Information Lifecycle Management (ILM)--which increasingly is being defined as managing the storage of data from the moment it's created until the moment it's no longer needed and thrown away, as opposed to passively warehousing it indefinitely--has climbed to the top of storage administrators' agenda. According to a recent survey by GlassHouse Technologies, ILM is the top storage priority for all sizes of companies, ranging from those that manage 10TB of data to those managing more than 500TB. In last year's GlassHouse survey, in contrast, security and virtualization were the leading concerns.

According to the survey, which polled around 100 storage executives worldwide in companies of all sizes and industries, the interest in ILM is fairly straightforward: ILM is seen as a way to cut costs. Storage administrators view the tiered-storage approach associated with ILM as a method of controlling unit costs, instituting tighter data retention, and establishing deletion policies to control storage growth. All can help reduce the total cost of ownership.

Despite the evident interest to date, ILM has been primarily the purview of large companies. Small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) have largely sat on the sidelines and for good reason. "ILM is really complicated, and they (SMBs) don't have the resources to do it," says Chris Stone, vice president of sales and marketing at Breece Hill, which markets a disk-to-disk-to-tape (D2D2T) storage appliance aimed at the SMB market.

In fact, the complaint that ILM is too complicated and costly is widely heard. Nevertheless, SMBs face the same regulatory compliance issues that are compelling companies to retain more data for longer periods of time. SMBs have to be able to retrieve data within the same time periods, if it's requested, as their larger competitors. And perhaps even more than large companies, SMBs operate under tight budget restraints.

So how do SMBs get into the ILM game? The answer comes from two directions. On the one hand, sophisticated new technology has been introduced that can reduce some of ILM's complexity of ILM. On the other hand, some people argue, ILM doesn't have to be as complex as it's usually presented.

The problem with ILM, says Bill Reed, vice president, sales and marketing, at Abrevity, which offers Information Value Management software technology, is that the first step requires extensive data discovery and classification. The usual metadata associated with files--for example, file type, file size, and creation date--isn't really sufficient. "You may have data that's two months old and worthless or data that's two years old and critical," Reed says. For effective ILM, companies have to know and understand the data in their files and make associations among them. Only then, can IT implement policy-based management.

Typically, Reed says, ILM vendors' solutions don't address data discovery and classification. The two technologies generally used for those tasks--building a relational database or using enterprise search technology--aren't really sufficient. A database, Reed argues, doesn't scale enough and is often too costly for SMBs. Typical search technology provides too little context for the information Abrevity's FileData Manager, a relatively low-cost and simple-to-use technology, is intended to address this problem. FileData Manager provides user-selectable metadata parsing, content and context data extraction, and automated file-tagging for proper classification.

Although Abrevity offers intriguing new technology, some people argue that SMBs should rethink what they need to do to implement ILM. "Many companies don't need to know what's in their files," says Breece Hill's Stone. "They have to know where their quarterly tax returns are but \[not\] where Mr. Smith's tax return is."

Instead of ILM, SMBs should think about what Breece Hill is calling DLM or data lifecycle management. Frequently, understanding the time value of data is not that complex, said Pat Blakey, director of marketing at Breece Hill. What can be challenging for SMBs, she adds, is simply setting up the tiered storage layers appropriate for different data. "A lot of configurations will meet their needs, depending on their data-retention needs and workflow," Blakey says.

Ironically, both approaches for getting SMBs into ILM can be correct. ILM's apparent complexity shouldn't deter SMBs from systematically exploring its benefits.