide IT with the ability to optimize storage resources based on the value of the data.

Simplifying disaster recovery/business continuance

Other data management tools are required, in conjunction with ADM solutions, to fulfill disaster recovery and business continuance objectives. During the process of classifying the data, department heads must inform IT about which data is essential to the continuity of business operations. To protect data that must remain readily available, processes such as mirroring and replication to remote arrays or sites should be incorporated.

Disaster recovery has been an important topic over the past two years, resulting in a number of assessments; however, there have been few implementations. It is often considered cost-prohibitive to implement full-blown disaster recovery/business continuance plans due to the quantity of data that IT believes needs to be replicated.

However, several of the assessments discussed here can help IT determine the real quantity of data that needs to be replicated for disaster recovery/business continuance. The costs of disaster recovery/business continuance can be greatly reduced with the proper classification of data.

Better backups

The classification and automatic migration of data helps IT with the process of backing up data. Backup initially consisted of moving data to some form of media that could be transported and housed in a reasonable footprint and stored for long periods of time. (Ten years is now considered archiving).

Today, backup has evolved into migrating data to some form of storage medium for quick recovery. In the past, backup to tape was the only option for offloading aged data from primary resources. Now, with ADM and disk-to-disk backup solutions, long-term retention of data does not necessarily have to be on tape. Again, by assessing and classifying data, IT better understands what data needs to be on tape at given points in time, and what should be retained on secondary storage resources.

SRM solutions can eliminate issues with backing up redundant and unnecessary files. It can also open up the backup window and greatly reduce the server and storage resources required.

The act of archiving data is evolving as well. Today, IT must determine how to avoid redundancy. Nobody wants to have 4,000 copies of the same file backed up to tape, wasting valuable floor space. How can IT find a necessary file without scouring a bunch of archive files, especially when it knows the file was active 60 days ago? SRM and ADM tools can ensure that IT is properly archiving the right data at the appropriate time, avoiding redundancy.

Archiving, by definition, is important in the compliance world. Regulatory requirements will determine the amount of time data is archived, as well as the requirements surrounding archiving. These include how long the data needs to be kept, how quickly the data needs to be recovered and how it must be destroyed. Regulatory requirements will also determine the medium on which data is stored, such as "WORM-like media (Write Once Read Many).

Solving the problem

ILM solves key problems such as ineffective storage utilization, the costs of managing storage and the ability to manage storage growth surrounding data replication, disaster recovery/business continuance and backup.

Our belief is that unless IT understands the real value of data within the environment, it remains difficult to determine how to best assign storage resources for its placement.

Once the data has been assigned a value, the storage resource should also be assigned a value. By properly placing data (the proper data value on the proper value array), IT can more effectively distribute data across multiple resources, which should lead to better utilization and cost savings. Automating the data management and migration process can ensure that resources are being optimized and can also reduce the number of staff and man-hours required to manage the storage.

By using SRM tools, IT no longer has to back up the same .mpg file that it has 245 copies of already. This process saves time (backup), disk space (secondary storage) and tape space. ADM solutions enable policy-driven data placement, ensuring that only the highest-value data uses primary resources. This reduces waste and allows IT to develop budgets based on the importance of the data to business requirements.

ILM needs to be a part of the overall IT strategy as it relates to disaster recovery/business continuance and regulatory requirements. The ability to track the location of data within the company will help IT successfully handle situations from audits to true disasters.

The bottom line

ILM is as significant a business process as CRM and ERP. An effective ILM implementation can significantly streamline costs and management efficiencies. IT organizations can actually use ILM processes to more effectively implement CRM and ERP solutions, ensuring that critical data is given top-priority storage resources and is always available.

ILM is an ever-growing and evolving process. In order to realize the benefits of the ILM process, IT must continuously review the usage patterns of its storage resources and ensure adherence to policies and procedures. By taking advantage of the new SRM/ADM tools, monitoring the process becomes easy.

New advances in ATA and SATA disk will play an important role in helping IT administrators with ILM, giving them the ability to stage backups and snapshots inexpensively. Software innovations around SRM and ADM have also increased the ability to identify data, classify data and move data to the proper location over time.

Once IT can begin showing executive management exactly how their assets are being used, it will be in a position to properly assign chargebacks to the various groups in an effort to turn itself into a profit (or at least break-even) center. Now is the time to start planning.

Steve Duplessie is founder of the Enterprise Storage Group. He can be reached at Nancy Marrone is a senior analyst and Steve Kenniston is an analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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