Actually, IT organizations face a threefold challenge when it comes to data growth. The primary challenge is the sheer volume of data inundating the enterprise environment. Next, the budgets available for managing data aren't keeping pace, despite the growing volume. Third, there are increasingly stringent retention requirements for data that are being driven by government regulation -- as well as business continuity and disaster recovery considerations.

This threefold challenge is forcing IT managers to develop information life-cycle management (ILM) strategies. These strategies are designed to streamline and optimize the management of information from creation to archiving and/or removal. And they're absolutely critical for any organization that hopes to avoid being overwhelmed by its growing mountain of data.

IT managers developing ILM strategies should bear two things in mind:

1. ILM redefines storage, data and information management

Pre-ILM storage management focused on using the storage infrastructure as efficiently as possible. ILM-driven storage management goes a step further and fully optimizes the alignment between infrastructure and business value. For example, historically, data was moved between storage media or deleted based on age. The assumption was that the oldest data had the least value. Under ILM, data is now moved at predetermined intervals based on its current business value. This avoids dedicating more costly storage resources to data that is of little real value to the business and instead finds the most cost-effective and efficient place to store it.

ILM therefore requires more intelligent use of storage management technologies such as data movers, archiving tools and hierarchical storage management. IT organizations must be able to assess the business value of data and the relevant regulatory requirements. They must also have a good handle on the fully burdened costs (i.e., media costs plus operational costs) associated with their various storage resources. Well-defined processes and policies must then be put in place to ensure that data is dynamically assigned to the most appropriate storage location.

2. ILM transcends storage, data and information management

While storage management is the foundation for ILM, it alone isn't sufficient to support enterprise ILM objectives. For example, when end-users' desktops are migrated to an upgraded operating system, the properties associated with their files (such as "date created") are typically changed. Such modifications can compromise regulatory compliance. Thus, under ILM, proper precautions will be taken to ensure the integrity of such data attributes -- in this case, through the use of automated migration tools.

With ILM, IT organizations deepen their insight into their use of resources such as e-mail. Use of these resources, after all, is what helps to determine migration and retention policies: How many messages are being sent and received every day? How far back are users typically going to retrieve those messages? Are specific types of messages more likely to be retrieved than others? The ability to answer such questions again indicates that ILM is much more than just a fancy acronym for next-generation storage management.

In fact, a fully mature ILM strategy will encompass security disciplines as well. You can't protect the integrity or value of information assets if you're not securing them. So, as part of any ILM strategy, IT organizations have to ensure strong identity and access controls so that questions such as, "Who has been given access to this information?" and, "Who modified this data, and when did they do it?" can be answered.

Because ILM engages such a wide range of IT management disciplines, it clearly presents some technological difficulties. Most IT organizations currently treat storage, desktop management, e-mail administration and security as segregated operational "stovepipes." To implement ILM, these stovepipes somehow have to be brought together.

The question for IT managers is whether they will try to forge the necessary operational links between existing tools from disparate vendors or take advantage of integrated offerings from vendors with sufficiently broad solution portfolios. The industry is certainly seeing several vendors moving toward offerings that integrate disciplines such as storage and security -- and these offerings, if properly designed, could help enable coherent ILM strategies and processes.

Transition step by step
However, with current constraints on technology budgets, it's unlikely that IT organizations will commit to complete overhauls of their management environments solely in order to obtain the benefits of ILM. It's also improbable that these organizations will move overnight from conventional storage management to full-blown ILM.

Instead, the more realistic course of action will be to move toward ILM in incremental stages, grabbing the low-hanging fruit in order to realize whatever benefits are most important to the specific organization -- for example, immediate regulatory compliance, large reductions in storage costs, or reduced exposure to information-related business risk.

Then, as management tools reach the end of their useful lives, new acquisitions will be driven both by the need for ILM-enabling integration and by the need for specific feature/function advantages.

Regardless of which path an IT organization chooses, one thing is certain: Existing storage management practices are no longer adequate for the burgeoning volume of enterprise data. Steps must be taken now to ensure the integrity of corporate information that's critical to the success of the organization.

Jim Geronaitis is vice president for BrightStor storage management at Computer Associates International Inc. in Islandia, N.Y., and holds a seat on the board of the Storage Networking Industry Association.