Users at the Storage Networking World conference in Orlando this week said that while managing their data from creation to deletion using a policy-based engine is a worthy goal, it's a strategy that will require years of development around integration of business applications, various storage management software, and network and hardware systems.

Instead, users said, vendors should first work on creating more interoperability among their existing products.

Information life-cycle management (ILM), the latest buzzphrase for storing data in an automated fashion on varying levels based on its importance, was on the lips of almost all the representatives of every big vendor at this year's event, which drew more than 2,500 attendees. But users weren't convinced they should spend money on products that some said could jeopardise reliability, for efficiency and cost savings.

"As much as I'm out to eliminate multivendor tool sets and drive more policy-based management, I only have 25 storage [technicians] managing that infrastructure, compared to 4,700 IT workers overall," said James Medeiros, information systems and systems service manager at United Parcel Service in Atlanta. "I'll take a beating on cost before I take a beating on reliability."

Even so, 33 percent of conference attendees in a packed auditorium yesterday indicated by electronic polling devices that they plan to deploy an ILM strategy in the next 12 months, while another 30 percent said they would begin implementing it in 13 to 24 months. Eleven percent said they have already installed ILM components, and 26 percent said they don't plan to.

Medeiros, who manages 300TB of storage capacity in his New Jersey data center, wants to tie in an additional 400TB of storage capacity spread throughout 1,500 branch offices worldwide. Doing that will require greater multivendor product interoperability, he said.

Steve Duplessie, an analyst at The Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Massachusetts, said that while ILM is a worthy goal, today it's little more than marketing jargon without products to back it up.

EMC's Chief Technology Officer Mark Lewis agreed with Duplessie during a press and analyst briefing earlier in the week. "We don't think anyone is doing it well," he said. "We don't think we're doing it well, at least not yet."

EMC announced in August that its new focus is on ILM. And Lewis this week reiterated that EMC's recent acquisitions, including Legato Systems for US$1.3 billion and Documentum for an estimated $1.7 billion, were designed solely for the creation of ILM products -- including an integrated set of tools to identify data at the business application level so it can be placed on varying levels of storage for specific periods of time.

Offering few details, Lewis said EMC plans to unveil a product that ties database applications into the backup process in the first quarter of 2004, a function analysts said is paramount to any ILM architecture.

Jerome Wendt, senior storage analyst at First Data said he's already planning his company's ILM strategy, which will include several types of storage management software, including network-based "virtualisation" applications, or software that pools storage from a heterogeneous storage-area network (SAN).

Wendt is also currently testing SAN management software from EMC, Fujitsu and Veritas that automatically discovers hardware on his storage network to get away from unreliable spreadsheet modeling and to understand his server and array utilisation rates. "Sometimes you have 5TB on a storage array... but right now it's difficult to see how much storage is allocated to the servers," he said.

Wendt said companies should start thinking about keeping data no longer than required by regulators and automated systems that do that would greatly ease management headaches. Wendt is also working to classify his data to identify which media it should be stored on. Deploying several "tiers" of storage, such as ATA-disk based arrays to provide secondary repositories for so-called near-line storage, is also part of Wendt's plan.

"By doing that, you free up space on [primary] storage for mission-critical databases," he said.

But for many other users, ILM implementation remains years away. In the meantime, users said they want to see vendors begin using standards, such as the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) Storage Management Interface Specification (SMI-S), to offer centralised management of their heterogeneous storage. SMI-S is a set of common models and interfaces intended to allow storage management applications to communicate and manage multivendor storage devices. SNIA's interoperability lab at the conference focused on demonstrations of SMI-S-compliant software.