Technology: Can Information Lifecycle Management Add Value to Your Data?

 
 
By Karen S. Henrie  |  Posted 2012-05-08
 
 
 
 
Strategy

Legal and regulatory challenges, and IT storage costs, are spurring ILM implementations.
U.S. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer comes knocking at your company's door. He wants to take a look through your e-mail archives. Is your IT department prepared to comply with his request? Are you afraid of what he might find if it does? According to Rosalind Conway, manager of information document retention services with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in New York City, Spitzer was among the first to exploit e-mail as an investigative avenue for corporate malfeasance, and many others have since followed suit. "Spitzer figured out e-mail is the Achilles' heel of the folks he went after. Then other regulatory agencies and plaintiff's attorneys jumped on the bandwagon," she says.

The most promising solution to the problems created by such legal and regulatory challenges—not to mention the need to manage the glut of unstructured corporate information—may be what's being called information lifecycle management, or ILM. ILM involves a set of policies, processes and tools used to align the business value of information with the most appropriate and cost-effective IT infrastructure, from the time that information is created to the time it is destroyed.

Says Dave Russell, a research director with Gartner Inc.: "ILM won't tell you what data to retain for regulatory compliance. But it can help you to retain appropriately, so information can be produced if the company is subpoenaed." Conway points out that "a growing body of case law is evolving from companies that were blindsided by their lack of a records-retention program."

Though many CIOs use the specter of regulatory breaches or litigation to justify ILM investments, the IT department has its own reasons. For one, ILM helps IT comply with its service-level agreements with business users for such critical business requirements as recovery times and application performance. Bill Graff, director of CernerWorks, the hosting division of Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner Corp., a $1.2 billion provider of healthcare IT services, says ILM helps him meet his contractual obligations with the hospitals and other healthcare providers his company serves. "We were signing contracts that demanded we provide higher availability on production systems," including applications for lab results, drug interaction results and physician order entry, among others. "We needed an infrastructure that could accommodate those contracts, while also letting us better manage the costs of the business. We have 1.5 petabytes of spinning disk storage, and that's grown by 750 terabytes since last year."

Cerner isn't alone in its desire to curtail spiraling storage costs. According to Gartner, the worldwide market for storage-management software licenses totaled $5.6 billion in 2004 and is growing at a compound annual rate of more than 10 percent. While ILM can help to cut certain storage-related costs, a complete ILM implementation will likely result in a net cost increase. Mike Workman, CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based Pillar Data Systems Inc., a network storage company, cautions that "ILM doesn't save you money. It just lets you exploit the information your company owns."

Ask your chief compliance officer:

Which documents have a regulatory requirement attached to them?

Ask your IT managers:

How can the IT department use ILM to cut costs and better serve business users?

Story Guide:

  • Strategy
  • Implementation
  • Results
  • Future

    Click here to download a PDF of the ILM Fact Sheet

    Next page: Implementation

     

    Implementation

    ILM isn't just about e-mail archiving and tiered storage.
    According to Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst with Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., too many companies think a simple e-mail archive tool or tiered storage alone will deliver the benefits of ILM. In nearly all cases, however, that strategy doesn't work. "People are overreaching when they call e-mail archiving ILM. Archiving is just a tactical solution to a much larger problem." The same goes for tiered storage: It's a necessary component, but not the whole answer. ILM entails many more steps and a deeper awareness of the business context of information. That's why Gartner's Russell says he is always reminding companies that "there's no such thing as an ILM product. Companies need to stitch ILM together themselves, perhaps with the help of a professional services firm, and with up to a dozen different products."

    By the same token, George Symons, CTO of information management software with Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp., says that while high-level IT executives continue to make the buying decisions for ILM, "the influencers have changed dramatically. The chief compliance officer, general counsel and chief security officer are much more involved than in the past. And we are also starting to see more heads of records management."

    Symons advises CIOs to view the first phase of ILM as a three-to-four-year project. For many companies, e-mail is a good starting point, says Symons, because it creates problems both for IT and for the business. "E-mail data is increasing at an incredibly high rate. If IT doesn't manage it, then users will." And the risk is high: "E-mail is discoverable. Companies need protocols to retain e-mail and manage it," says PwC's Conway. While true, Duplessie cautions companies not to focus too much on e-mail at the expense of other types of information. "Less than 2 percent of all companies have an e-mail regulatory requirement, and e-mail represents less than 2 percent of all the data in the organization. What about the letter or the file or the transaction or the VoIP message?"

    Taking an information inventory first will help determine where to focus ILM efforts. For large companies, this can be tough. "Over 90 percent of IT organizations today don't have a good feel for what they are actually storing," says Gartner's Russell. "In large IT shops, requests come in for more disk space every hour. Yet around the world, disk capacity is at 50 percent."

    A document retention strategy is another essential component of ILM, says Conway. "Because of its importance in managing compliance risks, it dramatically increases a company's readiness for a regulatory investigation or litigation." Most companies' document retention policies and schedules, she points out, make no mention of electronic documents today. "Pursuing ILM will force companies to integrate their perspective on physical and electronic documents," she adds.

    Implementing tiered storage is perhaps the ILM area where companies have made the most progress. Duplessie says the majority of companies he talks to have multiple tiers of storage in place. Workman, of Pillar Data Systems, estimates that implementing tiered storage will account for "about 20 percent of the total investment in ILM," but ultimately, it will also help cut storage costs.

    Classification of information is the most strategic, and immature, step in implementing ILM. Gartner's Russell recommends a two-step approach. First "look for the low-hanging fruit" to discover which business applications consume the largest amount of disk space, or whether a critical server is 95 percent full, or if another group of services is woefully underutilized.

    Next, "a group of peers from IT and the business needs to decide the pecking order of applications," says Duplessie. Symons advises CIOs to keep it simple when writing policies that will dictate how information is treated, including no more than four or five options. "The fewer the policies, the more straightforward the conversation with the business users."

    Automation is the final, essential component for ILM. Duplessie says that, usually, "when companies think they've done ILM, they are really manually moving information." ILM requires companies to codify and enforce the policies they've written into rules-based systems that manage information without human involvement.

    Ask your executive team:

    Who should be involved in prioritizing the value of our applications and information?

    Ask your head of storage:

    How can we use tiered storage to kick-start an ILM implementation?

    Story Guide:

  • Strategy
  • Implementation
  • Results
  • Future

    Click here to download a PDF of the ILM Fact Sheet

    Next page: Results

     

    Results

    The business case for ILM: actively managing rapidly expanding data. Dr. John Halamka is CIO of CareGroup Health System, a three-hospital network with 12,000 employees and an IT budget of $40 million. He is also CIO of the Harvard Medical School, where he oversees roughly 23,000 users and a combined operating and capital budget of $11 million. When it comes to implementing ILM, he's further along than most.

    Halamka is intimately familiar with healthcare-related regulatory requirements, both from HIPAA, which says healthcare providers must guarantee the integrity of their data, and from the state of Massachusetts, which says they must maintain clinical records for 30 years.

    Beginning back in the late 1990s, Halamka sought a "scalable and predictable solution" to maintain the massive amounts of data under his charge at both the medical school and CareGroup. Halamka and his teams at the medical school and CareGroup eliminated all departmental servers and implemented multiple, tiered-storage area networks. This provided a centralized view of all applications and information. They then divided information into three storage classes: New information is stored for the first month on a high-end storage facility that costs $44 per gigabyte. Between one month and a year, it moves to less expensive, less reliable middle-tier storage, at a cost of $22 per gigabyte. Information older than one year is maintained at a cost of $11 per gigabyte.

    Halamka then developed a more granular grading scale—A for the least critical, up to AAAA for the most—for CareGroup's applications and information. Criteria included clinical importance, financial impact, workflow impact multiplied by the number of people affected, and strategic importance. For example, life-or-death clinical applications received a AAAA. So did the company's main Web page, due to its strategic importance. An application that managed hospital beds was deemed less so.

    Halamka recalls inviting all of his direct reports to attend a retreat, where he handed out the evaluation forms, explained the criteria, and asked those present to grade all of the applications under their purview. These results were then used to develop business rules that dictate the movement of data. "We're constantly shuttling data based on business rules," he says.

    Halamka hasn't quantified the benefits from ILM, but he views it as an essential component of his overall IT plan. "Demand for data storage is growing at 25 percent per year. If I'm paying $44 a gigabyte, I can't afford that level of growth. This is the only way I can work with the capital budget I've got."

    Ask your business unit heads:

    What criteria should we use to determine the changing value of business information over time?

    Ask your chief compliance officer:

    Which regulatory requirements should we tackle first as part of our ILM strategy?

    Story Guide:

  • Strategy
  • Implementation
  • Results
  • Future

    Click here to download a PDF of the ILM Fact Sheet

    Next page: Future

     

    Future

    ILM maturity will take several years. In the meantime, CIOs should stay informed about the state of the ILM industry. The immaturity of tools that can help implement ILM is a real drawback today. For example, storage-resource-management tools can help scan storage resources for different types of files, and report on usage, disk availability and the like. Yet few SRM tools can access all of a company's structured, unstructured, and semi-structured (e.g., e-mail) data.

    Pillar's Workman points out that storage vendors haven't been much help in providing the tools IT shops need to classify information for ILM. "We have the ability to store data. We are even good at data lifecycle management; we know how to efficiently move data around. But we don't have the tools and techniques to understand all the information about the metadata that's essential for ILM."

    Symons of EMC predicts a smoother future for ILM. "Three years from now the number of separate tools you will need to implement ILM will be dramatically reduced, and companies will be more focused on implementing the right policies." Archiving tools that work across all data types will be widely available, and companies may develop unified approaches to both backup and recovery, as well as archiving. Classification rules will feed into both, and those processes will be much more automated.

    According to Workman, it will be companies such as Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp.—not storage vendors—that will eventually build the superstructure that will help businesses turn their data into information, whether it's an Excel spreadsheet or a data-logging application in a laboratory. He envisions that Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system "will help you organize it, classify it, and shuffle it to the right place at the right time."

    Despite the many near-term challenges, Gartner's Russell still thinks ILM is worth pursuing. "There are real, immediate benefits from performing ILM activities like tiered storage, data classification, and archiving. But CIOs need to understand the current state of the industry, and the effort required to implement ILM on a holistic level. They'll still need to be the integrator and have the business conversations that underlie true ILM."

    Ask your IT architect:

    What can we implement today that will better position us to evolve into a functional ILM strategy two or three years from now?

    Ask your IT analyst:

    What tools do we already have, and still need, to support the steps of an ILM implementation?

    Story Guide:

  • Strategy
  • Implementation
  • Results
  • Future

    Click here to download a PDF of the ILM Fact Sheet