IBM Q&A: Storage Strategies for Today's Enterprise

An IBM storage expert looks at the storage challenges and trends faced by today's IT department and offer suggestions for better storage management.

Growing data volumes, governance and compliance issues, and data redundancy are all pushing data managers to look for smarter storage options. We discuss these issues and look for solutions with Steve Wojtowecz, vice president of storage software development at IBM.

Enterprise Strategies: What's driving the need to re-evaluate current storage strategies?

Steve Wojtowecz: Storage is being looked at with new eyes as CIOs, line-of-business owners, and even CEOs see that storage and the protection of data is a critical component of managing Big Data, cloud computing, and analytics. It's also part of what IBM sees as a key trend -- the "Internet of things" -- that is, the network of information that exists in the growing number of sensors or microchips embedded in the objects and machines that are all around. The goal is to make all things instrumented and interconnected so that better intelligence can be applied.

Smarter storage and the protection of critical data are necessary for businesses to stay ahead as data continues to explode. In fact, 57 percent of IT decision makers from a 2011 IBM survey stated their organization needs a new storage approach to manage future growth. IBM's most recent earnings report saw a 30 percent growth in storage software, so there's an obvious demand for modernizing storage and the ability to manage it.

As we move forward in 2012 and storage becomes a key business driver, we expect to see new breakthroughs in storage research and business models.

Digital data is growing at an exponential rate and will reach 2.7 zettabytes this year according to IDC. How will storage architectures address this shift to a digital universe?

Since the early 1990s, increasing amounts of data created and used has been in the form of digital data. Yet, today's digital storage can, in many ways, be more perishable than paper. Disks corrode, bits rot, and hardware becomes obsolete. This presents a real concern of a "Digital Dark Age" where digital storage techniques and formats created today may not be viable in the future as the technology originally used becomes antiquated.

We've seen this happen -- take the floppy disk, for example. A storage tool that was so ubiquitous people still click on the icon to "save" their digital work, yet most Millennials have never seen it or touched it personally.

New research shows storage mediums can be, and will be, vastly denser than they are today. New form factors such as solid state disks will help us provide more stable, longer-term preservation of data, and cloud models allow access to data anywhere at any time.

Recently, IBM researchers combined the benefits of magnetic hard drives and solid-state memory to overcome challenges of growing memory demand and shrinking devices. Called Racetrack memory, this breakthrough could lead to a new type of data-centric computing that allows massive amounts of stored information to be accessed in less than a billionth of a second. This storage research breaks previous theoretical limits to data storage. With breakthroughs such as these, we are confident our digital universe will always be preserved.

Many believe having Big Data means needing bigger storage, but what steps can organizations take with the current storage they have to create more efficient, useful data storage and retrieval processes?

Organizations need to ensure they are integrating data curation with their storage strategy. Data curation is the active and ongoing management of data through its life cycle. This smarter data categorization adds value to data that will help glean new opportunities, improve the sharing of information, and preserve data for later re-use.

Social media is a great example of the power of curated data. Sites such as Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest compile our digital lives and give their users a platform to organize their content.

However, there's also a lot of work involved in selecting, appraising, and organizing data to make them accessible and interpretable. The key is bringing data sets together, organizing them, and linking them to related documents and tools. If data can be stored in a way that provides context, organizations can find new and useful ways to use that data.

What is one of the most important storage trends you're seeing for 2012?

Applying analytics to storage and the zettabytes of data contained in the storage to open new business insights is what we are seeing as one of the top priorities for our customers.

With the information that historical trending analytics and infrastructure analytics provides, you can index and search in a more intelligent way than ever before. By doing analytics on stored data, in backup and archive, you can draw business insight from that data, no matter where it exists.

The application of IBM Watson technology for health care provides a good example. Watson collects data from many sources and is able to analyze the meaning and context. By processing vast amounts of information and using analytics, it can suggest options targeted to a patient's circumstances, can assist decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, in identifying the most likely diagnosis and treatment options for their patients.

Through intelligent storage and data retrieval systems, we can learn more with the information we have today to improve service to customers or open new revenue streams by leveraging data in new ways.

What industries are you seeing as in greatest need of smarter storage?

As our digital and data-driven universe expands, certain industries are able to reach new levels of innovation by having the capacity to house, organize, and instantaneously access information.

For example, Hollywood movie-making creates big storage demands. New formats such as digital, CGI, 3D, and high definition impact not only the bottom line but studios' ability to produce these types of movies.

Data sets for movies have become so large it's at the petabyte level. Filmmakers are beginning to trade in film reels for solid state drives (SSDs); just one day's worth of filming can generate hundreds of terabytes of data. The popularity of these data-generating formats means studios are looking for new storage technologies that can handle the demand.

The health-care industry may be facing an even bigger data dilemma than the entertainment business. For instance, the Institute University of Leipzig, in Germany, has a major genetic study called LIFE to examine disease in populations. LIFE is cataloging genetic profiles of several thousand patients to pinpoint gene mutations and specific proteins. This process alone generates multiple terabytes of data.

Even one 300-bed hospital may generate 30 terabytes of data per year. Those figures will only grow with higher-resolution medical imaging, and new tools or services such as making electronic health-care records available online.

First it was e-discovery a few years ago, now as new compliance mandates continue to emerge, there's fear that you have to hold on to all your data. Is that actually the case?

Definitely not, especially when every byte of data costs money to store and protect. Businesses are turning into data hoarders and spending too much time and money collecting useless or bad data, potentially leading to misguided business decisions.

This practice can be changed with simple policy decisions and implementing existing capabilities in technologies in today's smarter storage, but companies are hesitant to delete any data (and many times duplicate data) because they fear they'll need specific data down the line for business analytics or compliance purposes.

Part of the solution starts with eliminating the copies. According to IDC, nearly 75 percent of the data that exists today is a copy. By deleting and disabling redundant information, organizations are investing in data quality and availability for content that matters to the business.

Consider the effect of unneeded data, costing money by replicating throughout an organization's information systems. This outdated data can also potentially be accessed for fraud.

IBM believes that firms will see a need to purge outdated information such as archived e-mail messages. As a starting point, by removing low-hanging fruit of stored data, firms can begin to slow growing costs of storage in the short term.

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