Data on demand

Forrester, the IT market analyst, says: "No one supplier has the product portfolio to offer a holistic information management solution…but IBM comes very close and is far ahead of other vendors." Daniel Stanton finds out just how close.

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By  Administrator Published  August 31, 2006

Most companies need to improve their data management strategies, according to recent research, and IBM is keen to be at the forefront of innovation when it comes to coping with growing amounts of unstructured business data.

IBM outlined its vision for information management to Middle East IT managers at a conference in Hurghada, Egypt earlier this year, and believes it has the right approach to solve their growing data problems. The conference, entitled On Demand Live, focused on making sense of the huge amounts of structured and unstructured data the modern business has to manage.

Speaking on information as a service, Michelle Unger, vice president information management sales for the Middle East, said: "It's going to be fundamental to help IBM take a leap in the marketplace and help you take a leap by taking control of your data."

Research by IBM has found that 60% of CEOs believe they need to do a better job of managing data within their companies, and almost four out of five companies have more than one content repository.

"We aim to virtualise information, so that the technology has to find the information for you across different systems and applications," Unger added. "Everything we’re doing is going to fit into a service oriented architecture strategy."

Unger also highlighted the importance to businesses of master data - information such as customer names and addresses that has to be accessed by different applications.

"What we're talking about is decoupling master information from individual applications," she said. "We're integrating existing data and getting different applications to talk to each other.We want to give one version of the truth."

Theresa O'Neil, IBM’s director of marketing, content management, said that the company's research had found that 85% of information within IT systems is unstructured.

"Most companies have multiple types of content, across multiple repositories.We have to recognise that they have other systems."

'Information in context' was a recurring phrase throughout the conference. IBM is hoping to make the data retrieval process more efficient by looking at what specific data is used for and providing an intelligent, context-based search.

“Research has found that 60% of CEOs believe that they need to do a better job of managing data within their companies.”

“ILM is a piece of the answer. At the core is archiving and retention."

Michael Maurus, project manager, executive briefing centre, IBM, was on hand to address IT managers' concerns about ILM strategies and longterm storage. "It's not just that we need more storage to keep the data," he said. "We have to see that we manage the data according to its future level of complexity."

Retention managed data is one option that can be used when businesses need to keep data that has an expiry date. "It is data that needs to be kept for a specific or unspecified period of time," said Maurus. "It is data that needs to be kept on WORM media due to its importance. A chronological retention policy is very stupid and very simple," he added.

Maurus recommended implementing an event-based retention policy. "This helps us to more intelligently store our data," he said. "In some cases you don't know when will be the retention date of the data."

An example would be employment records. Some documents and data would need to be stored until a certain time after an employee has ceased to work for a firm, but at the time the records are created the business has no way of knowing when the employee will leave.

Using an event-based retention policy, events such as resignation can trigger a process that will delete the specific data or move it to a different location after a particular interval. If events or policies change, administrators can also use the deletion hold function to interrupt and override the retention process.

However, Maurus said that many IT managers were finding that old technology was sometimes the best fit where certain aspects of storage were concerned.

"Tape has become an interesting product because it still represents the lowest dollar per megabyte storage. It is an essential disaster recovery strategy, it is extremely low cost and it has a shelf life of 30 years. So it makes it the perfect partner to the longterm archive."

He recommended using disk storage for more sensitive data, or data that needs to be accessed more regularly, but advised IT managers to make the most of the lower cost of ownership of tape storage when access times are not critical.

"Customers will sometimes say 'we don't need performance' because the performance we give is more than they need," he said.

While tape offers more than adequate performance, it also has benefits over disk, which can place heavy demands on a system. "With the cost of power to keep the disk alive, you end up with a much higher TCO," Maurus explained.

In addition, the capacity a tape drive can provide is increasing rapidly. "The capacity on cartridges is increasing faster than on disk," he said. "It gives you a higher capacity with the same footprint."

Maurus expects IBM to offer 8TB of storage space on a single, regularsized cartridge by 2012. He also revealed that the company will encrypt tape drives on a hardware level by the end of the year.

"We're coming away from SCSI to fibre channel. Fibre channel is much more effective and of course it is much easier to implement," he said.

One delegate, Khaled Azzooni, technical support manager of Riyadh Bank, in Saudi Arabia was at the conference to consider data management strategies ahead of new implementations at his bank.

"Datawarehousing is a specific product for us so that we can identify our customers and analyse the data so that we can provide the right service to the right customer," he explained. Azzooni expects the bank to implement a new solution in early 2007.

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