This month's cover story looks at the impact of new data retention regulations on data storage (see "Regulations Squeeze Storage"). For all the talk about it, compliance hasn't made its way onto the floor at many shops. You could say the same about information lifecycle management (ILM), another movement that could affect how you store data.
For all their differences, compliance and ILM share one thing in common: Even if you drink the whole bowl of Kool-Aid, win the lottery and are ready to spend all your winnings to implement them, you can't. The tools aren't there, despite the growing number of vendors who are attaching ILM labels to everything they do. Even if they were, many decisions first have to be made outside of IT, and then another round within IT. These are things that are outside your control, and maybe even outside your influence.
So, what's a storage manager to do?
Focus on the core issues. From an infrastructure point of view, ILM and compliance equal tiered storage, plus active archiving. Active is meant to distinguish the way you'll have to archive in the future from the way most shops have been doing it.
Database guru William Inmon once told me he was shown the archival tape storage room on his first day of work at one of his first IT jobs. He picked up a tape and flakes of oxide fell off. Horrified, he pointed this out to his mentor, who responded rather jadedly that as long as the auditor came in once a year, saw lots of tapes and checked off that box on his clipboard, all was well.
Going forward, not only will archived data have to be absolutely retrievable, but it must be with a much greater ease than today. In fact, as disk backup changes the standards for restorability, it will also begin to set expectations for archiving.
Compliance and ILM both require moving data from primary storage to other levels of disk and tape in a controlled manner with the assurance of a reliable and timely retrieval. That means purposeful migration to an archival medium contained in a well-managed facility (whether it's yours or a service provider's), replete with software and policies that ensure reliable and speedy retrieval (minutes and hours, not days and weeks). If you know how to do that well and have the infrastructure and discipline required, you're light years ahead of someone with software on the shelf, binders full of "best practices" and an organization that hasn't learned to walk the walk.
ILM and compliance also require a corporate commitment to new ways of doing business. To a certain extent, you're going to need marching orders from somewhere outside of IT before you can reach those goals. You're going to have to do a lot of learning, negotiation and proof of concept to arrive at workable schemes.
While that's happening--and while you're waiting for products to mature--it makes sense to take a hard look at your archiving capabilities and begin to look at expanding not only their capacity, but what you archive. No matter where you wind up with ILM and compliance, archiving more data and doing it sooner in its lifecycle will help make the explosive growth of stored data more manageable.