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Getting More From Your Information

Storage is not just about buying products anymore. It has emerged to be a critical part of the data lifecycle across enterprises. From playing a key role in ensuring business continuity, to information life cycle management, backup of critical data, disaster recovery to meeting compliance norms, storage is a business strategy. In this special FAQ, storage experts from STME, the Middle East’s leading storage integration and implementation player give you expert advice.

Best Practice Vision: STME

Q: What should you look for while setting up a new data centre to manage storage?

A: Only buy standards-based management tools. For storage, this means complying with the Storage Networking Industry Association's Storage Management Interface Standard (SMI-S). Most large vendors recognize the necessity of this and are moving toward compliance. Compliance applies to hardware and software vendors, so learn more about this standard and, when you put out an RFP, consider making SMI-S compliance a check-off item.

Automate. In utility environments, assets are constantly allocated and reallocated and scripts changed (and tested) every time the environment is modified. You must apply policy-based management to all operations involved in the discovery, allocation and use of resources. Automating with policy-based management lessens the chance for human error affecting the system.

Document best practices. And when it comes time to automate, transfer that information to the policies being built. Don't narrow your options. But the key is to stay committed to industry-supported interfaces and standard.

Test data migration plans before implementation. Planning on a whiteboard will never enable you to test the effect of moving data to a new storage environment. Opt for products from vendors that allow you to plan your changes, understand their impact, test and validate an implementation, document its effects, and maintain an ongoing events analysis.

Look for the cause of problems, not just the symptoms. Just having the capability to report a problem is not the way to achieving a resolution. Being able to single out and analyze the root cause of a problem makes more sense than just identifying the symptoms. If you have this ability on your servers, you also should have it for the applications that run on them and the paths that connect them. Taking this to a higher level, the tool should enable you to spot problems proactively before the users notice it. Choose products from vendors that allow you this functionality.

Don't let tradition weigh you down. Clearly, all organizations want to move toward simpler management environments, hoping they will reduce cost and complexity, mitigate risk, improve compliance with service-level agreements and regulations, and ultimately provide IT services that are always available, secure and efficiently delivered. But many IT managers remain wedded to management tools they've been working with for years. You have to start considering the efficiencies and potential business advantages of moving to an automated, integrated storage management strategy.

Q: Why should an enterprise look at a tiered storage and archival Policy/ process? What benefits can that deliver to the organization?

A: Adopting a tiered storage and archival process means determining how retrievable and available data needs to be. For one thing, just because you may have some old information in your enterprise that you believe is static does not mean it cannot be mission critical. The access speed your enterprise requires to that data is critical in deciding the adoption strategy. You may not need to access the data very quickly, you may not have to have it constantly available, but you still need to have it available with high integrity.

Each category of data will therefore require a different treatment and different type of storage structure. For example, business-critical applications such as ERP or Oracle database applications typically need the most highly available, fastest Fibre Channel storage, while imaging applications tend to require less quickly accessible, less expensive storage. So looking at a tiered structure makes a lot of sense, especially since it lets you decide which data you need to protect and in what way. It can also help an organization achieve significant cost savings, simply because it can allow a mix and match of storage media/products and networking depending on the data your are protecting or storing or archiving.

Q: What is ILM? And what value is this methodology driving?

A: Before embarking on a new storage architecture, one must consider a number of things including compliance norms such as HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) are defining the way information in an organization is collected, stored and archived. Obviously the storage infrastructure will play a key role in ensuring that the information is retained and maintained in a compliant fashion ILM in a basic sense can be described as the road to being compliant and is gaining popularity as markets like the Middle East globalize for trade.

ILM is tough to ignore in the storage industry these days. Every storage vendor is touting an ILM strategy. A lot of users have jumped on the bandwagon, as well, using the term for just about anything they've done to gain control over their ever-growing data, from centralized backup to database archiving.

In its purest form, ILM is a combination of processes, policies and technologies that classify information according to the corporation's policy, store it in a tiered architecture and transparently move the information among those tiers based on the information's value, business process needs, user access needs and retention/deletion requirements.

Deployed correctly, an ILM system will ensure that information moves to the right place at the right time as it changes in value, from the moment it is created to when it needs to be deleted.

Q:What is the key difference between hierarchial storage management and ILM? Do they mean the same thing?

A: ILM might sound a lot like hierarchical storage management (HSM) from the mainframe world. However, HSM manages only files, while an ILM strategy manages structured, semi-structured and unstructured data in a heterogeneous, networked environment. While HSM moves data based on objective measures, such as how often users access it, an ILM strategy is supposed to consider the value of the information, using parameters such as age, access frequency, date of last access, size of file, type of file and other tags the administrator attaches.

Q: Is implementing an ILM strategy an easy road?

A: For all the talk, no user has yet implemented a full-blown enterprise-wide ILM strategy. Despite all the data migration, storage resource management and SAN management software on the market, as well as the policy engines, document management systems and archival tools for databases, e-mail and files, the technology pieces to support full-blown ILM are not yet available.

Developing an ILM strategy is a five- to seven-year endeavor requiring the cooperation of an entire corporation and backing from the CEO. Even the most sophisticated users in the Middle East are just at the whiteboard phase.

But the reason for so much noise and excitement about it is because of what soaring data growth, the high cost of managing data and increasingly strict regulations can do to the industry. Treating data like we did in 1975 is economic stupidity. But rather than swallow the entire ILM elephant in one bite, analysts and industry experts say IT groups should analyze their information storage and retention needs - with lots of interdepartmental discussion - to determine each data set's retention, access and speed-of- retrieval needs. In the shorter term, companies should address storage pain points with technology and policies that fit within that larger strategy.

Q: What constitutes an ILM strategy?

A: Within the new data center, data moves from one storage resource to the next based on information life-cycle management policies. ILM is comprised of the policies, processes, practices and tools used to align the business value of information with the most appropriate and cost-effective IT infrastructure from the time information is conceived through its final disposition. Information is aligned with business processes through management of policies and service levels associated with applications, metadata, information and data. Whatever the name, this technique addresses how a company manages data from the point of its creation to its disposal. ILM consists of a number of methodologies, such as problem assessment, socialization - working with business partners to determine data's value - classification and review.

Q: How do issues like data backup, restoration and data protection form part of this picture?

A: Compared to hot areas like security or wireless, data backup and restoration may have seemed like IT's forgotten child - until now. A few years back customers used to ask us, why they have to invest in expensive centralized and automated backup solutions, when most operating systems provided free utilities to backup data. Thanks to enormous data growth, nonstop business operations and increased litigation, the need for electronic data discovery and data retention, has catapulted backup and recovery to IT's head table.

Customers now are more aware of the stringent recovery point (amount of data they can afford to lose) and recovery time objectives (time they can afford to be down) for their applications.

And, reflecting its newfound status, backup and recovery is taking on a more sophisticated, grown-up name: data protection, which encompasses backup, recovery, archiving, retrieval, disaster recovery and business continuity. According to IDC, the back-up, archiving and replication software market will grow from $4.3 b in 2003 to $6.58 b by 2008, representing 54% of storage software expenditures.

While the term "data protection" covers a lot of ground, it's the first four areas - backup, recovery, archiving and retrieval - that are currently of highest interest. Companies now realize they must be able to recover specific pieces of data from financial records, e-mail, instant messaging logs and the like if it's even to be used as evidence in a legal case. The bottom line is backup, restoration and safe archiving of electronic data can no longer be a "hope it works" proposition.

An enterprise class backup and recovery solution is considered as the last line of defense against any disaster and is considered mandatory in any disaster recovery and business continuity plan.

"Planning on a whiteboard will never enable you to test the effect of moving data to a new storage environment. Opt for products from vendors who allow you to plan your changes, understand their impact, test and validate an implementation, document its effects, and maintain an ongoing events analysis."

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