The business value of information lifecycle management

With consolidation to SANs and advances in storage management software packages, ILM is again at the forefront of storage architecture planning.

With consolidation to storage area networks and advances in storage management software packages, the concept of

hierarchies and intelligent management like information lifecycle management (ILM) is again at the forefront of storage architecture planning.

ILM is a growing set of recommended practices and technologies that allows companies to manage data more efficiently and effectively. Organizations process, manage, move, protect and archive various business data according to unique characteristics such as age, usage patterns, compliance and archiving policies, security and disaster protection rules, and value.

ILM has its roots in hierarchical storage management (HSM), which was popularized with mainframe storage management strategies in the early 1980s. Driven by the high cost of mainframe disk subsystems and exploding compound annual storage growth of 50% or more, mainframe managers sought HSM to reduce storage costs by migrating rarely accessed data from expensive online hard drives to near-line optical jukebox storage (at the time about one-fourth the cost of disk storage), and eventually to off-line tape library storage (about one-tenth the cost of disks).

By correctly establishing migration rules, the organization would see little to no delay in information access (keeping frequently accessed information or data requiring instant access, regardless of age, near-line). At the same time, the company would save significantly by conserving precious disk subsystem space and eliminating disk subsystem purchases to support growth.

The savings could be significant beyond storage costs. According to data from Strategic Research Corp. and other research firms, more than $7 was spent for storage management, administration and utilities costs for every $1 of disk capital cost. Because more than 90% of data stored on hard disks was not actively accessed by users or applications, it was ripe for more intelligent management and migration to less expensive storage.

ILM is not a new concept. In the early 1990s, records and information librarians introduced ILM as a way to track the lifecycle of data from creation or acquisition, editing and refinement, publication and evolution, through retention and data disposal. Similar to HSM, ILM seeks to minimize storage costs by providing various storage mediums -- disk, optical and tape -- and various rules to manage migration, archiving and disaster recovery.

And as with mainframe HSM, the economics are similar. Most data older than 90 days is seldom (if ever) accessed, and online storage remains expensive to procure and manage, making migration to increasingly cost-efficient technologies attractive. All data is not created equal, and taking advantage of this fact helps save costs.

ILM outdoes HSM by taking a more holistic view, incorporating data's business value into the equation. Implementing ILM identifies not only the right storage medium to minimize storage costs while meeting access speed, but the right process and path to manage the data to meet business requirements such as information security, disaster recovery, data retention rules, compliance regulations and retirement. It's the right storage at the right time and price, helping the IT department manage larger amounts of information, while simultaneously lowering costs and improving storage operations' efficiency.

As for ILM adoption, Gartner Inc. reported that fewer than 6% of organizations had purchased and implemented ILM software packages in late 2004, but more than 50% are planning on purchasing them in 2005 and 2006.

The business value of ILM for all storage includes:

  1. Reduced need to add hard disk storage for growth.
  2. Reduced storage administration tasks, such as moves, adds and changes, to support growth, performance optimization, and backup and restore tasks.
  3. Reduced backup window overruns and resultant performance degradations.
  4. Reduced disaster recovery time by minimizing the necessary online storage restoration.
  5. Reduced compliance costs and risks of compliance issues.

For application or e-mail databases in particular, archiving older data from the production database organizations can:

  1. Improve application and database performance by minimizing the size of production databases.
  2. Reduce database upgrade or maintenance downtime.
  3. Reduce risk of batch job window overruns.
  4. Reduce development/test workloads and storage requirements.

Most organizations that can migrate 50% or more of their data to less expensive media can easily justify the investment in hardware, software, training, systems administration, and support to implement and maintain ILM software packages. With 50% or higher storage growth, an organization's reduced costs and storage administration productivity improvements alone generate paybacks of fewer than 12 months and typical ROIs of 250% or higher.

ILM ROI success is at risk if the solution and processes overwhelm the capability and maturity of the IT team; poor results can lead to incorrect migration rules, delay in information access for users, lost data, compliance issues or application performance or availability issues.

Prior to implementing ILM technology, the team should thoroughly understand and document the processes by which data is to be managed: analyzing and categorizing all data by age and usage characteristics, value, retention and compliance rules, and other important management criteria. Profiling all management rules and lifecycle paths comes first and drives the selection of systems and software packages to meet the needs, rather than selecting an ILM solution first.

ILM can minimize the total costs and maximize the business value of storage through proper analysis and planning, combined with thorough documentation, valuation technology selection, integration and implementation.

Tom Pisello is the founder and CEO of Orlando, Fla.-based Alinean, an ROI consultancy and software provider. He can be reached at tpisello@alinean.com.

This was first published in May 2005

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