Information lifecycle management

The life and times of data: There is nothing new about the need to assess, manage and store information according to its value, and to apply resources appropriately. In every organisation, data that is mission-critical today may be of little value in a month and almost worthless in a year.

What information lifecycle management (ILM) seeks to do is to apply various technologies and techniques – among them storage management, document and content management, records management and search technologies – to manage and automate that process in a consistent, systematic, cost-effective way. While some users see ILM as jargon for what they have been doing for some time, it would be a mistake to dismiss the approach. There is a solid business case for the adoption of its philosophy – if not its supporting technologies – for three pertinent reasons.

First, the volume of data that organisations are handling has reached such levels that the task of tracking and retrieving stored data and content has become daunting, if not impossible.

Second is the demand for high-availability of that data – users want rapid access to data of varying ages and with no pre-indication of its importance.

Third is the increased pressure on organisations to meet regulatory requirements and to ensure better corporate governance.

Governance: the pressure to comply

According to industry research, there are close to 10,000 state and federal regulations in the US alone that businesses have to adhere to – and, when asked, to show they do so.

But it has been the wave of corporate scandals and cries for accountability, plus the increasingly sophisticated exploitation of data, over the past two years that has prompted the most onerous new rules – among them, in the US, Sarbanes-Oxley and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations governing the retention of email and instant messaging data, and the Data Protection Act and the Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act in the UK.

These have pushed information lifecycle management to the top of many corporate agendas, though, according to consultants, the comprehensive adoption of the concept might take a large organisation two to three years to enact.

Quotes: Revolution or marketing hype

“ILM is truly revolution. It will change the way information is managed.”
Mark Lewis, CTO, EMC

“It’s just jargon for something we’ve been dong for a long time.”
Robert Shaw, head of information management, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals Trust

“A cynical view of ILM would be to see it as another attempt by storage vendors to increase their influence.”
Jeffrey Mann, content management analyst, the Meta Group

“The fundamental principles are certainly sound.”
Bill North, analyst at IDC

Adoption: Four steps to ILM

How should organisations get started on the road to information lifecycle management (ILM)? Mark Lewis, CTO at storage technology vendor EMC, identifies a series of stages they will have to go through:

1. Implement automated networked storage

In order to have any chance of retrieving data when it is needed and as fast as users (or regulators) need it, the data has to be networked rather than attached directly to any one system.

2. Classify all data

Organisations need to go through an enterprise-wide process of cataloguing and organising data according to its value, type and requirements.

3. Apply ILM policies to specific applications

Service levels need to be set for applications.

4. Create ILM infrastructure

Extend ILM across all applications.

Architecture: Blood, sweat and tiers

The pressure to manage the lifecycle of data means that organisations must be able to ‘tier’ storage resources and migrate data to specific resources according to well-defined policies.

That sounds a lot like the concept of hierarchical storage management (HSM), which has been a feature of mainframe environments for over a decade. Like ILM, HSM assumes that information is of varying and dynamic value – not just of different levels of importance but with importance that changes over time. As such, it should be moved between more immediately available media, such as attached disk systems, to less expensive tape or other detachable media as its value changes over time.

See also: Applying the ILM architecture – ‘If cloud-based ILM is a more cost-effective choice for an organisation, then its provider needs to be able to support its ILM processes from start to finish’

The key difference with ILM is that the emergence of networked storage environments (and in particular, storage area networks or SANs) has made it easier to match storage resources and application requirements accurately, and also to migrate data between individual storage locations as appropriate.

ILM also implies a greater level of automation and intelligence. While HSM is largely an approach to data movement, ILM requires that the data is classified so its movement, copying or deletion can be carried out according to preset policies – and that requires identifying individuals knowledgeable enough to determine the value of different types of data.

For example, a financial document from five years ago is likely to be of greater value than the emails passed between staff yesterday. Moreover, ILM must be heterogenous, able to handle all data types, platforms and operating systems. But more than products, ILM is about establishing and adhering to clear processes for data management.

Building blocks: The core elements of ILM

Information lifecycle management is not really feasible without the implementation of an array of technologies – although not all need be adopted simultaneously:

  • Storage area networks (to provide easy access to data)
  • Content management (to manage and tag content)
  • Records/path management (to track location and contents of fixed content)
  • Policy engine (to apply corporate policies to the storage and retention of data)
  • Storage management software (for moving and copying data between different media).

Vendors: Who’s backing ILM

Vendors from half a dozen technology areas are rushing to market with technologies that support the concept of information lifecycle management – and re-packaging some of their existing technologies as ILM-enabled. Among the leading vendors are:

CommVault Systems – CommVault’s QiNetix platform automates the management of data by treating data as a dynamic rather than static entity. Combining traditionally separate products for data movement with data management, it moves, manages and catalogues data, and integrates that with the company’s Galaxy backup and recovery, DataMigrator migration and archiving, Quick Recovery high-availability and QNet enterprise data and storage management products.

EMC – EMC’s ILM strategy is based on a broad set of offerings – its storage area network products Symmetrix and Clarion; information management software for placing, moving, cataloguing and disposing of content; policy-based storage management software acquired with its takeover of Legato; infrastructure software for workload balancing and information mobility; and content management software acquired with its buy-out of Documentum. It is also developing ‘path management software’ designed to virtualise the process of data retrieval by keeping track of where everything is in the storage cycle.

FalconStor – FalconStor’s IPStor provides a set of storage services to ensure data availability and recoverability, storage management, and optimise performance over a SAN/NAS infrastructure of heterogeneous systems.

Hitachi Data Systems – Aside from SAN and NAS technologies, HDS offers data lifecycle management tools for email management and regulatory compliance through a combination of its own LDEV Guard product and archiving tools sourced from Ixos Software (recently acquired by content management software vendor Open Text).

IBM – Alongside its SAN and NAS systems and a hierarchical storage management product line, IBM has recently reinforced its ILM line up with the acquisition of content management software vendor Aptrix.

Hewlett-Packard – As well as reselling HDS SAN systems, HP attacks the ILM market through the storage management components of its OpenView suite, retention management software (including email and instant message archiving) and reference information management software.

StorageTek – StorageTek’s ILM package includes SAN storage systems, Application Storage Manager, Virtual Storage Manager and Email Xcelerator.

Veritas – Veritas is targetting ILM requirements with its broad range of storage management, data protection and high-availability software products.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...