Dave Gingell, VP marketing, EMEA, EMC Software looks at the challenge of integrating content management and tiered storage.

The technology marketplace is seeing some interesting new trends around information management integration. One of the most challenging, but promising developments is integrating three different systems for enterprise-level information management: content management, email management and tiered storage management.

Content management and email management technologies are quite different in scope and purpose, and bringing them together requires a sophisticated level of information handling and infrastructure integration.

The second challenge is equally important: developing content and email management systems that operate efficiently in cost-effective tiered storage environments.

Marrying email and content management

Most firms understand the importance of managing email stores both for total cost of ownership and compliance.

Email gobbles up huge volumes of storage space, so email management systems capable of controlling copies and making intelligent decisions about what to keep or delete are a necessity.

And with email as such an important part of business and records management, email management applications must also be capable of fast search and retrieval by a variety of different parameters and across multiple storage devices.

These same requirements are now inching towards content management systems, which help organisations corral multiple unstructured and rich media documents, practice versioning and workflow, and control check-in/check-out procedures, all while optimising the underlying storage platforms.

Older systems cannot manage very large volumes or multi-storage targets well, and have search and retrieval systems that cannot intelligently group similar documents for project management or compliance demands.

Content managers, executives and end-users all benefit from applying comprehensive storage management techniques to content management repositories and meta-indexes.

The three major drivers for improving and combining email and content management systems include storage savings, consolidating information for quick search and retrieval, and regulatory compliance.

  1. Storage savings. Multiple copies of documents and emails present a big challenge in controlling information volumes. Both email and content management systems can eliminate duplicates by giving users shortcuts (or pointers) to a single stored copy, thus dramatically reducing required storage space. And both email and content management systems benefit from automated policies that can carry out scheduled (legal) deletions and information movement to less costly storage platforms when appropriate.
  2. Consolidating information. Many companies are hampered during legal investigations because they don't know what information they actually have. They also struggle to leverage valuable historical information that may be spread over many different devices and systems. Information management systems that can track, index, archive and retrieve stored information from multiple locations and by multiple parameters, allow firms to quickly retrieve related sets of content.
  3. Regulatory compliance. Compliance demands affect the entire company, not just a department or workgroup. Companies often must change localized or even regional compliance measures to enforce enterprise-wide policies, and need integrated information management technology to do it.

Keys to integration

Content management systems are common in business, but are often designed to serve specific business areas like technical publishing, compliance documentation management (e.g. for Sarbanes-Oxley or new drug application submissions), engineering drawing management, marketing resource management, or contracts management.

But content management developers are increasingly feeling the pressure to combine and integrate their systems with email management capabilities and extend them to the enterprise. Email is, after all, just another type of content.

That is not easy to do, since content management and email management systems are two very different animals. Content management systems are primarily concerned with managing electronic documents for version control, revision tracking, workflow and end-user ease of use.

Functions might include document creation and editing, check-in and check-out control from a central repository, versioning and workgroup collaboration. Content management’s primary storage concern has been to keep information and its history accessible to users.

With the recent growth in compliance regulations, classic content management systems have suffered from inadequate search and retrieval features, and an inability to index content on the vast array of content sources that exist in a given company.

In contrast, email management systems exist to control storage costs associated with huge email volumes, and to meet compliance and discovery demands. Storage systems for email management must lend themselves to fast search and retrieval across numerous storage locations.

Email management, particularly in the financial sector, also relies on the storage subset of compliance-ready storage, which proves the integrity of the original item and protects it against modification or accidental (or illegal) deletion.

This type of storage protection revolves around authenticity, reliability, integrity and availability where the email can be located, grouped by parameters and retrieved in a quick turnaround.

Integrating the two types of systems provides a centralized way to manage information across the enterprise. An integrated system provides content management features like versioning, workflow, enterprise-wide search and archiving; while the email management module stores, indexes, controls and retrieves messaging data with an eye to cost-effective storage and compliant systems.

Both systems can work together to produce related sets of information on demand, even if they're wildly differing content types. For example, an integrated enterprise information management system can produce all content related to a certain project even though the information consists of Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, rich media, email messages and attachments.

Even better, the integrated system is in turn connected to the company's tiered storage infrastructure. The information management application's search wasn't relegated to its own central repository, but was conducted across email servers, a NAS containing rich media images, an online tape library and a SAN.

And the data is highly protected, available and cost-effective since the integrated tiered storage management observes different protection and availability levels, automates data movement and deletion, searches and restore from archives, and provides cost-effective enterprise storage architecture.

Integrating information management systems and storage

The integrated system deals effectively with many types and differing values of information. Tying in this system with a tiered storage infrastructure allows for business policies to trigger the movement of content between different-priced storage platforms based on changing information such as document aging, retention policies, metadata values and life cycle state changes.

This means that when information is most heavily used and has the most value to an organisation, it can be stored on a high-end, fail-safe storage platform, but moved to a lesser expensive option when it is archived, for example.

This combined management application should not be solely tied to its own repository or proprietary storage system, but should be able to index and retrieve from most existing content sources, as well as backup and archiving software and storage devices.

Devices should include common storage infrastructures including JBOD, RAID, CD and DVD jukeboxes, optical laser disks and tape data storage as well as networked storage systems such as network attached storage or storage area networks.

The content management application should also be able to search across the many types of content storage such as websites, shared file servers, portals, other content management systems and more.

By integrating with tiered storage management, integrated information management systems benefit from automated policies, built-in data protection for its content stores, and the ability to seamlessly interact with data protection applications and storage targets.

Storage management also allows the content and email management system to collect or index related documents across a variety of heterogeneous storage targets, schedule and automate regular tasks, store the attributes of archived objects and quickly retrieve content.

Automating information management applications with automated policies helps to observe compliance regulations and dispense with accidental deletions (never a good thing). This also lowers TCO by balancing content across storage targets based on availability, protection and performance needs.

If this all sounds like information lifecycle management (ILM), it is. ILM is the process of intelligently moving information through a continuum of storage media based on the timely and changing value of information to the company.

An ILM strategy closely ties information management abilities to important applications, processes and initiatives. Working with a variety of data types, ILM tools direct data movement using centralized policies.

An ILM-based storage infrastructure works over heterogeneous networks and storage devices, which allows integrated content and email management systems to match changing data values to networked resources throughout the data life cycle. Integrating storage management with content and email management builds a critical foundation for ILM.

In order to do this effectively, storage infrastructure and information management applications must be aware of each other and work well together. This means combining tiered storage management with specialized storage systems handling certain data types, such as content management repositories or email archiving systems.

Storage, content and email management vendors should support integration by swapping APIs and CLIs and working with accepted standards. In some cases, vendors are already combining internal product development to integrate all three systems.

This three-way integration is a natural development: email management and storage already go hand-in-hand, and pressure is increasing to include content management systems in ILM strategies.

By widening information management integration to include content repositories, ILM-based information management can expand its influence and increase its value across the enterprise.

With larger and more sophisticated repositories and content management systems capable of indexing and storing on distributed media, content management is becoming deeply entwined with storage management.

And by adding email management to the mix, new information management and storage developments promise to increase compliance abilities while decreasing storage and storage management costs, and to help organizations to maintain and leverage their valuable historical information.