Content Management vs. Storage Management

EMC's purchase of Documentum, a leading provider of content-management technology, has raised the stakes for a new generation of storage-management functionality. By purchasing Documentum, EMC has demonstrated its faith that its content-addressed storage (CAS)--which until now has been a relatively niche-oriented technology--will be a significant driver of growth in the years to come. In fact, the deal could set off a round of intense competition among storage vendors and providers of content-management solutions alike. The result could be a more sophisticated, smarter storage infrastructure that gives administrators better control of the information-management life cycle.

CAS, which EMC offers through its Centera line of storage products, adds metadata--typically a unique address--to each piece of stored data. The addition of metadata facilitates storage and--more important--retrieval of unstructured data (i.e., data that resides outside a database) and data that's considered to have fixed content (e.g., an image). In general, CAS technology works best with information that doesn't change frequently. With CAS, only changed data is stored, potentially reducing storage capacity needs and lowering costs.

Several forces have fueled the growth of CAS. First, the amount of unstructured data, ranging from email to PDFs to images for Web sites, has exploded. Second, new regulatory compliance requirements mean companies must be able to retrieve vast amounts of archived information quickly and efficiently.

What CAS does from the storage side, content management does from the application side. Like CAS, content-management software adds metadata to unstructured data, enabling companies to better manage the documents that the enterprise produces.

The EMC-Documentum deal potentially heralds a bold attempt to marry CAS and content-management technology. This acquisition should trigger a flurry of responses from competitors in the storage arena and the content-management sector. One aspect of the competition will revolve around the use of proprietary versus open standards. For example, 2 weeks ago, Permabit, a startup company founded by veterans of the third-party IBM AS/400 Plug and Play (PnP) market, unveiled CAS technology that works with standard NFS and Common Internet File System (CIFS) storage interfaces. EMC's Centera technology, in contrast, has a propriety interface.

According to Richard Vito, Permabit chief operating officer (COO), content-addressable storage technology is now appropriate and affordable for workgroups and small implementations because Permabit technology can be used with off-the-shelf hardware and existing applications. Vito says that Documentum's competitors are also interested in incorporating the Permabit technology into their offerings.

Documentum's competitors in the content-management arena should open up another competitive front--the integration of content management and CAS with business process management. For example, Harris H. Hunt, director of product marketing at FileNet--which is known for its content-management and workflow technology--argues that the EMC-Documentum technology isn't process-oriented enough to meet the requirements of many applications.

As the competition in this arena heats up, storage administrators should keep at least three considerations in mind. First, CAS isn't a replacement technology. Although it can and should be applied to specific storage applications, you don't need to rip out and replace your entire storage infrastructure.

Second, CAS and content management address a deeply felt need in most enterprises--the need to be able to efficiently retrieve unstructured, stored data. For example, email plays a major role in the need for increased storage capacity. Why do people keep thousands of email messages and associated attachments in their Inboxes? Because keeping documents in the email system is a simple strategy that lets users use keywords to search for information. In many cases, storing information in an email program is more effective than storing it in a file system.

Finally, the EMC-Documentum deal marks the beginning of a road that eventually all enterprises will have to follow. Storage infrastructures must become more sophisticated and more intelligent. As the information haystack grows, the need to be able to find specific needles becomes more pressing.

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