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Storage Decisions Chicago: Blue-chips discuss DR, e-Discovery

Things have gotten kicked off in earnest out here in the Windy City at this year’s Storage Decisions conference in Chicago. Today was the first full day of sessions at this year’s edition of the conference, and attendees heard discussions of hot topics from blue-chip companies including United Airlines, Federal Reserve Bank, and Bank of America.

Gary Pilafas, managing director of enterprise architecture for United Airlines (UAL), gave a presentation this morning about his company’s DR plans, much of which centered around classifying data according to criticality, and setting disaster recovery levels appropriately, a common trend in DR of late. Pilafas said he steered application admins away from insisting on Tier 1 DR (after all, no application admin wants to say his data isn’t of top importance) by emphasizing cost.

On this he was challenged by Michael Thomas, storage architect for the Federal Reserve, who said he’d seen that kind of planning go awry in some cases after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. “Some business units had [scaled back] DR plans based on cost, but then their SLAs didn’t match their true business requirements,” Thomas said. “They still expected IT to respond, and we did, but not in as timely a manner as they would have liked in some cases.”

Pilafas acknowledged that getting a true sense of business requirements and managing application interdependencies made tiering for DR a tricky project. However, he said UAL is currently testing service-bus software products including IBM’s Websphere MQ and BEA’s Aqualogic, layered over Hitachi Data Systems’ Universal Storage Platform for a services-oriented architecture. That plan, he said, will decouple data services from individual business units, specific applications or devices, eliminating the issue of application interdependencies. He said it will also go a long way toward addressing the confusion about business units and their priorities. “This way we can discuss each business unit’s priorities, map it back to services, and the higher-priority services float to the top,” he said. “It’s like taking the opposite of the lowest common denominator.”

Thomas himself had a different approach to making DR plans more effective, which is to go back to the drawing board with testing. “One of the big problems in this industry is that a lot of people don’t really test their DR plans,” he said. “They send people out a week in advance and prepare, and then test.” Thomas advocated more spontaneous tests and recounted one test in an earlier position where employees were “toe-tagged” at random to more realistically simulate a disaster scenario. 

Meanwhile, if there’s anything that requires as much careful planning and precise procedure as DR, it’s e-discovery, and on hand with a keynote speech on that subject was Daniel Blair, e-discovery, investigation and incident support within the information security and business continuity division of Bank of America (say that five times fast).

Among the nuggets offered by Blair was the estimation that for every 1 GB of data produced for e-discovery, 6.25 GB of storage space is needed for multiple working copies, indexing and conversion to TIFF formats as well as the production of copies for opposing counsel. BOA’s approach to cut down on storage costs is to put the original “golden” copy of data onto lower-performing, high-capacity SATA disk (backed up vigorously, of course) and use higher-performing FC storage for the processing.

Blair wasn’t able to discuss specifics because of the sensitive nature of corporate litigation, but he did say that so far, he has yet to find a single comprehensive product for e-discovery. He also said that BOA uses a combination of in-house work and outsourcing, specifically with TIFF conversion, to lighten the workload and save financially.

Ultimately, though Blair said the new federal rules of civil procedure could make e-discovery a more bearable undertaking (since they recognize a “good faith” effort to preserve data), further attention on e-discovery means that more savvy practitioners will find new ways to key on process vulnerabilities during a lawsuit.  

As the pressure grows, Blair said there’s plenty of room for improvement in the technology space. “Real-time indexing, content categorization, records management for the lifecycle, true policy-based management, and better scalability,” he listed off immediately when asked for ideas.

One other item of note: Compellent was the name on everybody’s lips during the expo on the show floor tonight. Users said they had always liked Compellent’s automated tiered storage feature, but it had taken some time to see more customer traction in the market and product maturity for the emerging company.

So, what are you hearing at the show? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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