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Optimize your storage for fixed content

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Fixed-content information has grabbed many storage headlines recently. And for good reasons: There's been an explosive growth of fixed-content storage, which has far surpassed the growth of other forms of enterprise data such as transactional or database information. Storage managers need to know what solutions are available today for fixed-content data. They also need guidelines for deciding how to choose the right solution for their business requirements. More importantly, they need to understand if implementing a fixed-content storage solution is right for their business.

Fixed content is information that never changes after creation. It's actively referenced, typically shared among users and must be retained for a long period of time. Examples include: electronic documents, presentations and e-books; rich media such as movies, videos, digital photographs and audio files; check images and financial statements; bioinformatics, X-rays, MRIs and CAT scans; CAD/CAM diagrams and blueprints and e-mail messages. Unlike transactional information, fixed-content data doesn't require microsecond response times, but rather, subsecond response times. While transactional data is constantly updated and typically has short-term retention periods, fixed-content information is static, has long retention periods and is constantly accumulating.

"The digitization of everything in our lives is going to cause a fundamental shift in how we think about information and how we value that information,"

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says Peter Gerr, a senior research analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group (ESG), in Milford, MA.

Pros and cons
of content-addressed storage
PROS
Provides faster access to information and improves operational efficiencies
Lower cost per megabyte than traditional primary disk
Self-managing design simplifies storage provisioning, management and administration
Facilitates broader information sharing and repurposing
Unique object identifier enhances data security and provides controlled access to information
CONS
Applications must support vendor's API for object-based storage and retrieval
Potential network bottlenecks could impact performance
Limited number of competitive solutions --beware of potential vendor lock-in
Limited backup application support for creation of disaster recovery tape copies

However, it's measured, fixed-content data that requires a lot of storage: A 3,000-person organization generates approximately 1TB of e-mails per year. A picture archive and communications system (PACS) in a large hospital may generate more than 5TB per year in digital X-rays or MRIs. Most major banks are scanning millions of check images per year, requiring multiple terabytes of storage. Additionally, the new focus on U.S. Homeland Security is driving an increase in storage requirements for audio and video surveillance activity. ESG estimates that by the end of 2005, reference information will represent 54% of all new corporate and government information, up from 37% at the end of 2001.

Increasingly, organizations are leveraging the value of their fixed-content information to improve customer service, reduce access time to information and gain competitive advantage (see "Understanding your information requirements").

Richard Banta and Andy Porter, senior engineers at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, IN, are experiencing this growth in fixed-content information first hand. St. Vincent Hospital provides centralized storage of PACS radiological images for more than 80 satellite locations. The hospital employs a McKesson ALI UltraPACS system to capture medical images and store them on a StorageTek archive solution consisting of Application Storage Manager (ASM) software, a small disk array and a StorageTek tape library. After converting to a filmless operation last April, the hospital experienced a surge in radiological imaging and storage activity. With the improved efficiencies of automation, doctors are able to schedule and perform more radiology studies, with faster access to patient records and medical images.

"In healthcare, we're faced with data growth and retention periods that we've never had before." Our PACS radiological study volume is up to 270,000 studies and it continues to grow at about 20% to 25% per quarter," says Porter. St. Vincent Hospital archives 3TB of PACS information per year, and has approximately 5TB of other types of fixed-content information currently stored on disparate optical platforms. Banta adds, "HIPAA regulations are driving information growth, with retention requirements of five, 10 or 21 years depending on the type of medical information."

St. Vincent Hospital plans to consolidate all of its fixed-content information onto a single storage solution to simplify storage management and reduce cost. In addition, Porter and Banta are planning to reduce the time it takes to retrieve a patient's MRI or X-ray from a few minutes to less than a second by implementing a much larger disk array to store the information online for up to 24 months. Reducing information access time enables doctors to make informed decisions more quickly, improving the overall quality of healthcare for the patient. "We're constantly looking for ways to improve the patient experience," Porter says.

This was first published in May 2003

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