Storage Basics: Information Lifecycle Management

Wednesday Jan 14th 2004 by Mike Harwood
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ILM is being touted as a solution for managing the ever-changing value of data and maximizing the accessibility of that data at the lowest total cost, but what exactly does an ILM strategy entail, and what does it mean for storage in today's organizations?

If you have read any news on the storage industry lately or have accessed any major storage vendor’s web site, you have no doubt come across Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). ILM is not a technology per se; rather, ILM represents a major shift in the approach towards creating and managing a storage infrastructure and the data it maintains. In this Storage Basics article, we’ll review the concepts of ILM, what it is, and what it means for storage in today’s organizations.

All data maintained on storage networks has a defined lifecycle. The lifecycle identifies the way information travels through an organization from its inception to its eventual archiving and removal. The exact steps in data lifecycles depend on who you ask and organizational policy; however, in general there are three stages through which data travels:

  • Creation/Acquisition of Data – There are two ways in which data can be generated in an organization: it can either be created by users or acquired through faxes, letters, emails, and the like. At this stage, both data availability and data value are high. For example, if an invoice was received by email or a business letter was created, they are likely necessary for the current business operations.

  • Publication – While there are those who create and acquire documents, there are also those who review those documents once published. Published information is often in print form but may be accessed through other means such as Intranets or public Web sites. The value and availability requirements of published data often depend on the content of that data.

  • Retention and Data Disposal – The length of time an organization archives and retains information depends on the nature of the data. However, today there are increasing federal regulations, standards, and compliance measures in place that govern how long certain types of data are to be kept.

Not All Data Is Created Equal

During the entire information lifecycle, ensuring that data is online and available whenever needed by end users has always been a pivotal concern for those managing information. But as any administrator will tell you, not all data is created equal, and the information important in today’s business operations may be irrelevant tomorrow.

The changing importance on data and the requirement for data availability can create a problem. This is primarily because it is costly to store all information on high-availability storage systems such as disk. At some point, data has to be shifted to less expensive storage media, but the critical questions are which data moves towards cheaper media solutions and when?

ILM provides a strategy for data management through the information lifecycle. It identifies the processes and technologies that determine how data flows through an environment, from the time it is created to the time it is archived and ultimately destroyed. There are a number of factors that drive the demand for ILM solutions, including:

  • Data will continue to grow at an extraordinary rate — an estimated 50-plus percent per year.

  • An estimated 90% of data stored is rarely accessed, making disk an inefficient and costly choice with low utilization.

  • Increasing data retention, compliance, and security requirements mandated by government regulations.

Page 2: Understanding the Value of Data

Understanding the Ever-Changing Value of Data

A cornerstone concept for ILM is understanding the value of data. In any business, the importance and relevance of data fluctuates rapidly. As a guideline, it is estimated that 90% of data stored on a disk is never or seldom accessed after 90 days. An ILM strategy recognizes that not all data is created equal, and as it moves through its lifecycle, it must be managed and stored on different levels and on increasingly cost-efficient technologies.

As we know, today’s data is stored on a variety of different media, from online disk to tape libraries, with media options varying greatly in terms of cost, reliability, and accessibility. Implementing an ILM strategy therefore involves identifying the right software, hardware, and process at each stage of information’s lifecycle. This requires shifting data between storage mediums in an effort to provide the ideal levels of access, protection, and recovery at the lowest possible total cost.

Information Lifecycle Management strategies help IT users manage large amounts of information, while at the same time lower costs and improve the efficiency of storage operations. According to Joe Fuentes of StorageTek:

“The Information Lifecycle Management approach offers customers a whole spectrum of storage solutions that allows them to understand the usage of their information and how to put the right information on the right storage devices at the right time at the right price.”

“Because information’s value changes over time,” Fuentes contines, “StorageTek created its Information Lifecycle Management approach to help customers more efficiently and cost effectively manage information from its creation to deletion. Implementing this strategy helps customers reduce risk and costs, and puts IT professionals firmly in control of information management.”

In the Right Place at the Right Time on the Right Media

StorageTek is not alone in its commitment to providing ILM solutions. The storage industry on the whole seems comfortable in using the ILM framework as a method to assist in identifying the hardware and software to use in information lifecycle management. It’s felt that ILM can better help administrators assure that information is indeed in the right place at the right time and on the right media. As far as storage vendors are concerned, it helps them better identify customer hardware requirements.

One final element to think about with ILM is not only information management but information path management. Organizations are unlikely to offload all rarely used data to cheaper storage mediums unless they can be assured that data can, if needed, still be reliably accessed. Removing infrequently used data from disk opens up a can of worms with regards to information path management. While a complete discussion of path management is not included in this article, it is important to keep this in mind when moving towards an ILM solution.

In summary, Information Lifecycle Management strategies provide a way to align the cost of storage with the value of information. ILM is designed to shape the way we think about storage and storage needs by providing managers and administrators with a framework by which they can design, manage, and organize a storage infrastructure. ILM provides a solution to maximize on the accessibility and value of data at the lowest total cost.

» See All Articles by Columnist Mike Harwood

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