Lifecycles of the Uninformed

Lifecycles of the Uninformed

A data deluge finds our determined do-it-yourself columnist going the ILM route. He discovers it's tougher than pulling teeth.

I found my storage consolidation exercise, detailed in last month's column, resulted in a lot more data than I realized I had, or knew what to do with. Naturally the solution is to add more technology so I, like many CIOs, have recently been investigating information lifecycle management (ILM) systems.

In any ILM system there are user requirements and retention requirements, which are usually diametrically opposed. Setting up user policies involved discussions with all our home office employees about their information utilization requirements, which mostly consisted of "Not sure", "Don't know" and "Um". My user requirements documentation is four lines of notes and half a page of doodles.

Retention policies are mandated by constantly updated regulations emanating from government and industry bodies. I resolved to get a clear idea of my obligations and so spent hundreds of hours on the Web and waiting in government offices and on phone queues. I ended up with such a huge volume of often conflicting information, I need a separate ILM just to manage the regulations about managing information.

Armed with my documentation, I created my ILM according to the published standards, which I got from a vendor brochure I'd picked up somewhere.

Step 1: Discover data.That was easy. It's all in my shiny new storage centre.

Step 2: Classify data. That was easy too. I established a data grading system I call IHUP - Important, Handy, Unimportant and Prefer-To-Lose. By sheer coincidence, the user discussion analysis resulted in all my data being graded Important and everyone else's data being Unimportant or less.

Step 3: Establish data tiers. That was hard. The CFO posed some difficult questions as to why, when I've recently spent money purchasing consolidation storage, I'm now proposing to spend more on unconsolidated WORM & Tape storage for data I've only just migrated to the consolidated storage system.

I was further delayed when the junior employee asked me to download all her camera phone photos, which I'd not factored in, so it was back to "Step 1: Rediscover". What I discovered was mobile phones have an enormous amount of digital data including ringtones and SMSes that "just had to be saved because they're from Brady who's such a spunk and here's some photos of him and . . ." When I classified the phone data as P (Prefer-to-Lose) my user violently disagreed, so the Boss got involved, and now all phone data is classified as Handy. Although the Boss and I agreed this information would be migrated to P grade within three weeks, as this was the usual time period between the designations "such a spunk" and "such a loser".

Step 4: Implementing policies to automatically handle data migration as its value to the organization reduces. The value of this step was greatly reduced when I realized I had no idea how important any of our data was, so I skipped it entirely and went straight to "Step 5: Data Migration".

Copying data between storage devices was great fun until I accidentally copied some questionable tax records, classified as a very firm Prefer-to-Lose, to WORM media. Obviously the drive was unwilling to delete it by the conventional method, but using a different backup method - reversing the 4WD over the media - achieved WORM (Write Once, Remove, Mutilate).

I'd just completed this project when the Boss asked where the files for her book group had gone. I'm sure I classified these as Unimportant, but I couldn't find them on tape, on disk or under the cupboard. Now I'm looking for software that automatically does both data migration and classification, as expecting someone in the business to understand their own data is clearly unfeasible. v

Bruce Kirkham is a veteran IT professional specializing in leading-edge technologies and scepticism, who views the IT industry not so much as "dot com" as "dot comedy"

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