Bridging the “storage-information” gap

When Nick first unveiled this blog last month he rightly noted ‘storage’ as one of the many categories that falls into a capacious bucket we term ‘information management.’ With this in mind he reminded me that it would be appropriate for the 451 Group’s storage research team to contribute to the debate, so here it is!

For the uninitiated, storage can appear to be either a bit of a black hole, or just a lot of spinning rust, so I’m not going to start with a storage 101 (although if you have a 451 password you can peruse our recent research here). Suffice to say that storage is just one element of the information management infrastructure, but its role is certainly evolving.

Storage systems and associated software traditionally have provided applications and users with the data they need, when they need it, along with the required levels of protection. Clearly, storage has had to become smarter (not to mention cheaper) to deal with issues like data growth; technologies such as data deduplication help firms grapple with the “too much” part of information management. But up until now the lines of demarcation between “storage” (and data management) and “information” management have been fairly clear. Even though larger “portfolio” vendors such as EMC and IBM have feet in both camps, the reality is that such products and services are organized, managed and sold separately.

That said, there’s no doubt these worlds are coming together. The issues we as analysts are grappling with relate to where and why this taking place, how it manifests itself, the role of technology, and the impact of this on vendor, investor and end-user strategies. At the very least there is a demand for technologies that help organizations bridge the gap – and the juxtaposition – between the fairly closeted, back-end storage “silo” and the more, shall we say, liberated, front-end interface where information meets its consumers.

Here, a number of competing forces are challenging, even forcing, organizations to become smarter about understanding what “information” they have in their storage infrastructure; data retention vs data disposition, regulated vs unregulated data and public vs private data being just three. Armed with such intelligence, firms can, in theory, make better decisions about how (and how long) data is stored, protected, retained and made available to support changing business requirements.

“Hang on a minute,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t this what Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) was supposed to be about?” Well, yes, I’m afraid it was. And one thing that covering the storage industry for almost a decade has told me is that it moves at a glacial pace. In the case of ILM, the iceberg has probably lapped it by now. The hows and whys of ILM’s failure to capture the imagination of the industry is probably best left for another day, but I believe that at least one aim of ILM – helping organizations better understand their data so it can better support the business — still makes perfect sense.

What we are now seeing is the emergence of some real business drivers that are compelling a variety of stakeholders – from CIOs to General Counsel — to take an active interest in better understanding their data. This, in turn, is driving industry consolidation as larger vendors in particular move to fill out their product portfolios; the latest example of this is the news of HP’s acquisition of Australia-based records management specialist Tower Software. Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring in more detail three areas where we think this storage-information gap is being bridged; in eDiscovery, archiving and security. Stay tuned for our deeper thoughts and perspectives in this fast-moving space.