One of the major trends in enterprise storage has been the development of a management layer for the storage infrastructure. As companies increasingly move to different forms of network-based storage, they're either exploring or deploying technologies such as storage-resource-management software and storage virtualization to better use and exploit their storage assets. Over time, it's safe to assume that storage-network management will be tightly integrated into overall network operations.

But EMC's announcement of its next-generation EMC Documentum enterprise content-management platform is a reminder that storage vendors are also pushing their way into another key area of the IT infrastructure: the data-management layer of the technology stack. The EMC Documentum release, which EMC officials say represents the most significant advances in enterprise content management in several years and is the first to be unveiled since EMC purchased Documentum, is truly ambitious in scope. It offers a unified architecture for a wide-ranging suite of products. Among the key new features are a federated search capability that gives users a single point of access to search Documentum and other third-party content repositories both within and outside enterprises; a client for Microsoft Outlook that lets users save email and attachments in a Documentum repository, while maintaining the look and feel of Outlook folders; and transformation services that facilitate the conversion of desktop documents, images, and audio and video content into compatible content types.

These features are only one aspect of the new release. Documentum also provides wide-ranging functionality for business-process management and more collaboration services. And there is more. The new release also bolsters the Documentum platform's repository services by providing behind-the-scenes policy creation and enforcement, which helps companies meet document-retention and regulatory requirements. This feature, called Retention Policy Services, operates at the repository level and can be applied to all types of content. With it, organizations can develop retention policies based on events, conditions under which content should be disposed, information-lifecycle considerations, and other criteria.

Finally, EMC has also bolstered security in the Documentum platform by providing its Trusted Content Services, which delivers a common security model and audit trail across all applications that use the Documentum platform. Among other features, Trusted Content Services includes access control that depends on multiple rules, and digital shredding, which is a secure way to dispose of information and prevent its retrieval from storage media.

Clearly, Documentum is a major release. In fact, EMC claims that this is the first truly comprehensive ECM offering that's based on a unified architecture, as opposed to its competitors, who, EMC officials argue, offer only loosely integrated applications held together through a common interface. EMC executives say that by offering a completely unified stack that includes process and repository services, collaboration, automation, and security in addition to the traditional EMC functions, end users are in better position to realize the maximum value of their information at every stage of the information lifecycle.

Of course, EMC isn't the only player focused on delivering this type of content-management functionality. In early March, IBM unveiled a new software portfolio that extends its products' use of Web services to enable all types of content to be captured, managed, and searched across multiple repositories as part of normal business processes. As part of that announcement, IBM enhanced its workflow capabilities in IBM DB2 Content Manager 8.3 and its automated document-lifecycle-management features in IBM DB2 Document Manager 8.3. Furthermore, many other players are rushing to this space.

In short, the EMC Documentum announcement opens a new front for competition among storage vendors and others. In addition to providing tools to better manage storage networks, EMC is now fully engaged in offering tools to better manage the content stored on its devices. With regulatory issues and data-volume concerns high on the priority list of most storage administrators, content management is a pressing issue.

In many ways, the move by EMC into data and information management resembles the voice- and data-networking wars of the late 1990s. At that time, the question was whether data-networking vendors such as Cisco Systems would begin to provide the next generation of equipment to the large telecoms or whether the traditional suppliers of telecom equipment would gain ground in the data-networking arena. At this point, it looks as if Cisco has edged ahead.

In this case, EMC is making a run at the data-management layer of the technology stack. Will it gain control, or will the data management vendors assert more control over the storage infrastructure? This question will be resolved over the next couple of years. In the meantime, the game is on.