Is Real ILM Possible?

Managing data effectively has always been a major challenge for businesses. How do you capture it? Store it? Process it? Access it? What do you do with it once its immediate usefulness to your organization is gone? And, naturally, how do you accomplish all this at the lowest possible cost?

Today, the darling theory of many IT managers, analysts and consultants is Information Lifecycle Management, or ILM. ILM solves all these problems and more — at least according to its advocates. But critics believe that the technologies, much less the mindset of IT professionals and users, means that ILM is not quite ready for prime time.

“Is it possible?” asks Steve Dupulessie, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc.  “Yes. Is it realistic? No.”

ILM Defined

First, what is ILM? Although definitions abound, it’s generally agreed that ILM is not a technology per se, but a set of management processes supported by technology that attempt to manage how data flows through a business, from the time it is collected until the time it is no longer needed.

Using ILM to manage costs is a major part of the picture. The expense of collecting, storing and managing data over its entire lifecycle must somehow correspond to its value to a business.

“ILM is really about taking a business view of information and developing the appropriate infrastructure to enable it, and in the process, reduce costs,” says Jeff Porter, chair of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Data Management Forum.

Regulatory requirements also play a part. By ensuring timely access to data — both current and historical — enterprises can more easily comply with legal directives such as Sarbanes-Oxley and perform audits or respond to other external demands to produce data in a timely manner.

Not Just an IT Issue

“ILM requires collaboration among business users, records-management people, IT, legal professionals and security groups to determine the true value of that information for the business as it moves over time,” says Porter. But such collaboration is difficult to achieve. “Any ILM initiative will fail unless all these people are involved, and committed,” says Porter.

In a perfect world, companies would create a set of data-centric business policies that could have technologies that would automatically enforce them. “For example, if we said, ‘no MP3 files on the corporate servers,’ we could apply tools to seek out MP3s, delete or move them, and notify the users that they had violated corporate policy,” says Dupulessie.

Indeed, on the technology side, products that support ILM are finally becoming available to do just that. Tiered storage products have been around for some time, but several other types of software, particularly data classification and master data management (MDM) systems, are emerging that promise to support ILM initiatives.

Over the past 18 months, a number of companies — mostly small startups — have released data classification products that can evaluate information value and automate movement across storage tiers based upon business policies. Right now, these things are largely being done with home-grown scripts, but EMC, Scentric, Abrevity and Kazeon Systems, among others, are marketing commercial data classification software that supports ILM.

MDM offers an alternative technology solution. Banker is a proponent of MDM solutions, which go beyond ERP and CRM and represent the “newest attempt at achieving a single version of the truth,” says Steve Banker, service director for the Arc Advisory Group, an analyst firm based in Denham, Massachusetts. The goal of MDM software is to collect all the different — and frequently contradictory — data that enterprises possess into a central repository. In short: if ILM represents the business processes, MDM is the technology that will get you there, says Baker.

Vendors producing MDM systems include Oracle, IBM and Informatica, among a host of others.

“We’re just entering a time when ILM can be achieved based on these new technologies,” Porter says, cautioning, however, that these products are largely 1. X versions, and enterprises need to do test installs and understand the vendors’ roadmaps going forward before committing to a particular product.

Still, analysts say, as these technologies mature, ILM holds out significant promise for IT management.