ILM products provide the stepping-stones. Process will provide the key to ILM success.

The debate that surrounds Information Lifecycle Management continues unabated as vendors position products, customers try to comprehend it and analysts struggle to explain it. Recent to the fray is the Storage Networking Industry Association who has initiated working groups around ILM (ILMI), Data Protection (DPI) and Content Addressable Storage Solutions (CASSI). These initiatives are grouped under the Data Management Forum and are supposed to provide a central location of information for the respective initiatives, a focal point for technical information for IT professionals and to accelerate the market demand.

The SNIA is to be applauded in the stance that is has adopted with these initiatives to bring clarity and focus for vendors and customers alike. A particularly refreshing aspect is the repeated reference to solving the data centre complexity issue through simplification, and the use of management practices to align the business value of information with a cost effective storage infrastructure.

ILM hijack looming?
Information Lifecycle Management is neither a set of products nor a solution that can be deployed. It is similar to Business Continuity in its reliance on people and processes in order to provide what is required. ILM is in great danger of being hijacked by the vendors and morphed into a hardware or software sundae of products with very little business justification attached. The first casualties of ILM are waiting to happen as inflated expectations are detached from the business and process elements. With the addition of the SNIA to provide standards around ILM and to maintain the correct context for end users, vendor hype will be kept to a minimum.

Glasshouse Technologies has been in the business of solving customer issues for many years and has focused on the value of information and its alignment with business goals. With many clients GlassHouse advocates the development of an internal Service Provider model to help business users understand all areas that are involved in storage management, maximising value, with the additional goal of reducing cost. GlassHouse has also developed the Storage Management Lifecycle (SML) to specifically focus on the policies and procedures required for efficient storage management. Storage management based upon policies and processes is the only way to drive down the costs of managing a complex infrastructure, to reduce risk and improve efficiency. The SML provides the methods of governance for IT organisations and has been used in many engagements to significant effect.

With regard to the SNIA initiative on ILM, GlassHouse is very pleased that all the aspects that GlassHouse has been talking about for many years is filtering through to the standards organisations which is indicative of the maturity of ILM. The focus by the SNIA ILM initiative on the business requirements, the goal setting and the policies required is a ringing endorsement of the strategy that GlassHouse has employed with many blue chip accounts. Far too many organisations do not reinvest in establishing business requirements or defining the expected return on an ILM strategy and this is where most strategies will fail.

What's missing?
So if the SNIA has the right messages for ILM, what is missing and what are the issues that may arise?

It should be noted that the Storage Networking Industry Association is a vendor-oriented group that represents the views of vendors and their technology to IT professionals. Strategies such as ILM attempt to address business issues that customers face and are not traditionally an area that vendor-based standards bodies have influenced. With ILM being 80 per cent process and 20 per cent technology (Gartner 2000), vendors fulfil an important role in ILM as they can articulate the technology required for ILM but lack the operational insight into a live IT data centre.

For example, an area that has not been addressed but is vital is measurement. The need, as a fundamental change to current strategy development, is the introduction of measurement to ascertain success or failure of strategies. Measurement needs to be established at the beginning and monitored throughout to ensure that objectives are met. How can we learn and improve? GlassHouse has developed a complete set of metrics that can be collected prior to, during and on completion of specific projects as part of an overall storage strategy with the necessary processes for ongoing collection as a measurement of organisational efficiency.

SNIA influence is limited
In summary, Glasshouse supports the efforts of the SNIA, while recognising that the amount of influence that the SNIA has over the user community is limited and its ability to have its initiatives adopted also leaves a lot to be desired. Previous initiatives such as training standards for SAN engineers, although useful, have not been widely adopted as a requirement for recruitment. The SMI-S initiative is laudable in its quest for standardisation and simplification but vendor-specific tools still provide far more functionality as opposed to tools based upon SMI-S. GlassHouse looks forward to ILM becoming a reality with associated focus on business requirements and processes, but wonders how much will be attributed to the SNIA.

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Rupert Beeby is VP of strategy services at GlassHouse Technologies. GlassHouse Technologies, Inc. is a founding member of the SNIA.