RealTime IT News

Jeff Nick, CTO, EMC

Jeff Nick Think the information-explosion notion is a myth perpetuated by information management vendors trying to sell you millions of dollars of storage gear?

At least one research firm disagrees. In an EMC-sponsored "digital universe" study, IDC estimated that 988 billion gigabytes of digital information will be created in 2010.

That figure is six times the amount of data we created in 2006. Where does it all end? Will the info glut stop before we find our data pipes gummed up, or at the very least, see our datacenters grow to frightening proportions?

Part of EMC  CTO Jeff Nick's job, along with his counterparts at IBM , HP , Oracle  and other information infrastructure providers, is to worry about this problem.

Nick recently chatted with about the study results and expounded on EMC's philosophies for handling the data dilemma.

Q: For information management purposes, EMC clearly has an interest in gaudy statistics like this, but why should we care?

Some of them are for impact and effect. My eyes opened wide on a couple of these things. Sound bites like these, grounded in fact, actually help the industry, help tech suppliers, help consumers actually grasp the magnitude of what we're discussing. I find it particularly helpful as a CTO because we tend to talk in strategic and technical terminology. But that's not as captivating as a simple picture or set of bullets. I think these numbers serve as a catalyst for meaningful discussion.

Q: Is EMC still positioning information lifecycle management (ILM) as an answer to this data explosion?

As information explodes and grows in its complexity and variety... rich digital media images, audio, multimedia, unstructured content, documents... there's a real challenge to the management of that info and how you derive value from it and protect and secure it.

Do the tools that are in place actually scale? I would argue that they do not scale. The reason is that we're forgetting the human element. The human element associated with information management, operations and protection and security and access, is the most expensive aspect of IT datacenters.

From that dimension alone, the sheer volume of information is driving and accelerating opportunities that require us to take ILM to a new level. That is what I call policy-based, automated ILM. We need to take the people out of the equation. We need people to specify policies and we need the software and hardware to behave in accordance with those objectives and automatically do backup, data migration, data replication and protection to the access of the information.

As the volumes of unstructured information explode, the tools put in place need to be coordinated so they don't overwhelm the businesses that are creating them.

Q: That policy-based approach sounds a lot like the manner in which IT people want to apply security these days, too. Is there a connection?

In the past, we've tended to think about securing infrastructure by putting up firewalls and locking things down in vaults. As that relates to information, that would make you kind of schizophrenic because you want people to use information and share information, so simply securing the infrastructure and the network and the resources doesn't give you nearly the right level of security granularity and policy controls to ensure the protection of information and the secure access and sharing of information.

We need to take the IT industry to a next level as it relates to information security. We need to have policy roles in place. We need to have more than just, "Oh this is a file versus a blog versus an image." We have to go beyond that to the content.

Q: Where security enters the conversation, compliance follows. What does the IDC report say about compliance?

As information grows in its complexity and its flavor, you have to ensure real-time access to information for business use. As we move from a Web-based mobile global world, with information created outside the firewall by consumers, small business and enterprises are sharing information.

That was called out in this report very clearly. There was a quote in the report that 70 percent of the digital information is being created by consumers and small businesses, and yet 85 percent of that information is flowing back to the large enterprises that need to protect it for legal and compliance reasons.

Businesses need to protect it, whereas if consumers lose their photos and they didn't back them up, oh well. But once transactions are committed into a bank, you won't take an excuse for why you're getting a billion-dollar bill because it was a mistake and they're sorry.

The fiduciary responsibilities on the enterprises that actually touch the information being created outside their domain are still a huge burden that the business world needs to step up to. It's amazing -- the volume of information coming from rich digital media and MySpace and Facebook. Ultimately there is a watershed that needs to be protected and managed by the enterprises that are touching it.

Q: What opportunities does EMC see for information management?

We're talking more and more about tools that allow us to gain access to the information in a semantic way, so that we can use it to turn from data to information and information to knowledge. This is becoming increasingly important, and is a challenge given the rich variety of information and the way one type of information relates to another.

If you look at the medical profession, there's a focus on text and images, on the day to day what's happening with a patient. You need to be able to share that information with others that have interest in that information -- radiologists, and other specialists. Who do you share it with after the patient is discharged? How do they gain access to records and make them securely accessible to another doctor? How do you find that information and how do you mine it? How do you use it?

This is an example of where I think the major opportunities and challenges for information processing really await us. This is the next step: to translate from data, to information that we can type, to knowledge that lets us discover, locate, access and reason about information.

That's where the information explosion that's talked about in this digital universe study is most compelling. You really do have to attack all of these different dimensions of security, information protection, management and knowledge management to connect the dots and help customers process their information assets.