ILM Remains Illusory

Vendors are trumpeting information lifecycle management, but it's elusive in the real world

September 13, 2003

4 Min Read
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Information lifecycle management (ILM) may be one of the hottest things in storage today, with everyone whos anyone claiming to offer at least a slice of it, but there seems to be little consensus on how to set the policies needed to achieve the ILM dream.

Over recent months, storage hardware and software vendors alike have been tugging their own, personalized ILM strategies out of the woodwork, each company claiming it has the best approach to affordably managing data over its entire lifetime (see EMC CEO Sees Slow Turnaround, Veritas Moves up the Stack, and HP Heightens Tape IQ, and our interview with Pat Martin, President & CEO, StorageTek). That entails setting up automated policies that can move data over to less expensive storage as its value diminishes.

“The fundamental underlying principles are certainly sound,” says IDC analyst Bill North. “The challenge is: In a sea of information, how do you categorize the data?”

One ILM criterion that everyone seems to agree on is the age of the data. The value of email, for instance, drops dramatically after only a couple of days. Most companies offering ILM solutions offer policies for moving data to cheaper storage once it reaches a certain age.

But age is just one piece of the puzzle. Old personnel files or sensitive financial information could, for instance, be far more valuable to a company than brand new chatty emails between employees. And while most companies agree that there are a number of factors besides age to consider -- like how mission-critical a particular piece of information is -- few mention the complexity of accurately categorizing that data in their ILM press releases.For starters, analysts say, the technological approaches to solving this problem, whether they involve software or hardware, are still in early infancy. “They have some rudimentary functions now, but this hasn’t gotten to the sophistication levels companies are talking about,” says Evaluator Group analyst Randy Kerns. “This is a very complex thing, and we’re not there yet.”

The vendors admit that there is still a ways to go before true ILM becomes a reality. “It’s going to take some time,” admits Mark Lewis, EMC Corp.'s (NYSE: EMC) executive vice president of open software operations. “I expect it’s going to be two to three years of rollout time to do it.”

Initially, vendors will roll out specialized ILM features across individual tools, such as offering special policy settings just for email, Lewis says. Eventually, however, he expects the industry to reach a point where policies can be set across all applications.

“Part of our strategy is to just select very specific applications in vertical markets, like healthcare,” agrees Pierre Cousin, the vice president and general manager of Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek)’s (NYSE: STK) Online Solutions Business Unit. In addition, he says, the company’s EchoView appliance can help customers limit the scope of their applications. “There is not just one recipe,” he says. “ILM is based on a combination of many things.”

More important than the technical limitations, perhaps, is finding someone knowledgeable enough to set the policies that will determine what information is kept readily available, and what information is tossed in the trash. “I would say that we’re in the very early stages of being able to handle those types of problems with policy engines,” North says. “But even with those in place, organizations will be challenged to define what the policies should be… If you ask [the engine] to do the wrong thing, if the storage request is a bonehead request, it will carry out that request with great efficiency.”The emergence of numerous new and beefed-up laws and regulations determining how and how long different types of data should be stored is further complicating matters. Since these rules can require a company to keep information that it itself considers useless (like email correspondence) readily available for years, they are shifting the criteria for how the ILM policies should be set.

“The big issue with ILM is figuring out what are the triggers for the movement of data,” Kerns says. “In reality, you want to have some sort of scoring system that’s based on what application created it.”

While many storage vendors have begun cooperating with application vendors like Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) to coordinate ILM with the applications themselves, North warns that no one approach will bring full salvation in this emerging space (see Vendors Jump to Back Microsoft NAS). “It isn’t a product,” he says. “It’s a series of processes… The devil will be in the details.”

— Eugénie Larson, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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