Byte and Switch has posted an article on ILM (Information Lifecyle Management) where users note that it is very difficult to classify data and to move large quantities from more expensive to less expensive storage. These problems are consequences of the industry’s flawed approach to helping customers manage ever larger data sets.

As I’ve noted before ILM is bunk because it is built on two broken ideas:

  • That IT organizations actually own the data instead being custodians of the data for users.
  • That HSM (Hierarchical Storage Management) systems make more sense now than in all the years past that people weren’t buying them.

The data ownership issue is critical to the classification problem. Users know what is important and IT doesn’t, so until IT can get users to classify data themselves, classification will only work for certain large, well-defined data sets.

Yet even if the classification problem is solved, there is still the problem that ILM is just HSM with a new coat of paint. And HSM has never taken off for a very good reason: given the choice between investing big bucks in HSM and just buying some more disks, most people found it made more sense to just buy the disks. They felt guilty about sweeping the problem under the rug, sure, but it got them through the year without having to buy and learn another complicated storage product.

So why all the hype about ILM? There could be a lot of reasons, but how about: some big vendors see it as a way to make a lot of money off customers?

Here’s my logic: Let’s say you sell the most expensive storage in the industry, you like what that does for your margins, and you don’t want to lower your prices too fast. Customers are moaning about TCO (total cost of ownership) and you want to become a software company because the margins are even better. So you task your marketing people with coming up with an excuse to sell more hardware and software to customers under the guise of caring deeply about helping them cut costs. Is this ringing any bells, EMC? ILM is the marketing gloss, and EMC has put its entire corporate sales and marketing energy behind it.

Too bad ILM is still broken.

This is where a bomb throwing (note to all NSA & CIA monitors: I mean that figuratively) company like the young Sun could kick some serious butt. As Jim Gray noted a couple of years ago, there is now no reason that all company data cannot be on line. In fact, there is no reason that all company data cannot be placed on cheap SATA drives and mirrored, so all the scary stuff about SATA reliability is put to rest. And then, of course, you don’t need big expensive controllers that do all kinds of fancy RAID magic. You may want a couple of large SSDs on your SAN for database acceleration, but with the continued cooling of corporate data, you probably don’t need much more. CDP? Ok. Remote vaulting? Sure. Disk to disk backup? Absolutely.

Since Sun won’t do it, maybe some other hungry company will. For SMB’s the lesson is simple: keep your storage structure simple and low-cost. Stay away from Fibre Channel SANs. And when that nice storage salesman drops by, hold onto your wallet.