Storage gets real

Von Samantha Perry

In today?s cost-conscious environment, ICT users cannot afford to have terabytes of unused storage infrastructure lying around, and throwing more disk at a storage problem is no longer a feasible, long-term solution to a company?s storage requirements.

Given current legislative and corporate governance requirements, which specify that data has to be securely stored, for a certain period, and must be retrievable in a usable format if needed, companies need to revisit the storage space, taking a long-term view.

Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) is the new buzzword in this space, although the concept itself has been around for quite some time. In a nutshell, it involves taking a realistic look at data, and determining what needs to be stored, why it needs to be stored, and for how long it will need to be stored.

To a degree, ILM involves getting back to basics. Says Titan IT MD, Michael Yates: ?Companies need to establish what data is being retained, and why. Once that is established, companies need to work out the format in which it needs to be stored, and how the data will be retrieved. Alongside this, companies need to ask how long any given data will be stored for, and how quickly it will need to be retrieved, if it is needed.?

ILM, naturally, considers the entire lifecycle of data, up to and including disposing of it when it is no longer needed. This has technology, as well as business process, implications.

Notes Metrofile marketing director Paul Mullon: ?How long do you need to store data for? If you need it for twenty years, for example, the rapid pace of technological change will prove a significant challenge. Fifty-four months in, the software that is being used will no longer be supported. You also have hardware changes that do not coincide nicely with the software changes. Thus, you need to seriously consider how long you need to store specific data before you implement an ILM strategy.?

Live forever

?Not all data is created equal,? says Graeme Smith, business consultant at StorTech. ?Some deserves to live forever, some needs to be retained in terms of governance and regulatory compliance, other data is dead almost immediately it is created. In creating an ILM solution, all of this needs to be considered. Hardware and software must be seen as the building blocks of a storage solution, not as the solution. Ultimately, if you do not know what you are trying to deliver, trying to deliver product will be a waste of time and money.?

Locally, determining how long data needs to be stored can prove a frustrating exercise, however. ?The Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act is not prescriptive,? says Smith. ?It refers to forms of data that need to be protected in a non-modifiable format. Nowhere does it say, for example, that e-mail needs to be kept for X number of years.?

ECT Act aside, various industries, like the financial services industry, have regulations outlining how long different types of data need to be stored. Cheque images must be kept for seven years, for example. For companies operating in this type of environment, establishing just what needs to be kept, in what format, and for how long, is a mammoth task. This, of course, is good news for companies playing in the storage solutions space.

Good news for the companies needing storage solutions is that this sector seems to be growing up. Concepts like ILM extend beyond disk into workflow and business processes in the creation of a strategy to handle data in every stage of its life. ?The idea is to get the right information, to the right person, in the right format, at the right time,? states Smith. Sounds similar to the utility computing concept, doesn?t it?

Ultimately, what ILM encompasses, as so much in ICT does these days, is taking a business approach to what has traditionally been an ICT problem. Leaving data in the hands of users, as many companies do with e-mail, is dangerous. Leaving it in the hands of techies, who may not necessarily understand the broader business perspective, is also not a wise idea. Developing and implementing a strategy for data management may be a complex task initially, but it will deliver business benefit in the long term, if only because you will be able to find the critical piece of data that may, for example, be crucial evidence in a court case.