Creating a reference data storage policy

Step 2: Assess current and future needs
Once business requirements are defined, examine how things are done within IT and what changes are necessary. The data classification exercise that took place during Step 1 should uncover some inefficiencies. Measure how large these problems are and start defining a reference data solution. Removing reference data may have unforeseen benefits. Enterprise storage capacity may be freed up, allowing you to defer new equipment purchases, inspiring storage consolidation.

The definition of current and future reference data needs should also drive new IT analysis activities. Project managers should forecast reference data capacity needs for the next three to five years. Many companies will discover that reference data could scale into multiterabytes, or even as high as in the petabyte range. These estimates may be simple back-of-the-envelope calculations right now, but they will help IT assess budget requirements, staff planning and physical space needs. Don't forget to include the time and cost necessary for training or new operational procedures.

With these estimates in hand, CIOs should have storage specialists explore reference data solutions and application managers discuss reference data strategies with industry application vendors. Reference data storage solutions are fairly immature right now, with EMC Centera platform grabbing most headlines. But there are products available from

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established companies such as Network Appliance and StorageTek and smaller players such as Avamar, Isilon, Storigen, and Xiotech.

While storage solutions are important, recognize that reference data technology will really be driven by applications such as CAD/CAM for manufacturing, picture archival and communications systems (PACS) for healthcare and document imaging in insurance. Check with application vendors to see what types of solutions they'll offer. Be sure to understand how they'll handle issues such as scale, availability, systems management and storage vendor partnerships. Given the growth of reference data, ignoring these details could turn into IT headaches sooner rather than later.

Step 3: Design a solution
Most companies won't have an immediate need for a complete reference data infrastructure, but beginning the process now will help IT with project timing and budget containment. To keep costs under control from the start, firms should design a small, cheap infrastructure that can grow quickly and incrementally. Rack-based ATA storage is probably the best fit. As reference data grows, you'll need solutions that automate administrative tasks and provide robust management information. Designing these things into a reference data infrastructure upfront will pay long-term dividends.

Companies that plan on sharing reference data will need a more sophisticated infrastructure. That should include server and network load balancing, adequate bandwidth for peak consumption and network security. Obviously, this creates a bigger project that demands participation from networking, telecommunications and security groups within IT. These teams should be included in the reference data infrastructure project.

Final thoughts
It's easy to continue to maintain a procedure that treats all information the same. Savvy CIOs will anticipate the reference data need by beginning a reference data project now. A reference data policy helps streamline operations and lower hardware cost. A smart reference data strategy that includes people, processes and technology could help the company meet its business objectives without breaking the IT bank in the process.

This was first published in June 2003

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