information gets a new lease on life

In the next three years we will see more change in the storage industry than we have in the past 10, with the industry rapidly evolving and embracing ILM (information life-cycle management). ILM is the optimal management of information throughout its life, from creation and use, to archiving and disposal.

A typical large company today has hundreds of applications, terabytes of online information, close to a petabyte of data on tape, and almost no ability to optimally match the value of specific information at any given point in time to the type of storage resources managing it. The results can be over-investment in the protection and availability of non-critical information, while leaving critical information dangerously exposed.

changing information requirements

Today, the amount of information organizations need to manage and use is immense and growing rapidly. As information becomes an ever more important aspect of our lives and our businesses, it becomes increasingly subject to business, legal, regulatory or personal requirements. Information has to last longer these days, outliving any single server, storage device, operating system or application. The value of data changes more frequently too (and often unpredictably), but it must be readily available to provide new opportunities for growth.

New regulations now govern how long business-related e-mail and Internet communications need to be retained and how quickly they may have to be retrieved. In the U.S. alone, there are close to 10,000 state and federal regulations governing the storage, availability and disposal of information, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Department of Defense Standard 5015.2, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Canada, too, has an extensive regulatory environment surrounding information. For example, there is the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), the Provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, National Archives of Canada’s Multi-Institutional Disposition Authorities (MIDA), Provincial Public Hospital Acts, and rules from provincial securities commissions (e.g. Ontario Securities Commission Regulation 1015:113), to name a few.

As the value of information changes, it makes sense to move data to different online and off-line storage media that provide the right levels of protection, replication and recovery at the lowest possible cost.

need for a systematic approach

IT managers are offered a plethora of storage management tools to help them cope with the challenge of managing unpredictable and changing information requirements. These tools have solved many of the data management, movement and replication challenges and have successfully tackled many data preservation issues. But the overall management of information hasn’t been addressed in a consistent and systematic manner.

Exacerbating this challenge are the ‘islands of applications’ dominating the IT landscape. Information management today revolves around a few key enterprise applications, each with its own information management tools, metadata and interfaces, and involves large expenditures of resources applied to the ongoing integration of these separate information management infrastructures. When a new business requirement gives rise to new information policies, separate and parallel efforts go on simultaneously to apply them to every one of these key applications.

towards a successful ILM strategy

To get the most value from their information at the lowest total cost, organizations are taking a close look at ILM. The goal is to meet business requirements across a wide variety of applications, regulations, user needs, and corporate policies while delivering the lowest overall cost.

A successful information life-cycle management strategy must be:

Business-centric: derived from the key processes, competencies and initiatives of the business.

Policy-based: anchored in enterprise-wide information-management policies that span all processes, applications and resources.

Centrally managed: providing a single view into all information assets of the business.

Heterogeneous: encompassing all types of platforms and operating systems.

Aligned with the value of data: matching storage resources to the data’s value to the business at any given point in time.

ILM will change the way information is managed. The process will become simplified and automated. Instead of today’s plethora of information management tools, the IT manager will have a single and consistent view into the entire information infrastructure. And rather than applying new information requirements manually, application-by-application, the IT manager will set enterprise-wide policies that will automatically move information to the most optimal storage platform at any given time.

With ILM, companies can keep their information productive throughout its life and respond quickly to sudden changes in business requirements.

the road to ILM

How do you get started on the road to information life-cycle management? Most organizations will 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. Fully network your storage and then automate key aspects of the storage environment so you can easily and cost-effectively manage those resources and ensure business continuity. You also must go through an enterprise-wide process of data classification: cataloging and organizing data according to its value, type and requirements, including availability, recovery, security, cost and compliance.

The second step is to define business policies for various information types. In addition, at this point you should target a number of key applications and start applying the ILM approach to them. These first two steps lay the groundwork for the ultimate value, which is a couple of years away: the complete automation of ILM. In this integrated environment, you will be able to apply business-driven policies across your entire heterogeneous IT infrastructure, matching the right application to the right service level at the right time, all from a single console. At this point, ILM is helping optimize the business itself, by constantly and automatically making decisions that ensure the availability of information to the right application, at the right time and at the right cost, based on predetermined business rules and policies, and by making adjustments in real time, based on awareness of the changing value of that information.

The steps described above allow IT staffs to develop their skills and methodologies to understand their information requirements and advance to increasing levels of automation as their practical experience deepens.

the next stage

Information storage has evolved rapidly in the past 10 years. In each stage of this evolution, the storage array was connected to more and more servers, and through them, to more and more users, providing increasing functionality and versatility. With direct-attached storage, there was a one-on-one relation between the array and the server. In the next stage, enterprise storage, the array was connected to dozens of servers. The evolution to networked storage connected one storage array to hundreds or even thousands of servers. With hundred and thousands of servers attached to a storage array, more automation was needed to help manage them all. So the industry moved on to automated networked storage.

Each one of these stages has been built on the foundations of the previous ones. Now, on the solid foundation of automated networked storage and by incorporating the added functionality of integrated information management, we are moving into the next stage: information life-cycle management.

Ross Allen is the Managing Director at EMC Canada (, Toronto, a wholly owned subsidiary of EMC Corporation, a major provider of information storage systems, software, networks and services.

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