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Email Archiving and ILM (Information Lifecycle Management)

October 24, 2003 - by Gary Rider, UK General Manager - StorageTek
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Editor's intro:- Email archiving is becoming a major cost and management issue for many enterprises. This article describes the thinking behind StorageTek's Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) scheme. You might find this conceptual framework useful - even if you use backup hardware and software from other vendors.
The problem

E
mail - love it or loathe it, you can't avoid it. Media reports claim we're sending and receiving more email than ever before. The question is - what happens to it next?

The need for email management is far greater than had been anticipated - email is growing, not only through the number of mailboxes and the volume of messages, but also through the strategic business importance of email as a primary source of communication. The versatility of email, and the simplicity of using it has caused us to commit matters to email that would previously have merited a call or a letter. No surprise that there is an ongoing problem of email content access and record management, and that that is not merely an IT or an end-user issue.

Emails are quick and easy to create, however the content of a mail is often needed and valued for much longer. Yet, companies current email management practices are often unregulated and in many cases, non-existent. At present, when an organisation needs to retrieve information from an old email, it will usually be saved in an archive email folder on an individual's personal desktop folder. If it can't be found here, the company is left trying to recover it from the computers main backup files. This is an incredibly risky practice and clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding companies have of the importance of email management and storage.

In the case of contract negotiations, for example, numerous people will contribute information to a document, which in turn needs to be accessible to multiple users. Without an email management system in place, confusion can arise over the content of the document and subsequently result in a flawed contract. Or to take another example - an email detailing agreement on activity or budget between client and vendor might make the difference between a harmonious working relationship and a litigious one. Keeping sound records of business communications, especially email, is vital both for the smooth running of a company and to satisfy ever increasing legal requirements.

Indisputably, email archiving is now a necessity not a luxury and an increasing number of companies are recognising this fact. Having monitored the use of email over the past few years, it is clear that it is the fastest growing application to date. Data volumes continue to increase at 50 - 100% year-on-year but the proportion of data being deleted is falling. At the same time, email files are growing both in size and number.

Clearly, addressing email archiving and data storage is of paramount importance. Left unattended, it will end up posing a huge financial overhead for companies, as well as placing an unacceptable strain on existing storage resources. Yet email is only one element. Imagine the burden of maintaining all electronically created files, whether from email, powerpoint or a back-office system, for a year.
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Each year, across the global community, between one and two exabytes of unique data is being created. As well dealing with email management, companies need to start taking a strategic, holistic view of data storage and look at the issue in terms of an Information Lifecycle Management process (ILM).

At the heart of ILM is an understanding of the value information holds at each stage of its life and from that, the importance of a co-ordinated approach to managing the storage and archiving of all forms of digital data. If we look out at the market, there are two main challenges facing companies looking to invest in the archiving market:
  • Firstly, how to implement a hierarchical storage capability without increasing, complexity, management overhead or impacting the productivity of the user.
  • Secondly, how to store data so that cost is proportional to the data's value and the likelihood of it being accessed.
There are a multitude of storage options available in the market place today and this can often make selecting a storage solution a daunting prospect. Companies need to ask tough questions of storage providers to ensure that the solution selected meets all its' business requirements. The whole ILM cycle must be taken into consideration so the most appropriate product for each stage is selected. Companies have to consider the cost of a solution, its ROI timescale and whether training and technical support is offered - to be worthwhile the solution needs to work today and tomorrow, as a company changes.

Improvements to current storage offerings are always being made to meet changing market demands. An example of this is StorageTek's recent partnership with Sun Microsystems to provide a comprehensive tool to help companies tackle and survive email archiving requirements. Importantly, this archiving solution was developed as an open technology, which enables it to scale and take on new applications. When researching different solutions, this is an important point to consider. If a company has a number of solution providers, it is vital to ensure that the products can be integrated with one another and that ongoing technical support is provided.

Another primary consideration when selecting a storage solution is the actual value of the data being archived. The value of data hinges on its relevance to us at a certain point in time. The reality is that data loses value on a daily basis as demand diminishes and that the way companies interact with their data also varies. For example, some companies have lots of data in databases that needs to be accessed regularly, whilst others need storage for regulatory reasons. In each case, there must be a degree of flexibility in data access whilst maintaining a reasonable price.
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The StorageTek approach allows customers to link data usage to their business operations and to technology, rather than technology dictating business practice. Companies need to assess their data and establish how the information is being re-used, how it ages and when it was created. As the length of time since the creation of a piece of data increase, so the number of times it will be accessed decreases.

For example, in the first few days of creation, data may need to be regularly reused and therefore it needs to be easily and quickly accessed - an ideal scenario for disk. On the other hand, data which is a few weeks old may still need to be accessed but not at the high speed which was required when the data was first created. Access time is important but is only one part of a number of factors, which also include the price of the storage and the nature of the business model. Email is a typical example of data being created and moving down the value chain - from being accessed regularly on day one to very little on day 90.

At StorageTek we believe that prioritisation of data can be made broken down into four key areas:

Critical:
  • Data that is used in key business processes
  • Minimum acceptable work levels in the event of disaster
  • Data that must be retained for legal reasons
Vital:
  • Data used in normal business processes that represents a substantial investment of company resources that may be difficult, if not impossible, to recoup
  • Data that may not be immediately required for a disaster recovery
  • Data that may be considered company secret
Sensitive:
  • Data used in normal business operations for which there are alternate sources available in case of loss
  • Data that can be reconstructed fairly easily
Non-critical:
  • Data that can be reconstructed easily with minimal cost
  • Duplicates of existing data that have low security requirements
StorageTek's Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) model has been created to provide a customer centric approach to data storage, not the product centric approach of many other companies claiming to provide storage solutions. The majority of storage providers specialise in disk or tape, SAN or NAS. These vendors are not equipped to provide customers with a complete solution to meet their requirements. Providers with a full range of solutions will redefine the storage market as they offer customers choice and options.

Looking ahead, we also predict that hardware is going to be the next big challenge for the storage market. The issue will not be the actual hardware cost, but the cost of managing that hardware. Data is growing at such a rate that there is a big manpower gap between what the typical data manager can support, which is at the moment is about 4.5TB. Extrapolating from growth trends suggests that by 2005 the same data manager will be using 53TB. We believe there needs to be a smarter way to managing storage unless you want to dramatically increase the cost - which, to me at least, does not make sound business sense!

In many ways we're at a turning point. We have more digital information than ever before and its increasing rapidly. What all companies need to do now is understand how they use and need that data. Once the pattern of data use has been established, then a company can make an informed decision about how to manage and store that data in line with its value. ...StorageTek profile
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