Digital Reef Offers Virtual Governance Warehouse For E-Discovery

Change has always been a constant for IT organizations. Information management, which relates to content and decision-making relationships for information throughout its life is and will be a major area of change because enterprises need to know what and where their data is at a very fine level of granularity, such as the contents of a particular e-mail and how that document relates to other e-mails. The still-exploding requirements for eDiscovery have been a primary driver in this change. And t

David Hill

October 7, 2010

6 Min Read
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Change has always been a constant for IT organizations. Information management, which relates to content and decision-making relationships for information throughout its life is and will be a major area of change because enterprises need to know what and where their data is at a very fine level of granularity, such as the contents of a particular e-mail and how that document relates to other e-mails. The still-exploding requirements for eDiscovery have been a primary driver in this change. And that gives vendors, such as Digital Reef, a leverage point from which to deliver products and services that meet real business needs (i.e., eDiscovery) while at the same time enabling enterprises to have insight into information necessary to meet governance, risk management, and compliance requirements.

The ongoing explosion in sheer volumes of data created and stored is familiar enough, but what is not necessarily as obvious is that the accountability for managing that data has been increasing at the same time. Among the drivers of that increased accountability are laws and regulations that affect compliance and civil litigation. They, in turn, are leading to a greater need for formal information or data governance processes to provide understanding of what information is available and where it resides.

However, because information governance is an abstract concept let's apply a more concrete subset of information governance: eDiscovery is a very real responsibility within enterprises and results in real projects with real expenditures of large sums of money. When spending large sums of money efficiently is important, you can bet people pay attention to the subject.

Now, in an eDiscovery project, one of the most important initial tasks is to look at all potentially relevant data and then cull out irrelevant information. That is not easy as semi-structured information, such as e-mails and word processing documents. Unstructured information, such as any bitmapped files like medical images, can be found in many places, such as electronic content management systems, email servers, file servers and desktops. Moreover, the amount of data may be very large, not only in terms of terabytes, but also in terms of the number of files, often in the millions. Getting some sense of what you have is the visibility step.

Although Digital Reef is a software company, it creates what it calls a "virtual governance warehouse." That is quite an interesting name, but what it refers to is not only the software, but also the database that provides the information that understands and tracks all file sources across the enterprise. The original data stays in place, and only data that enables understanding and tracking is stored in the warehouse.  In effect, the virtual governance warehouse is a large metadata repository.Metadata comes in layers, from simple file metadata (who created something, when, how big, where it is located) to more complex metadata, such as an index can be created by examining the contents of a document and extracting what is relevant to the document to create a more sophisticated level of metadata. Digital Reef gives the user the choice of determining the level of granularity of metadata use. IT may first want to understand in general terms what is available by first using simple file metadata, but then drill down to full content indexing to create a richer set of metadata as that would be needed to comply with the majority of eDiscovery requests.

Note that the virtual governance warehouse is a very powerful answer to the question of what and where your data is. Digital Reef says that the overhead for a fully content-indexed warehouse is roughly 25 percent or your original storage. Digital Reef has a trademarked name for its architecture for the warehouse called TeraPerformance. It claims the necessary scalability and performance to meet even a large enterprise's requirements, i.e., 17.3 terabytes per day of full content discovery and indexing.

How important is this sort of warehouse? Very. Now some vendors may be able to offer an alternative approach that delivers similar performance, and others may eventually adopt a similar technology, but Digital Reef has laid down the gauntlet by delivering a product today. Note that the warehouse does not understand all data. Structured data, such as for relational database transaction processing systems, are not included. But semi-structured and unstructured data makes up a large percentage of business information and is often essential in eDiscovery. Fundamentally, you can't govern what you don't know. Going back to college math, the warehouse is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

The virtual governance warehouse helps provide the visibility step and Digital Reef provides two additional steps to satisfy the sufficiency requirement--insight and control--necessary to make the warehouse useful in actually taking required business actions.

Insight comes about from applying analytics to the metadata. For example, in order to satisfy an eDiscovery request, only information relevant to the legal matter at hand needs to be identified. Standard full Boolean keyword search is, of course, part of this process, but more sophistical analytical processes, such as context and concept searches, which can relate individual pieces to information to each other are also available.But that is not enough. The information targeted by the analytics process must often be moved to a separate information store. For example, all data identified for a litigation hold might be relevant to a case and may have to be moved for a simple reason: it could be subject to an application that could change or delete the data. In order to comply with chain-of-custody requirements, companies must ensure data is not mutilated, changed, or deleted from the time it is captured for eDiscovery purposes. Policy-driven processes that ensure chain-of-custody requirements are met, as well as, moving data with the proper data deduplication, compression, and encryption is an illustration as to what occurs in the control step. For companies that wish to escape adding extra layers of complexity to their information infrastructures, Digital Reef offers eDiscovery as a service with a data center at a co-location facility in Reston, Va.

Note that Digital Reef also provides software capabilities for the early steps of the electronic discovery reference model (EDRM) that nearly all eDiscovery vendors use to position their products. The company is also involved in what is called early case assessment (ECA), which includes such tasks as data identification, preservation, collection, and processing. The goal of this effort is to cull unnecessary data to a more manageable and much less costly to review amount. Digital Reef also works with vendors, who provide such things as litigation holds, as well as those deeper into information review and some specific areas of analysis.

So, what should we take away from all this? The number of companies currently offering eDiscovery products is dwarfed only by those trying to take advantage of virtualization and cloud computing trends. And many of those eDiscovery products seem to have something enticing. More than just enticing, Digital Reef is among those that stand out from the crowd as it provides a substantial foundation for making information governance real, and eDiscovery is simply one justification for making that effort.

Along with partner products and services, Digital Reef's solid platform should continue to evolve and expand to provide an even more useful products and services to its customers. Those customers should focus only on eDiscovery today, but the big news is that Digital Reef will help fulfill the growing need for information governance that includes compliance and risk management, as well. At the date of posting, Digital Reef is not a client of the Mesabi Group or David Hill.

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