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A step-by-step approach to data classification

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Will my storage environment become more complicated?
Yes and no. The process of classifying data can get complicated, although a structured approach will help. For storage-tiering projects, organizing applications into groups and building a consensus around service levels takes time. Once the process is completed, good classification actually simplifies ongoing management of storage systems. It often decreases the total number of service-level agreements, reduces finger-pointing and creates standard storage configurations. It clears a path for implementing information lifecycle management and moving older data out of primary storage systems. It

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also reduces the total amount of data requiring active management.

Step 3: Gather your data and validate it

  • The heart of a classification project is organizing and collating the business requirements with the infrastructure. This is true regardless of the type of data classification project you're undertaking.
  • Determine your data container--spreadsheet, document, database or reporting tool. While a spreadsheet works well for small projects, a database is more appropriate for projects with a larger scope. Ideally, you should plan on keeping the information up to date with either a continual process or a periodic refresh.
  • Follow up your data collection with interviews with key stakeholders. Often, the "statistical data" you collect won't look the same to the group who collected it. They may know of data points that are changing, or provide interpretations that will change the way the data affects your strategy.
Step 4: Organize and communicate the data in a form that will lead to positive change/action
  • It's all in the final report: No amount of quantitative data will lead to success. You'll need detailed information for the IT teams, summary information for the executives and financial data for the budget process. Don't let your project miss its mark because of a failure to communicate.
  • Revisit your goals from Step 1. Did the data help deliver the solution you were looking for? Do you need to revise your strategy to meet the true requirements? A data classification project will often change the perception of the people involved, so be flexible in adjusting your follow-on projects and resources to meet needs uncovered during the process. For instance, a storage-tiering exercise for primary data will identify an obvious archiving project. Let the information lead you to service-level communications with your business units, a design strategy or tactical projects.
Data classification is a key foundation for many storage projects, and can ensure that the technologies deployed and dollars spent are used to their greatest benefit. There are different levels of classification, and picking the right level and the appropriate metrics for your project are keys to gathering the requirements you need to be successful (see "Sample data classification metrics by data type"). Not all projects need to be enterprise-wide to assist in crafting strategy or making technology decisions. Sometimes choosing a subset of the data can be an easy way to get started.

Finally, be sure to engage the business in your project. The value of data classification is that it ties the infrastructure you love and care for with the needs and requirements of the business that pays for it. It also allows for open communication and collaboration between IT and business units, which will result in solutions that are cost-justified and help the company pursue its core business.

This was first published in August 2006

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