Wide World of Archiving – Life Beyond Compliance

March 29, 2008 – 9:48 am
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Earlier this week I did a keynote talk at a TechTarget event in the New York city area titled the “Wide World of Archiving – Life Beyond Compliance” with the basic theme that archiving and data preservation for future or possible future use is not unique or exclusive to SARBOX, HIPPA, CFR, PCI, OHSAS, ISO or other members of the common alphabet soup of governmental or industry regulatory compliance needs.

The basic theme is that archiving can be used to discuss many IT and business pain points and issues from preserving project oriented or seasonal data to off-loading un-used or seldom used data to free up resources to meet power, cooling, floor space and environmental (PCFE) issues
“aka Green”
along with boosting performance for on-line access as well as backup, BC and DR.

The challenge however is that archiving while a powerful technique, is also complex in that it requires hardware and mediums to park your data onto, software to find and then execute policies defined by someone to move data to the archive medium and if applicable, delete or cleanup data that has been moved all of which has cost and application specific issues. Then the human side which is more involved than simply throwing head count at the tasks and avoiding the mistakes of the Mythical Man Month.

The human side of archiving is the glue to make it work in that similar to cleaning out your garage, attic, basement or store-room, you can have someone come and do the real work, however do they have the insight to know what to keep and what to discard? Sure that’s an overly simple example, and there are plenty of search and discovery software management tool vendors who will be more than happy to show you a demo of their wares that will discovery and classify and categorize and index what data you have as well as interface with policy managers, data movers and archiving devices.

However who is going to tell the management tools what policies are applicable and the different variances for your different business segments or activities? Consequently the key to making archiving work particularly on a broader basis is to get internal personal familiar with your business, IT personal, as well as external subject matter experts involved all of which leads to a challenge and dilemma of is it cheaper to just buy more energy-efficient, space-saving storage than to pay the fees to find, manage, move and archive data. Talking with one of the attendees who brought up some good points that this all makes sense however there is a scaling challenge and when dealing with 100’s of TBytes or PBytes, the complexity increases.

This is where the notion of scaling with stability comes into play in that many solutions exist to address different functionality for example archiving, de-duping, compression, server or storage virtualization, thin-provisioning among many others however how do they scale with stability. That is, how stable or reliable do the solutions remain when scaling from 10s to 100’s to 10,000’s or even 100,000’s users, email boxes, sessions, streams or from 10’s of TBytes to 10’s of PBytes? How does the performance hold up, how does the availability hold up, how does the management and on-going care and feeding change for the better or worse? Concerns around scaling is a common issue I hear from IT organizations pertaining to both hardware and software tools in that what works great during a WebEx demo or PowerPoint or pdf slide show may be different from real-world performance, management, reliability and complexity concerns. After all, have you ever seen a WebEx or live office or PowerPoint or PDF slide deck showing a hardware or software based solution that could not scale or provide transparent interoperability? That would be akin to finding a used car sales rep who gives you a tour of how a car was refurbished inside and out after it was declared totaled by the previous owners insurance company after the last great flood or hurricane.

Getting back to archiving, and not trying to conquer all of your data at one time, take a divide and conquer approach, go for some low hanging fruit where your chances of success go up that you can then build some momentum and perhaps a business case to do a larger project. Also, one solution particularly one archiving software solution may not be applicable to all of your needs in that you may need a tool specialized for email, one for databases and another general purpose tool. Likewise you may need to engage different subject matter experts to help you with policy definition and establishing rules to meet different requirements which is where business partners can come into play with either their in-house staff, partners, or associates that they work with for different issues and needs.

Look beyond the hardware and software, look at the people or human and knowledge side of archiving as well as look beyond archiving for compliance as there is a much bigger wide world of archiving and opportunity. If you remember the ABC sports TV show “Wide World of Sports” you may recall Jim McCay saying “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is “ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”.

From an archiving perspective, keep this in mind in that there is a wide world of opportunities for archiving, the thrill of victory are the benefits, the agony of defeat are the miss-steps, lack of scaling, out of control costs or complexity, the human drama is how to make or break a solution, this is the “Wide World of Archiving”…

Rest assured, some form of archiving structured database, semi-structured email with attachments and un-structured word, PowerPoint, PDF, MP3 and other data is in your future, it’s a matter of when. Archiving is just one of many tools available for effectively managing your data and addressing data footprint sprawl particular for data that you can not simply delete and ignore, if you need it to go forward, you need to keep it. Or, as a friend of mine says You can’t go forward unless you can go back. Likewise, you can’t manage what you don’t know about; you can’t move and delete what you can’t manage.

Look for solution providers who are not looking to simply get you to buy the latest and greatest archiving storage device, or, the slickest archiving management tool with a Uhi Gui that rivals those on an Wii or Xbox, or, that is looking to simply run up billable hours. That’s a balancing act requires investing time with different business solution providers to see where their core business is, how they can scale, where and how they make their money to help you decide where and how they are fit as opposed to simply adding complexity to your environment and existing issues.

Ok, nuff said.

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz – Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)
twitter @storageio

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