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Sergey Nivens - Fotolia

Your enterprise data management strategy needs a superhero

Data management products are the Superman, not the Batman, of storage. They have built-in superpowers that provide the innate power needed to manage data.

Is it just me, or are meta-humans becoming meta-boring? Summer 2017 seems to have passed by in a blur, punctuated every few days by yet another "blockbuster" movie based on a Marvel or DC superhero. My kids want to see every one, of course, despite the commonality of the plot lines. We usually end up debating the fidelity of the movie to the comic or canonicity of this installment to previous films in the series. Frankly, it's getting pretty yawn-inducing.

This is the same feeling I get when a vendor pitches his latest storage wares, which are increasingly contextualized as big wins for data management. Truth be told, most of these products aren't doing much at all in the way of enterprise data management strategy -- at least not in the grand sense. Just as most of the Avengers and Batman don't actually have any superpowers, it seems discordant to hear some vendor woo me with his "data management" riff when he's really talking about storage management or simply flash storage, object storage or a cloud storage service.

Real data management isn't just about moving data among different storage tiers based on its hotness or coldness. No matter how many times IBM says "hot edge, cold center" to describe a managed storage infrastructure, it still sounds like they are describing a Pittsburgh-style steak rather than data management technology. And whether you're Cohesity, Ctera, Nasuni, Panzura or any of a dozen other "data management" companies, the agenda you're advancing sounds a heck of a lot more like a pitch about the need for more flash, cloud or object storage than a better enterprise data management strategy.

Don't get me wrong: There may be a lot of value in providing a better caching algorithm to position frequently accessed data on an edge NAS device to get to that data faster than in a public cloud or to let users and apps still tied to file systems, rather than object storage, access it. But this approach is really just adding an armored flying suit to Robert Downey Jr., not gifting us with a meta-human like Superman or the Flash. And while I like Scarlett Johansson's costumery and keen marksmanship as Black Widow, even she can't really wield Thor's hammer or imitate those crazy demigoddess antics of Wonder Woman.

Enterprise data management strategy technology is to storage what real superpowers are to comic book characters. It is built-in by design, not bolted on or a byproduct of something else.

Let's get real

Technologies such as hierarchical storage management, archive, scale-out storage, storage virtualization engines, cloud gateways, object storage models and flash storage aren't data management. They're storage-focused optimizations that have value in terms of capacity allocation efficiency.

We need a superhuman brain to calculate the myriad variables involved in the exercise of managing files and objects.

Real data management technology is data-focused, not storage-focused. Real enterprise data management strategy moves data around infrastructure based on many criteria, but the important ones target business processes rather than storage capacity. Data management is the outward expression of data genetics, not simply an external push-pull engine imposed on data. It's what happens when you let data be itself; when you cater to data's lifecycle requirements as defined by the business process that creates and uses the data.

The Incredible Hulk is at his best when the Avengers understand that his secret is that he's always angry and always the "Green Guy" in potentia. Similarly, data has an inner life. It's hot for a time, then cools. At each stage, it has different hosting requirements with respect to accessibility, protection, preservation and privacy that are mostly defined by the business process.

By contrast, Batman is no superhero. Bruce Wayne simply has a lot of money to throw at controlling conditions in battles. He has lots of accoutrements in his utility belt and his batcave that sometimes work to bend outcomes to his will. That he isn't entirely bulletproof like Superman adds to the drama, but we don't really want that kind of unpredictability in data management products. We want a real superhero who can handle the trillions of decisions that go into matching the right resources and services to the right data at the right time to satisfy picayunish business and regulatory and legal mandates around data handling.

Data management superheroes

The meta-humans, those superheroes in the real world of data management, are companies like StrongBox Data Solutions and, perhaps, Primary Data and someday IBM. They get the fact that data management is more than storage tiering, archive, scale-out NAS, object storage or cloud. It's a brew of a metadata-driven global namespace, storage resource and storage services management engines, as well as cognitive computing processors that interpret business policies and open the right doors for data to move through in order to get to the memory, disk or tape medium it needs when it needs it -- all transparently to the end user or application.

Given the volume of data, we need a superhuman brain to calculate the myriad variables involved in the exercise of managing files and objects across a constantly changing universe. And you may need some superhuman skills to manage the vicissitudes of amorphous clouds or flash technologies that are still more "marketecture" than architecture. That's why real enterprise data management strategy trumps a bunch of "cool" vendor technologies that don't do a lot to manage data itself at the end of the day.

Now, I realize that if you aren't a fan of comic books or of the many movies based on them, this month's column may be meaningless. If so, find a kid to explain it or catch up on Netflix. 

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