Controlling the enterprise information lifecycle

Von Leon Erlanger

There?s a stage in the life of a new technology in which half the world thinks it?s a whole new paradigm and the other half thinks it?s all hype. Half says it will never happen whereas the other half says, ?We?re doing it now.? And even the most improbable vendor claims to have strategies and products to support it. So it is with ILM (information lifecycle management).

According to a definition from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), ILM comprises the policies, processes, practices, and tools used to align the business value of information with the most appropriate and cost-effective IT infrastructure from the time information is conceived through its final disposition. Information is aligned with business requirements through management policies and service levels associated with applications, metadata, and data.

The current darling of the storage industry, ILM is based on two simple concepts. First, not all information has the same value to the organization. Second, whatever value information has tends to change over time.

?For the first 10 years of SAN (storage area network) evolution, application data was supported on a single class of SAN infrastructure. An enterprise-class environment would typically be implemented with high-end (and very expensive), highly available storage arrays, large directors, and high-end servers with dual-pathed connectivity to storage. This single class deployment implied that all data had the same value, regardless of its actual worth for a company?s business,? observes Tom Clark, director, Solutions and Technologies, McData Corp.

The reality, however, is that business transaction data may fluctuate over time, initially having high value (for example, a customer order tied to revenue) and then less value (once the order is filled and revenue realized), and then higher value again (a customer query about a previous order), he explains.

If these assumptions are true, then moving less-valuable information to less-expensive storage and applying appropriate levels of protection to each storage tier will enable companies to save money and reserve high-end resources for the information that demands them.

According to Tony Lim, consulting manager, Computer Associates? Technology Services, ILM can help users improve the performance and utilization of their storage assets, by aligning their business data to the appropriate IT infrastructure, based on the value of the data to the business.

The process begins with first identifying the types of data and storage assets in the organization, then classifying the data and storage assets based on their value to the business, and finally looking at the policies, processes, types of IT infrastructure and solutions that you want to put in place to manage them, he says. ?ILM is not a technology; there is no such thing as an ILM product. Rather, ILM is about using technology in the context of a process; the process of getting the right data on the right assets with the right security at the right time in the data lifecycle to support the business.?

Superficially at least, the ILM concept resembles earlier storage technologies, including HSM (hierarchical storage management).

Clark says conceptually, HSM is a prerequisite for ILM in that the storage infrastructure should be provisioned with a hierarchy of storage containers.

However, ILM is a much broader vision than HSM, says Ravi Rajendran, country manager, EMC Singapore. ?It?s focused on managing data throughout the entire enterprise, not just on organizing storage schemes, based on the value of the information that data carries, regardless of the application or time.?

HSM tended to associate data with applications and moved that data based on a single criterion ? time. ILM is about the continuity of dynamic data movement, and sets policies based on the value of the information that the data carries, he explains.

The two principal drivers behind ILM are exploding storage management costs and compliance. To the extent ILM can be automated for specific business applications, it promises to dramatically reduce costs and simplify data management, while also enabling companies to meet regulatory compliance requirements for data access and availability, says Clark.

The full ILM vision, however, is at least a few years away from realization. Currently, pockets of automation exist mainly in basic, HSM-type ILM implementations, says Syed A. Rahman, senior product manager, ILM, Network Appliance. ?Products capable of automatically monitoring age or inactivity of data, and migrating or archiving such data to lower cost storage are available. However, there are no products that automate a full-scale implementation of ILM.?

Lim of CA agrees. Problem areas include the management of storage security and storage assets as part of the ILM process. ?The limitations come about as a result of many vendors of ILM solutions are looking at ILM from a purely storage perspective, rather than from a more holistic enterprise information management perspective,? he says.

According to Lim Beng Lay, product manager, Apac, Hitachi Data Systems, areas where we can automate the management of the data storage infrastructure are: having common software for the data storage infrastructure, virtualising tiers of storage for hardware consolidation and optimizing data movement and migration within the data storage infrastructure.

Sean Wong, solutions architect, Asia South, Sun Microsystems, suggests that enterprises can attempt to implement ILM with the following steps: classify (or profile) data; tier storage; and implement policies to automate movement of information across storage tiers. The first step ? classifying or profiling data ? is still very much a manual effort. ?We need application owners, application support personnel and IT infrastructure support people to help define and classify (the data).?

In fact, the greatest obstacle to enterprise-wide ILM has been the lack of visibility into the myriad types of data that is generated and stored by the organization, says Rahman of NetApp.

Tiering storage ? the second step ? can be automated with a virtual array which allows the creation of storage tiers according to predefined policies or profiles, says Wong. Migration of data between storage tiers can also be fully automated once the ILM data migration policies are set up in the policy engine.

At this point, however, ILM solutions have mainly been targeted at specific business applications such as email or document management, says Clark. The basic mechanisms for data value tagging and automated policy enforcement still need to be extended to other business applications, and this will require much more work in terms of standardization and APIs (application programming interfaces).

?Automating ILM requires a means to monitor traffic and enforce policies against data based on current value, frequency of access or other criteria. This in turn implies a much closer collaboration between applications and infrastructure, and between application developers and storage infrastructure architects.?

As Nancy Hurley, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, also points out, ?there has to be a marriage between the storage and applications?. ?Once I?ve (assigned a value to) my information, all the applications that will use, move, migrate, protect, and retain it should understand that valuation from the moment it?s created. It?s going to come from the vendors providing open APIs to work with each other and a level of integration such that policy engines understand each other.?

Currently, however, the lack of integration still stands between today?s ILM offerings and the enterprise-wide, single-console ideal ? tools that would allow an enterprise to classify all its information according to value, set up a single system of storage tiers, and apply migration and protection policies across it all using a single management tool.

Chai Cher Kion, systems architect, Storage Systems, Systems and Technology Group, IBM Asia Pacific, suggests that one of the ways forward is to utilize SNIA?s SMI-S interface protocols to manage storage equipment which ensure interoperability amongst different storage vendors.

Rajendran of EMC is optimistic. As long as industry leaders continue to lead the way and promote and advocate open standards endorsed by the SNIA, it is certainly possible to see an enterprise-wide single console tool for ILM, he says.