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New Storage Sector Rises From Regs

Driven by new federal regulations, a new business category called information lifecyle management has taken center stage in the storage industry.

ILM is geared for cradle-to-grave management of "unstructured data" such as e-mails, attachments and audio and video clips. Previously, CEOs didn't want to keep this information. Now, they have no choice.

Lawmakers responded to the rash of corporate scandals with regulations including Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC 17A-4 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Several measures require that companies save data for decades or risk fines.

Osterman Research found about 60 percent of business information is stored within employees' e-mail systems. Because of this, the researcher said e-mail storage balloons about 40 percent each year.

Managing the glut is problematic. Not only must companies deploy taped back-up and disks to handle the glut of data they store, but they need specific tools to retrieve only the files they need. Basic software can back-up and recover whole systems, but locating a hundred or so specific files in a sea of millions is daunting. That's why enterprise content management (ECM) and storage systems are coalescing.

Still, many companies seem to want it both ways when buying systems for compliance and retrieval, Enterprise Storage Group analyst Peter Gerr said.

"Customers want to see the vision pitch, want to see the revolutionary idea, even while they are demanding the ability to make tactical purchases and evolutionary steps towards that goal," Gerr told internetnews.com. "It's a very challenging environment for both the vendors and the end-users."

Dealmaking to meet customer requests

Brenda Zawatski, a Veritas vice president, called the compliance issue something of a "regulated disaster," because so much is required of companies. As a result, vendors are teaming with content management and archiving specialists to provide reliable systems to save and locate files.

EMC recently signaled the importance of ILM in the storage sector when it announced plans to acquire Legato Systems, a maker of e-mail archiving and content management software. The deal unveiled an ILM strategy for EMC, which it built on with the purchase of ECM software maker Documentum.

HP soon followed with its own ILM strategy, which included the company's bid to acquire e-mail archiving specialist and Legato competitor Persist Technologies last week.

Network Appliance and Veritas followed with their own brand of ILM products.

IBM may not use the term ILM, but Big Blue holds most of the necessary ECM and storage management pieces to assemble an ILM strategy. What IBM has done instead is repackage existing infrastructure to formulate offerings for specific compliance rules.

Bob Schultz, an HP senior vice president, said his company's ILM strategy is about getting information out.

"Indexing, searching and retrieving are key aspects," Schultz told internetnews.com. "Our goal is to design an architecture that supports what (customers) need to get done."

HP's modus operandi has been to provide archiving solutions to customers with the help of such firms as Persist and even Legato. By moving to buy Persist, it is ostensibly defending a valuable piece of its ILM strategy now that EMC has Legato.

Retrieving data can be costly, said Persist CEO Paul O'Brien said. "Suppose you have a top executive who sent a contract that a governing body asks to see. You'd have to go back and restore the server and do searches for the single file. It could cost them $1,000 per request and if you get five per day it could be a big problem."

Persist uses grid-like modular technology called SmartCells to find files by parsing metadata , or "data about data." For example, an e-mail includes the sender, the recipient, the time it was created, the IP address it was sent from.

The Persist software portfolio also includes an index and tools to search and retrieve structured and unstructured content, which is a big part of what interested HP in the company.

Persist rival Legato is now an EMC unit. Denise Reier, a Legato vice president, oversees the e-mail archiving segment of Legato's business, including an application called EmailXtender.

"Customers are driven by two different pain points," Reier told internetnews.com. One is risk reduction -- they don't want their name in the headlines in litigation or to be caught with any smoking gun e-mail. But they must balance that with the cost of procuring additional solutions to archive data. Storage management is not enough."

Like Persist's product, EmailXtender provides indexing and analyzes metadata. However, while most vendors offer the ability to find an e-mail addressed to a distribution hundreds of recipients, EmailXtender can extract the exact name to whom the file was sent to even though the sender is listed as a distribution list alias.

As for specific compliance rules, ESG's Gerr said that despite the very broad Sarbanes-Oxley popping up as one of the top compliance rules listed by vendors and customers, HIPAA is a larger opportunity for storage vendors.

"Sarbanes-Oxley is not that big a deal as it relates to storage industry," he said. "Sarbanes-Oxley is horizontal. It's about process and about setting an acceptable level of internal controls. . .It's not like HIPAA where you're required to keep a digital MRI for a patient for 90 years or so."

What's next?

Despite the furor to forge ILM strategies, not all corporations are getting on board, according to new research from Tower Group. The research group predicts this will change as more companies stumble on data back-up and end up slapped with fines.

"Tower Group believes that institutions may be looking at substantial technology investments in order to meet the requirements of financial transparency bubbling up from the transaction level," said Virginia Garcia, a senior analyst at Tower Group.

ESG's Gerr agrees that technology will shape the evolution of ILM as it proceeds to deal with compliance issues.

"I believe there will be a new cry heard coming from the vendors that are today all jumping onto the ILM bandwagon, and that is that "metadata is king; control the metadata and you control the information," Gerr said. "To me, this is why EMC's purchase of Documentum is a potentially (depending on execution, integration, marketing, and ultimately, talented sales) brilliant move."

As for specific technologies, Gerr sees optical backup solutions as a possible solution to the overwhelming number of disk and tapes in corporate storage vaults. Gerr said Plasmon has developed a new, ultra-dense optical storage technology that provides three times the density of disk storage at a fraction of the cost.

It appears compliance is here to stay, and so long as it does, ILM is too.