Editorial opinion: A new storage notion to consider

According to Patrick Jacques, the IT administrator at Dutailier, a furniture manufacturer in St. Pie, Que., his company’s data-base is growing at a rate of 60 to 100GB per year. That growth is the result of Dutailier’s many acquisitions, and, as the company’s revenue is growing 10 to 12 per cent annually, it’s probably also the result of an ever-lengthening list of customers looking to purchase an example of the firm’s claim to fame, the gliding rocking chair.

Dutailier’s burgeoning database is a homegrown example of how quickly data can propagate in a manufacturer’s IT systems. And if left unmanaged, that information could grow into a bramble of data that any company would have a hard time dealing with.

Storage equipment manufacturers, however, offer a new concept that could help make data growth somewhat less taxing. It’s called information lifecycle management (ILM), which, according to industry observers, is supposed to make data that much simpler to control, from the moment documents, reports and files are created to the day they’re retrieved from the offsite tape vault some time later.

ILM is based on “tiered” storage: data is stored on media that matches its age and importance. New, important info — without which a company would have a hard time operating — is stored on disks for quick recovery and accessibility, while old, generally less-important information goes to less-expensive tape media.

ILM may well be a solution to the bulging-data problem for manufacturers, but it requires more than a hint of elbow grease to work well. There are certain aspects of ILM that IT managers should keep in mind.

According to Jim Geis, director of systems, services and solutions at Forsythe Solutions Group Inc., a technology advisory firm in Skokie, Ill., companies must undertake a number of steps to make a success of ILM. Among them: include the legal department in planning; know what happens to paper-based documents as they go from creation to file-folder (the better to understand what you need by way of an ILM platform); and make sure employees understand the corporate credo on information — who owns it, where it belongs and who’s allowed to do what with it.

Alan Freedman, an industry analyst at IDC Canada Ltd., says companies should consider not only the price of implementing ILM, but also the potential cost savings and productivity benefits down the road. Manufacturers could use stored information to aid strategic decisions, for instance.

Uwe Helmer, vice-president, strategic solutions at Meta Group Canada, an IT consultancy, suggests manufacturers should think of ILM as a process first, and as technology last. Companies should categorize data types, relate business rules to the defined data subsets, and determine service levels for each sort of data before deciding what kind of technology is needed to preserve it.

IT managers in manufacturing enterprises would do well to heed the advice of industry experts and the words of people who have been there with data management. Their experiences provide insight and direction so others don’t misstep with ILM.

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