The Evolution of the Archive

Steve Tongish, marketing director EMEA at archiving solution specialists, Plasmon

While archive storage products deployed 10 years ago share some basic attributes with contemporary solutions, radical changes in business needs during the period have lead to rapid development in the issues they address and a huge expansion of their technical ability. By taking a closer look at those business issues and tracking the development of archiving solutions to the present day we can perhaps get a glimpse of the future.

Historically, many archive configurations were installed as part of a specific project or to service the needs of a single department. The classic example is a document management application used exclusively for retaining business information directly associated with that department. Today, this is seldom the case. Most companies now recognise that the long-term preservation of business data can have a major impact on their whole organisation. Data lifecycle management, resource optimisation, risk management and compliance, as well as power consumption, are all serious issues that have grown in importance. These needs define the product capabilities developed by vendors and shape the archive management strategies deployed by organisations.

Data storage, risk and compliance
The first step in creating any archive is the identification and classification of stored information. This process allows companies to understand the full scope of their stored data so they can begin to apply retention rules that define the lifecycle of each data category including how long it must be retained.

The next question is where and how archive data should be stored? Resource optimisation acts to define when data is moved to different tiers of storage and which storage technologies should be used. The goal is to select appropriate technology while minimising the over-provisioning of expensive storage resource. For example, a well-defined archive strategy can dramatically reduce backup overheads for primary storage by offloading infrequently accessed archive data from volatile magnetic disk to a more stable storage media. Archive solutions that internally write data to multiple media types stored at different physical locations eliminate routine backup, reducing the amount of data stored which saves money and streamlines the backup and restore process. The net effect is a well structured multiple copy/media archive design where data can be accessed in a timely way despite many years of inactivity, system failure or site disaster.

Another big archive business driver is risk management and compliance. Exactly how a given company addresses these issues will be unique to their own risk tolerance and to specific regulations that may apply to their industry. While these issues can be difficult to define for some organisations, it remains an important fundamental consideration that cannot be ignored. Organisations need to define “best practice” processes for their archive environment, as well as, security standards to ensure the authenticity of their data. Without this framework in place, they will not comply with regulations or meet strict legal standards for eDiscovery and data admissibility; significantly increasing their risk profile.

One of the archiving strategies that has developed to address these issues is to centralise all of the departmental or project archive storage silos to the data centre. A centralised archive can be shared by multiple applications, consolidating storage hardware to provide an economy of scale and a reduction in administrative overhead. Additionally, by placing the data under central control, a much more structured archive strategy can be established. This allows companies to put in place corporate-wide policies on retention management throughout the lifecycle of the data. Establishing a best practice framework for the management of archive data reduces risk and lays the foundation for regulatory compliance.

As archive data has been consolidated into the data centre, new architectures required to meet enterprise class functionality and service levels have been developed. Professional archive products have incorporated more functionality, including capabilities such as data analysis and classification, data migration, encryption, de-duplication and replication for disaster recovery. Rather than acting as a passive storage device controlled by a single application, a contemporary archive can categorise unstructured data, ensure it is on the most appropriate storage media throughout its lifecycle, and provide the authenticity and retention control that is essential to compliance and risk management. Archive solution vendors that don’t provide the capabilities expected by enterprise data centre operations will struggle to compete in this evolving market.

‘Green’ Storage for the Data Centre
Energy efficiency in the data centre has emerged as a major issue for IT decision makers. Companies are compelled to reduce electricity consumption to counter ever-increasing bills, in addition to power availability restrictions which can hit IT infrastructure particularly hard. Within many data centres, infrequently accessed archive data is stored on power hungry spinning magnetic disk. Estimates suggest that as much as 25 percent of total data centre power consumption is allocated for the retention of archive data on magnetic disk. This represents a tremendous opportunity for savings.

The proper management of archive data can truly be seen as low hanging fruit in the green data centre. By moving less frequently accessed data off magnetic disk and onto alternatives with much lower power consumption, significant electricity savings can be achieved. Naturally, there is also a green benefit and many organisations leverage their power savings to promote carbon footprint reductions as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.

With no sign of cheaper electricity on the horizon, reducing power utilisation in the data centre will remain an important theme for years to come. Those companies that embrace the concept of a structured archive by selecting appropriate storage technologies throughout the lifecycle of their data (resource optimisation) will achieve much better data management and significantly reduce the power profile of their archive data.

The Future
With these business issues likely to remain and grow in importance in the foreseeable future, the archiving strategies and technical capabilities that have already been introduced will continue to drive future development. As with most sectors of IT that have reached a level of maturity, future change is likely to involve making solutions simpler to use, with more automation and at less cost. At the same time, product functionality will also continue to increase as business requirements become more demanding.

This evolution is a natural part of the IT industry. The interface between application and archive has shifted with the archive taking on greater management responsibilities. For archive vendors to be successful they will have to develop a broader, more “virtualised” view of their environment. Archive solutions need to provide a secure infrastructure for the retention and disposition of data independent of specific storage technologies. Data committed to the archive must be managed in a cost-effective way throughout its life so it can be accessed when needed without concern for where or how the data is physically stored

Archive solutions have evolved rapidly over the last few years. What began as products designed to address isolated storage needs have become comprehensive enterprise class solutions. Archives are emerging as virtual environments that can leverage the strengths of different technologies and provide the resilience essential for long-term retention, while meeting the security, authenticity and performance demands of today’s business. This evolution will continue into the future and tomorrow’s archive solutions will need to become even more sophisticated to cope with the ever increasing complexity of technology and business.

Plasmon is exhibiting at Storage Expo 2008 the UK’s definitive event for data storage, information and content management. Now in its 8th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme and over 100 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 15 - 16 October 2008

Source: StoragePR