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Users struggle with deletion policies

Experts say purging data is as essential to a tiered infrastructure as a good data retention scheme. But many users are skeptical about getting buy-in at the CIO level.

NEW YORK -- Interest in tiered storage is at a fever pitch, according to an audience response session at Storage Decisions Wednesday, but handling deletion of data is a major cause for concern among users.

Approximately 35% of the hundreds of users gathered for the talk answered that they had already implemented a tiered storage policy, and 38% said they were committed to implementing such an infrastructure. Another 19% were considering tiered storage for their environments.

Glasshouse Technologies Inc. consultant Richard Scannell, moderating the session, asked for a show of hands on another question. "Is there anyone who is invested or who has been invested in a wide-scale destruction of data in their environment?"

The hall went silent. Not a single hand was raised.

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Purging data from storage, Scannell said, is as important to a real-world tiered architecture as proper data retention, but it's "the big thing no one wants to talk about."

Try thinking about your digital storage in terms of paper-based records management, he told the attendees.

"The way it works now is like being able to fit more paper in the same box every year, but always needing more boxes," Scannell said. "And we put different languages on the paper every year, so we need to keep people around to read the different languages. Worse, we're still not sure what's where.

"The bottom line," he said, "is that people need to start having bonfires."

Users were enthusiastic about Scannell's ideas. Bill Camp, special projects director for the Federal Reserve, said he didn't have a deletion policy in his shop yet, but that he would be making one. "Data is growing too fast, he said. "We don't have the financial capacity to keep buying storage. We're going to have to make a policy."

But in another audience poll, while most agreed that getting people outside of IT into conversations about data purges was critical to implementing such a policy, 68% said they felt they will be able to get some opinions, but no real, ongoing participation from their CEOs.

That lack of confidence was also reflected in many users' comments when they began contemplating bringing new policies into the real world.

According to Keith Clark, a technical advisor in computing operations for Alcatel Canada Inc., getting the corporate hierarchy to understand IT's needs is often easier said than done.

"Usually, they'll say storage is cheap -- just go deal with it," he said. "They're not devoting engineers to deciding retention policies and storage tiers … It's more difficult with unstructured data, too," Clark added. "They tend to just want to hold everything for the longest period possible. It's easier when there's a specific law."

For some companies, deletion isn't an option. "I'm not sure our environment has that many throwaways," said George Harris, storage architect with the US Patent and Trade Office.

'A more productive discussion'

As a first step toward setting a deletion policy, Scannell advised users to put hard numbers in front of execs -- by calculating a "Run rate", a figure to show how much it would cost their organization to maintain data in compliance with regulations if they were to stop creating data today.

"You'll find it'll cost more and more and more money just to keep the lights on," Scannell said. "And just one deletion policy can result in a huge reduction in cost."

Still, Scannell insisted, "This policy is not something you or I should be deciding. People closest to the way the company makes money are the ones who should make this decision."

He also offered one idea for engaging the C-suite more effectively. "If someone challenges your number, take their number and plug it into your model -- you need to get into a more productive discussion than just 'your numbers are wrong'."

Another early step, according to Scannell, would be to start talking tough with vendors. "Stop talking about products and start talking about capabilities. If you can get someone to answer, 'when does this data go away,' you're in better shape than anyone else."

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