Storage capacity is still in high demand, but the type of information in the enterprise is evolving.

A recent study by The Enterprise Storage Group of Milford, Mass., a research firm focusing on storage information technologies

and issues, found that information that is needed for long-term purposes, rather than day-to-day transactional information, is on the rise.

“”(The study) was not focused on a specific technology or specific vendor,”” says Peter Gerr, who runs ESG’s research practice. “”It was focused on a specific type of information, and really the transition of information from traditional transactional I/O binary ones and zeroes text-based information to a more rich dynamic type of content.””

This has sometimes been called rich media, says Gerr, or what he calls reference information. “”One of the characteristics of it is that it’s retained for a longer period of time.””

A good example of reference information is a medical record, such as a digital X-ray or MRI.

“”We found that reference information is growing faster than traditional information and that by 2004, will surpass traditional information,”” says Gerr. He describes traditional information as data from transaction systems, high volume and small file or block transactions that occur rapidly, or database information, which is typically an unstructured, large repository.

Gerr says reference information is growing at a 92 per cent CAGR compared to 62 per cent for non-reference information.

Reference information has unique requirements, says Gerr. The two for most users are indexing these assets and keeping down their total cost of ownership. “”The typical user that is leveraging referenced assets has a large repository of information that is in most cases offline and on tape, and their ability to index those assets is paramount as they try to reuse or repurpose those assets for future applications.””

Some of the industries that are using more reference information include health care institutions, which in some cases are required by law to keep documents on file for as long as 20 years, and financial institutions, which are using cheque imaging to speed up processing for customers. Business intelligence and customer relationship management software are also making more use of reference information, says Gerr.

EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass. is dubbing reference information fixed content, and is trying to address its customers’ requirements with its recently released Centera. The company calls the product the world’s first content-addressed storage solution, says Ken Steinhardt, director of technology analysis at EMC.

Centera is an entirely software-driven, online storage architecture. “”Most conventional storage products on the market have really been architected and designed around conventional types of applications — traditional online transaction processing, database, office applications,”” says Steinhardt.

He says one of the fundamental attributes of fixed content is that it has to be online, not archival or “”near line.”” It also needs to be authenticated — the system needs to be able to monitor the status of the document and verify in fact that it is the original document, not a corrupted version, regardless of where it sits in a storage network.

Centera is also designed to make better use of storage resources. For example, says Steinhardt, if eight people are sent the same PowerPoint presentation and decided to save it, Centera realizes that they all have the same file and only saves one copy, instead of eight. This, he says, is completely transparent to the user.

Gerr says EMC is definitely ahead of the curve in addressing the requirements of reference information, although he’s not one to declare a winner in the storage wars. What is clear, he says, is organizations need to network their storage first to be able to deal with reference information.

“”Information is the lifeblood of any organization,”” says Gerr. “”Storage is the gatekeeper.””

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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