Is IBM's Archiving Strategy on Solid Ground?
Early last month IBM (news, site) began the process of articulating its Smart Archive Strategy. Began, we say, because at the time of the announcement the company released IBM Information Archive, a disk-and-tape information infrastructure solution that offered a "unified storage” approach to archiving company information.

But they weren’t finished with that and only recently unveiled a number of other solutions that are designed to provide analytics and data discovery to companies looking to determine what information they should keep and what information they should bin.

All solutions provide a number of options for specific enterprise needs either individually, or combined, that should deal with the ever growing problem of information retention.

IBM’s Smart Archive Strategy

But before we look at what capabilities these solutions offer, or consider whether their strategy is a good or a bad thing -- although anything that deals with the growing volume of data can only be good -- let’s have a look at what exactly IBM means when it talks about its Smart Archive strategy.

As good a place as any to look is the IBM Blog, where Tony Pearson, a senior Storage Consultant and Master Inventor for the IBM System Storage product line, outlined what he believed the strategy to be.

The new "IBM Smart Archive" strategy, he said, integrates software, storage, servers and services into solutions that help meet the challenges of data retention at the moment, and into the future.

IBM, it seems, has been spending the past few years working across its various divisions and acquisitions to ensure that its clients have complete end-to-end solutions.

Thankfully, he clarifies this, as one of the biggest problems to date has been inflexible, monolithic archiving systems that are difficult to adapt and difficult to implement.

What Does IBM Propose?

But that’s not what IBM is proposing, Pearson says. In fact he is quite adamant that this is not what IBM is trying to develop either. What the Smart Archive Strategy envisages is a viable, flexible archive strategy rather than just mindlessly buying more disk and tape for a "Keep Everything Forever" policy.

Indeed, he argues that keeping all that information in your system can be a liability in that the data stored can, through eDiscovery, be used against you in a court of law, or could be if you could find what you are looking for as the documents and files pile up in your repositories.

The problem with most archive storage solutions is that they are inflexible, treating all data the same under a common set of rules. And it is this that IBM’s Smart Archiving aims to deal with.

Why Smart Archive Solutions?

The recently released batch of solutions offer analytics capabilities that will be able to access what information you have stored, what you need to store and what you can safely get rid of.

And let’s face it, this is the oversized elephant cheerfully stamping around your document management closet (and repository).

In Forrester’s Q3 2009 survey of companies, 60 percent of records management stakeholders rated synchronizing eDiscovery, records management and archiving during the eDiscovery process as “challenging” or “very challenging.”

Add into the pot current budgetary restraints combined with the cost of storing data and you get a very potent mix that could see you before the courts before you can say “I wish I had managed my archives better”.

Keeping Everything Is Not Possible

Keeping everything is just not possible. Ken Bisconti, vice president, products and strategy, IBM Enterprise Content Management said of Smart Archive at the launch:

To deal with growing volumes of information, clients need to retain only what they need. IBM is helping clients do this with a comprehensive set of software, hardware and service offerings, that will help ensure that critical information is properly retained.

And there in a nutshell is the practical side of IBM’s Smart Archive. The new solutions, IBM says, gives client companies a set of solutions that can be deployed according to need, offering a range of delivery options that can be used individually or combined depending on organization.

In other words, its focus is to provide archiving solutions to fit enterprise needs, rather than a solution which the company has to adopt to make it work.

Smart Archive Solutions

So what have they come up with? There are five different possibilities (so far).
These include:

  • InfoSphere Content Assessment which uses content analytics to identify high-risk and valuable content that needs management throughout its lifecycle while at the same time identifying content that can be dumped.
  • InfoSphere Content Collector which identifies and collects all content types from email and file systems, and which filters and transforms stored content as well as extracting metadata for better classification. It also includes support for SharePoint.
  • InfoSphere Content Collector integration with IBM Optim Data Growth which reduces database size by archiving content using common collection and classification technologies. It also makes all designated information available for records management and eDiscovery.
  • InfoSphere Classification Module, which automatically analyzes the entire text of documents or emails and creates metadata for consistent enterprise-wide classification.
  • InfoSphere Enterprise Records, which scales up to 20 million records per day and manages those records through their entire life-cycle.

At the time of the recent releases, IBM also previewed their new Information Archive Cloud Services for enterprise content management as a SaaS, although a release date was not mentioned.

. . .And The Reaction?

Reaction to the new strategy has been slow in coming, probably because of number and size of the solutions involved, and it will be some time before anyone can say for sure whether it is working or not.

However, those reactions that have been forthcoming have been positive and do seem to suggest that this is -- if you’ll excuse the pun -- a ‘smart’ move, even with some caveats that also need to be taken into account.

Not For The Clouds

Alan Pelz-Sharpe ECM analyst with CMSWatch suggests that the overall strategy is indeed sound, evenif it flies in the face of cloud computing advocates who would have companies store everything for ever.

While it argues that business information needs to be managed, “it doesn't all need to be managed equally. Junk needs to managed out quickly and disposed of. Mission critical information on the other hand needs close management throughout its life-cycle.”

Pelz-Sharpe also points out that following the IBM approach can and will save money as a huge part of a given company’s IT spend is wasted on the management of redundant and useless data.

However, he points out that there is no single element in the IBM Smart Archive that is new per se, it is the bundling in a unique configuration that is.

Nothing in the IBM Smart Archive is new as such, rather it is bundled and provided in a fairly unique configuration,” he says. “As most buyers have no idea about archiving -- they confuse it with storage. Bundling and configuring services together [therefore] makes sense.

Archiving, he adds, will grow in prominence as buyers and users come to understand that it can save them money if they dispose of unnecessary data when it is no longer needed.

Forrester Is Positive

Brian W. Hill from Forrester Research agrees and is also positive about the new strategy. In a recent blog entry he points out a number of other reasons as to why he thinks it is going to work.

One of the positives he sees is to adding order where chaos reigns. Currently many organizations have a very fragmented IT deployment non-policy (for want of a better word), which is dictated by deploying solutions for specific kinds of tasks like record management, archiving or for dealing with regulatory issues.

However, most of them developed organically along their own lines and in isolation once they were deployed, with the result that considerable IT time and money is spent trying to pull these fragmented solutions together. The Smart Archive package will provide a considerable advantage in such cases.

He also points out the advantages that IBM can bring to the table as opposed to providers that specialize in archiving for a particular content type or application.

What’s especially compelling about IBM’s strategic announcement is the broad range of functionality that IBM plans to support across structured and unstructured content. IBM’s capabilities to rationalize IT infrastructure and harmonize policies . . . [could provide] the vendor with potential competitive advantages in comparison with point solution specialists.

Begin At The Beginning

As a final point, and one that has probably been slightly over looked in the rush to develop and deploy solutions, is that companies need to engage with internal company process experts from the start before any solutions are implemented.

Archiving needs to planned, Hill says. There needs to be retention policies in place, users need to be trained and a holistic view of archiving solutions in conjunction with eDiscovery, document management and records management needs to be the rule rather than the exception.

As a final thought on smart archiving from Alan Pelz-Sharpe, he suggests we need to stop the nonsense that surrounds archiving at the moment.

It may seem boring, he says, but ultimately it is the warehousing and waste disposal service underpinning IT and we have been trying to get by without it for a long time.

The result is junk piled on junk, lost information, incorrect and misleading data and skyrocketing costs.