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What's holding up ILM?

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Basing policies on meta data
Another gap results from a disconnect between policy engines and the other ILM pieces. For example, an ICM tool can recognize patient information, but then what does it do?

"You need to link the classification of the data with policies. Data-driven file systems like Windows FS may help solve this problem," suggests GlassHouse's Foskett. Today, this connection is often made by manually entering meta data.

Masterson hasn't gotten to the point where he has tried to automate the data movement process at his manufacturing company. "We don't have any rules to move data around yet, because we didn't know what the files mean to the business," he says. "We don't want to move files just because they're old; [we want to move them] based on what they mean." Now that Abrevity provides that information about the data, the firm can begin to automate an ILM process. "We think we can use Abrevity for this," says Masterson. "They have some utilities to connect with policy and data movement." If necessary, he's ready to write scripts to do it.

Meta data--information about the stored data used by policy engines and classification tools--has proven frustrating for storage management in general and ILM in particular. Today, the industry is awash in meta data. Every application, such as enterprise content management or records management, and every management tool generates its own meta data. "We end up writing

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special interfaces for each vendor's product. It takes just a few vendors and you end up with an interface nightmare," says Jered Floyd, vice president of development and co-founder of Permabit Inc., Cambridge, MA, who also co-chairs SNIA's DMF eXtended Access Method (XAM) Initiative.

XAM couples extensible meta data with the data itself as an object called an XSET, and provides a standardized, generic interface. XAM is just one of the DMF initiatives to address the meta data management issues hindering ILM and other aspects of storage management, such as long-term data archiving. Another initiative, the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) for Services, "will automate the services layers by providing a common interface," says SNIA's Peterson. "Otherwise, you just have a bunch of point solutions." The Long-Term Archiving and Compliance Solutions Initiative (LTACSI) uses meta data standards to address the challenge of archiving data for 100 years or longer.

For companies wrestling with enterprise ILM, XAM is the initiative with the most immediate value. XAM addresses the meta data needed to automate policy-based decisions surrounding ILM. It promises to provide a single access method to transparently span multiple storage devices and applications. "XAM is an extensible access method run at the application layer," says Peterson. It allows for the automated movement of data between tiers based on standardized meta data and service-level agreements.

Without the XAM interface, meta data tends to be tied to a specific application. And "[the user] ends up being locked into a platform or application," says Floyd. XAM, however, allows for the common access and management of the meta data, says Edgar St. Pierre, an EMC manager and co-chairman of the DMF's ILM Technical Liaison Group.

XAM is in the earliest stages of the standards development process. Floyd expects the initial draft of the standard by the end of 2006, with actual products employing the specification to begin appearing in the second half of 2007. Work is just beginning on the ILM initiative, SMI-S 1.3. Don't expect widespread adoption anytime soon.

While vendors work to fill in the gaps in the ILM stack and to connect the pieces, IT has plenty to do on its own. To begin, IT must enlist the company's business units in the process of identifying, assessing and tagging data based on taxonomies so ICM tools will know how to label it. IT and the business units will then need to hammer out a manageable set of policies to drive the ILM process. At this rate, analysts agree, fully automated enterprise ILM is probably 18 to 24 months away.

This was first published in July 2006

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