HOPKINTON, Mass. – As Enterprise storage environments grow in importance and complexity, EMC Corp. is looking to lead its customers through the quagmire with a broad concept that looks to increasingly automate the storage process.
Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) is EMC’s moniker for an approach that looks to make the process of storing and accessing corporate data more manageable for IT pros who are becoming deluged with exponential amounts of ones and zeros.
Some of the causes of this information overload, according to David Goulden, executive vice-president, customer operations for Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC, are: the need to protect data at higher levels within a company and the necessity of compliance with new government regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley in the U.S.
Despite the new growth in information, “most companies’ storage budgets are no bigger than 10 to 15 per cent per year,” Goulden said during a media briefing held here in June. “A new approach is needed.”
Enter ILM. The approach, in development by EMC for the past few years and only now being fully unleashed on the market, operates under the assumption that different data has different value to an organization. Depending on the level of that value, it will reside in a specific part of a customer’s overall storage architecture.
For instance, a financial institution may place a great deal of importance on a customer’s paycheque when it is first received and processed. After that, however, the document may only be useful to the bank if a request is made by the customer or the check issuer as to when it was deposited, its amount, etc.
The bank can decide that after the check has cleared, it is of lower importance in relation to other data and can be stored at a lower level, where it need not be actively managed and does not cause any ill-effect to the network.
This ability to rank data is facilitated by EMC through a tiered approach to storage infrastructures. Each tier represents a technology platform where data resides. A key component of the ILM architecture is to allow data to move dynamically throughout the different tiers without the end user or administrator having to know.
“The more a system is policy-based and the less it is people-based, the more effective it becomes,” said Goulden.
This “hands-off” approach to the management of storage also includes the concept of virtualization, whereby entire applications and the data they contain, such as a human resources app and employee files, can be moved from one server to another with no disruption in the running of that technology.
The virtualization trend is not original to EMC, but one that the firm’s competitors are also driving. Regardless, EMC sees it as the way of the storage future, and has identified a three-step process that customers can follow to realize the benefits of ILM. That includes: moving to a tiered network storage architecture; deploying ILM on certain applications; and finally, moving to an enterprise-wide ILM environment.
According to Bill North, research director, storage software for IDC, ILM represents a “sea change in how data is managed and how storage components fit in.” With factors such as the heightened regulatory environment forcing firms to hang on to data for longer periods of time, a new approach to storage is needed, he added. The traditional way of handling data is no longer relevant.
“Treating all data as the same is not a good approach – it’s costly.”
One of the main benefits to implementing ILM, North said, is an ultimate reduction in overall storage cost.
“It can free administrators to do less-mundane activities,” he said.
Other benefits North identified are improved service and availability levels, greater operational efficiency and a tighter integration of IT practices with business goals.
One of the biggest challenges facing customers, North cautioned, is the classification of data in regards to its importance to the enterprise.
“It’s the toughest process for them.”
One customer implementing the ILM philosophy is Boston-based State Street Global Advisors. Spokesperson Lars Linden said his firm approaches the building of IT systems “in the same way as power utilities – plan for peak load…and operate usually at 50 per cent of that.”
For State Street, an institutional investment house, EMC’s primary concentration as a company on storage was an important factor in deciding which vendor to work with. He was skeptical of tech vendors that offer multiple types of technology platforms. “A vendor that offers an all-in-one (IT offering) – you have to wonder which piece they do best,” he said.
Strategy-wise, EMC told reporters it has gone through a transformation of late in order to get to the point where it can roll out its ILM concept. That included a “stabilization” phase in 2001 that saw large-scale cost-cutting and reorganization. That was followed in 2002 by continued investment in R&D (about 14.5 per cent of expenditures), and by aggressive acquisitions of software companies in 2003. They most notably included content management firm Documentum Inc. and backup vendor Legato Systems Inc. EMC also scooped up VMware Inc. for its virtualization offerings.
According to David Milam, chief marketing officer for Documentum, observers “will continue to see us be very acquisitive.”