A lot of the buzz that October's Storage Networking World (SNW) Orlando 2003 conference in Orlando, Florida, generated was due to Mark Lewis's remarks about the growing importance of Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). Lewis, EMC's executive vice president of Open Software Operations and chief technology officer (CTO), reiterated his company's commitment to ILM and underscored that EMC's acquisition of Documentum and Legato Systems this year was geared toward creating ILM products.

If nothing else, EMC's trumpeting of the ILM horn has forced its competitors to respond. At SNW, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) announced that it will resell IXOS Software's content-management software, a key ILM component. The following week, VERITAS Software unveiled enterprise data-protection software and solutions aimed at meeting regulatory-compliance needs. Both are features of ILM.

In many ways, the concept of ILM reflects the next level of Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM). In its simplest formulation, HSM lets administrators store less valuable and less frequently accessed data on less expensive, less interactive storage technology. In short, HSM established policies to move data from primary storage systems to secondary storage systems, then to archives.

ILM reflects the storage infrastructure's increased complexity after the emergence of disk-to-disk backup and other alternatives. ILM also addresses the need to ensure that certain data can't be changed after it's stored, the need for companies to be able to promptly restore archived data, and the growing number of data types that enterprises must preserve.

Without doubt, ILM is an important concept. But it's primarily just a concept--a way of thinking and the acknowledgment that organizations need to develop and execute sophisticated storage policies. Even EMC concedes that few products have been developed expressly for ILM.

Although ILM might be the newest idea to gain traction in the storage arena, it isn't the only new trend, and it might not even be the most important. A lot of the chatter at SNW Fall 2002 was about the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA's) Storage Management Initiative Specification. SMI-S is the storage subset of the Common Information Model (CIM), which defines the physical and logical structure and behavior of any object to be managed.

After the SMI-S is finished and integrated into products, developing management tools for storage infrastructures built upon heterogeneous technology will be much easier. Interestingly, the ability to eliminate multivendor toolsets is a higher priority for many storage administrators than is developing ILM procedures. At the most recent SNW, 20 vendors demonstrated their SMI-S implementations and many indicated that they would ship SMI-S-compliant technology by the end of this year.

Moreover, in mid-November, SNIA announced that the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) agreed to place SMI-S on its fast-track review process. As a result, SNIA officials anticipate that the SMI-S will become an official ANSI standard by second quarter 2004. Although SMI-S doesn't address interoperability concerns, it's an important step toward developing a unified storage-management layer.

But the major development that promises to shake up the storage sector over the next year is Microsoft's aggressive move into the arena. In September, Microsoft unveiled Windows Storage Server 2003. An upgrade to Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (WPNAS), the new OS incorporates certain crucial performance improvements--such as failover clustering, replication, and snapshot technology--that make it a formidable player in the enterprise. Furthermore, in mid-November, Microsoft announced the 14 storage hardware vendors whose Internet SCSI (iSCSI) technology had been certified as interoperating with Windows and Microsoft's iSCSI software initiator. (For more details about that announcement, see the November 24 issue of Storage UPDATE at http://www.winnetmag.com/windows/article/articleid/40943/40943.html.)

Microsoft's moves should have several results. First, Windows Storage Server 2003 will continue Microsoft's drive into the Network Attached Storage (NAS) marketplace; several OEMs have announced products based on the OS. As a result, storage infrastructures will become more complex rather than simpler. Second, the price of an IP Storage Area Network (SAN) will drop, putting SAN technology within reach of more companies. In fact, according to a Cisco Systems survey, cost has been the greatest deterrent to wider proliferation of SANs.

So, even if ILM was just the hype of the day at SNW, it's only one of many developments that bear watching by storage administrators. The industry doesn't lack important new trends.