Is There Life After ILM?

Remember all the hype about Information Lifecycle Management (ILM)? Not that long ago, you couldn’t get through a storage press release or presentation without running into the term. But in the last year or so, the acronym has faded from the headlines, replaced by the latest buzzwords like de-duplication and thin provisioning. So what’s up with ILM?

Laura DuBois, an analyst with International Data Corp. (IDC), believes the ILM concept had definite validity. But the timing of the hype cycle may have been a little off.

“ILM was a concept and buzzword that described a need and vision for how firms were to manage their information,” said DuBois. “However, the vision was developed while the tools to execute on the vision needed to catch up (and still do). As a result, users got skeptical and it brought about a negative connotation.”

Mike Karp, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, thinks that change was inevitable to any broad label like ILM. As technologies develop and as marketing perceptions are altered, the ILM concept may broaden, narrow or be called something else entirely such as storage tiering or hierarchical storage management (HSM).

“Major advocates of ILM like HP and EMC are still getting lots of mileage by addressing the problems that ILM hopes to solve,” said Karp. “Fundamental to all of this is understanding the value of data at each point within its lifecycle and then assigning the data to appropriate storage as its value shifts over time.”

Clearly, because data changes constantly, a lot depends on building a heavily automated infrastructure. Fortunately, said Karp, storage technologies are now able to support such automated data migration fairly well. And the three baseline technologies involved are becoming increasingly robust: SATA disk drives, data migration software, and the data classification software that captures an understanding of the data lifecycle itself.

“Even if the term ‘ILM’ is not seen quite so often in the marketplace, value that ILM delivers is still rolling out onto data center floors,” said Karp.


EMC popularized the term. At Storage Networking World a few years back, an EMC executive unveiled the first broadly viewed ILM presentation. And the results have been good for both EMC and storage software sales in general. According to IDC, the worldwide storage software market experienced its 15th consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth in the second quarter of 2007. That equates to revenues of $2.8 billion, a healthy 10.4 percent increase over the same quarter a year ago.

“Customer demand for products that manage and protect information more efficiently and cost effectively continue to drive the need for storage software,” said Rhoda Phillips, an analyst at IDC. “In particular, businesses are faced with increased regulatory compliance, litigation, and e-discovery requirements, as demonstrated by the fast-growing archive and HSM market, which posted 14.9 percent year-over-year growth.”

EMC remains dominant with a 24.6 percent revenue share, followed by Symantec at 17.5 percent, IBM at 13.0 percent and Network Appliance with 10.7 percent. EMC is currently bringing in $685 million a quarter in software revenue — not bad for a one-time hardware specialist.

Kevin Kempskie, a spokesperson for EMC, said ILM remains an integral part of EMC’s strategy.

“The ILM model was developed to address customer concerns over high availability and efficiency and a smarter way to manage enterprise information from cradle to grave,” said Kempskie. “Those concerns are still relevant today, but as IT environments have become increasingly complex, ILM has evolved. It has become part of an even more encompassing strategy — one that resolves some of the other pain points heard in IT shops everyday such as securing critical assets, storing more intelligently, virtualizing the information infrastructure, and many more.”

As an example, he cites the University of Missouri. It worked with EMC to help it accelerate the value, performance and reliability of its Microsoft Exchange messaging environment. Using EMC software, he said, the University implemented an ILM strategy to automate the capture and movement of information across storage tiers, accelerating Exchange backup and recovery and lowering storage administration costs. This strategy is also accommodating significant growth and accelerating the business value of their Exchange environment, he said.

“ILM is still a core element to how EMC helps our customers store, protect, optimize and leverage their information,” said Kempskie. “Even if ILM isn’t mentioned every day, it’s still an integral part of how EMC and its customers do business.”

He indicates that ILM adoption has been most prevalent in very large organizations. Such environments are more likely to have embraced tiered storage and applied ILM to multiple applications such as e-mail or ERP. In addition, the rise of archiving has also served to popularize ILM-like products to automate data mobility or adopt records retention strategies to meet various compliance mandates.

“Automated data classification solutions have been slower to catch on, yet there is still a customer need and a market demand for this technology, especially at the very high end,” said Kempskie. “EMC is also seeing storage infrastructures continue to evolve based on changing customer priorities.”

Security within the data center, for example, has become a much higher priority for many of EMC’s customers. As a result, the company is working with its RSA Security unit on software that goes beyond typical storage-based security offerings like encryption, single sign-on and authentication.

‘Information Centric’

As for ILM’s future, though, it may soon be replaced by another term. Kempskie explains that as IT organizations seek to extract more value from enterprise information, what he calls a more “information-centric” approach is emerging.

“To put information to work, organizations and individuals need to be able to store, protect, optimize and leverage their information,” he said. “Organizations realize there is great value in being able to share information, access it 24×7, correlate it with other information, retrieve relevant pieces quickly, apply it to decision-making, and secure it against unauthorized use.”

EMC’s next great pitch, then, is along the lines of: the most effective way to manage information as a strategic asset is by using an information infrastructure. This is described by EMC as a shared set of products, services and best practices for storing, protecting, optimizing and leveraging information.

“With an information infrastructure, people can avoid the potentially serious risks and reduce the significant costs associated with managing information while fully exploiting its value,” said Kempskie. “EMC believes information infrastructure is becoming the new foundation on which organizations can implement their ILM strategies, secure critical assets, leverage content for competitive advantage, and automate data center operations.”

No Longer Ideal

DuBois feels that when everything is considered, ILM as a buzzword is perhaps no longer an ideal term. As it was oversold before it was really market-ready, user skepticism is hard to overcome. Despite that, however, she is convinced that the concept of ILM addresses a valid problem that remains a central concern for storage administrators and IT managers — as data continues to grow, how can we continue to keep everything forever?

“We as an industry need to develop processes, policies and software to effectively manage the retention, migration and ultimate disposition (i.e., deletion) of data,” said DuBois. “This should be accomplished based on its business, legal or regulatory value, which is dictated by the information or content within the data or file.”

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.

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