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Classified data: For your eyes only

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Classified data: For your eyes only


There's a subtle change taking effect in storage circles: Storage managers are realizing that the systems they oversee hold a position of strategic importance in their companies. The days of bits and bytes are gone, and there's a far more integral role to play than that of company data keeper.

Storage professionals are moving from being guardians to being in the avant-garde of information management for a simple reason--they have to. In recent years, companies' expectations of what their storage systems should be, do and cost have changed so drastically that the only way to cope is to think about storage in an entirely different way.

Call it "smart storage" or "intelligent storage," or whatever buzzwords work for you. The point is that it's no longer about shuffling data around bigger and bigger boxes; it's understanding that all those zeros and ones add up to the corporate crown jewels.

This isn't big news for many of you who saw the writing on the wall when "SOX" and "HIPAA" wormed their way into our lexicon. But getting from point A (pitching more and more disk at spiraling data stores) to point B (putting data where it belongs) isn't an easy task. For one, you have to know what that data is. That's why you've probably developed a sudden interest in data classification.

Data classification is a way to intelligently manage storage. It's not necessarily the "point B" in the equation, but

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you probably won't reach point B without undertaking some form of active data management, which is what data classification is all about.

Right now, everyone is doing some kind of data classification, even if it's only using some bare- bones classification like file aging. That's where classification begins, with the meta data already being toted by most of the stuff we create and store. New classification tools (from Abrevity, Index Engines, Kazeon, Njini, Scentric and others) let you delve into file content and index the information itself. This gives you far more control over the information you're managing, allowing you to more accurately determine how it should be handled.

Data classification is at the core of just about everything a modern storage shop should be doing: storage tiering, effective data protection, disaster recovery preparedness, regulatory compliance, e-discovery readiness and even the dreaded (and hitherto widely ignored) information lifecycle management.

If you're not looking into classification now, it's still early enough to add it to your list of resolutions. Anticipate a significant organizational impact: You can't classify data on your own, but you can find the best technology, implement it and then work shoulder to shoulder with the information owners to develop intelligent classification policies.

Keep in mind that this stuff can be tough to do, depending on the granularity of classification required by your company. But it's better to bite the bullet up front than get caught short in court with a legal request you can't fulfill.

As good as they are, the current crop of classification tools aren't panaceas. Be sure to fully understand the classification process, especially just how much of it involves manual work. Look for flexibility so you can do things like alter policies with ease. Ask about the size of the index the apps create; content indexing can spawn huge files, depending on the methods vendors employ. And ask about--and test for--performance. Any app that gleans such minute details from your data will need some time to do it, time you're not likely to want to take away from your most critical systems.

The data classification vendors--a bunch of very clever startups--have some work to do, too. Their key task is to figure out how to seamlessly integrate their wizardry into the apps that will do the heavy lifting with the sorted-out data--the data movers, search engines, archivers and so on. Hey, some standards might be a good idea...

This was first published in February 2007

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