Developing system infrastructures to allow growth of long-term information storage

Information lifecycle management now forms a key basis for data protection

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Information lifecycle management now forms a key basis for data protection.

Before a CIO can get a grip on managing the storage environment, he or she must first evaluate the storage resources.

They must look at the investments in systems and processes to ensure that they are cost-effective and that they deliver a real benefit to the business. He or she also knows that there are many issues that need to be addressed, some conflicting, some overlapping and some totally new.

There are also practical parameters that have to be considered, such as the cost of the investments and an assurance that the new technologies have been tried and tested.

Addressing the systems architecture and management are key first steps to identifying the amount of data that is stored across the networks and how and where it should be kept. This is also a significant first step which enables organisations to buy time to determine how they will manage individual documents and transactions - the information content. 

Networking storage resources has proved to be of significant benefit. The data can be shared more easily across applications, users have easier access to the data they require and the utilisation of disc arrays and tape libraries increases from the 30% to 40% levels to 70% plus.

Using storage resource management tools and evaluating the profile of data stored has enabled organisations to determine what must be kept for day-to-day operational needs and what is to be kept for the longer term, for reference or archive.

Containing costs

Consolidation has been a natural consequence of this evaluation.  In the process, many benefits have been realised such as:

  • Data protection practices have been tightened. Backup windows have been reduced. Tools such as snapshot and disc mirroring have enabled fast recovery from any unplanned outages. Continuous data protection is the ultimate option.
  • Consolidating the resources on a network or at a site enables existing support engineers to effectively manage the storage resources across all servers.  The flexibility offered when allocating or reallocating storage to specific applications, as needed, results in fewer system outages. 
  • This now builds the framework by which a central management regime can be applied across all sites in the organisation. It also enhances the data protection practices and can offer cost-effective disaster recovery.
  • Savings can be realised with fewer server-based software licences. While storage software licensing may be replaced with a volume-based model, there is often a short term gain, at least, to be realised.
  • From a personal viewpoint, system managers and administrators gain job satisfaction as mundane tasks are replaced by automated processes.

Change always throws up a range of challenges. When this is driven by the need to refine business practices and processes, the benefits of change can be identified and the challenges can make everyone take a broad view on the most appropriate solution.

Better system availability, a more resilient network and ensuring that there are sound disaster recovery processes in place are some of the reasons for reviewing the system architecture. 

These can be assessed by looking at the consequences of downtime. For example, orders cannot be taken, employees are not operational and the result is negative publicity.

Change is not only internally driven, it can also be influenced by external factors such as the need to be compliant. Sound information governance practices should reduce the impact of new laws and regulations.

Storage networking technologies are enabling organisations to develop system infrastructures that will facilitate growth and assist in setting policies and practices for long term information storage and retrieval. 

From file to vault, the solutions that have been deployed with traditional paper-based processes are now incorporated in the electronic and digital technologies.  By setting the standards, deploying secure technologies and processes, businesses will be able to depend on their systems and data. 

Life cycle management

With information lifecycle management (ILM) forming a strategic platform for many suppliers, we carried out a major study with large organisations in Europe to understand what this actually meant to them.

The results were quite revealing: although, for some, ILM was simple data protection, 67% of end users were familiar with the concept of ILM; the key summary of their views was that ILM encompassed:

  • Data creation through to deletion or archiving.
  • Keeping data for a specific period of time.
  • Managing the information resources effectively.

Encouragingly, 19% of end users have implemented an ILM strategy. Key components of these deployments are:

  • Data protection and data movement policies and practices.
  • Securing transactions.
  • Setting policies for file deletion.

Basis for management

When viewing the lifecycle of a document, record or collection of data, it is useful to consider this as active data, where the need for access is frequent or potentially frequent. Usually this relates to a period following its creation. As time moves on, the need to access the data declines, but the information may be required for reference purposes.

In the example of tracking a  purchase order, this will relate to a period typically after final billing and the next audit. Finally, the document will be archived, as it may be needed for legal or regulatory purposes at a later date.  Information can be considered as three types - active, reference and archive.

Considering the type of storage, media or technology it resides on, we can look at electronic information as being:

  • Online - on disc.
  • Near-line - on lower cost disc or high performance tape.
  • Back-up - on disc or tape.
  • Archive - on tape or optical disc.

Across its lifecycle, an electronic document or record will typically be stored on disc, be replicated on other disc arrays, backed-up to disc and tape and finally archived to tape. For best practice, the data will be associated with an audit trail to ensure that there is no inadvertent corruption, loss or misuse of the data.

Data retention policies and practices are issues each business must address. The demands of legislation and regulations are making companies think about the impact of e-mail, the length of time they must keep financial and operational data, the type of personal data that must be kept and for how long. It is up to each company to set its policies and ensure that they meet the many demands of business now operating globally.

ILM is a sound vehicle by which companies can view their information management practices. This will need to span structured data, voice and video as they are stored for the long term.  Data must be maintained in a secure and trusted environment with access controls and encryption becoming additional components which must be part of information lifecycle management.

Key objectives

  • Understand what storage resources are available.
  • Contain management costs.
  • Identify areas where the benefits can be realised.
  • Set rules for ongoing development of linking different sites.
  • Meet with compliance needs of archiving and continuous data protection.

Hamish Macarthur is the founder of independent storage consultancy Macarthur Stroud International

This was last published in July 2005

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