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For years there has been a dialog about turning data into information and the usual reaction is the slight tilt of the head and a glassy gaze from the listener that is akin to a dog’s reaction to a high-pitched whistle.  We then go into the definitions of data and information discussing the differences between the two. 

EMC is one of the leading storage vendors and they have a smart and pithy tagline – “Where Information Lives”.  Information does live within storage systems and they house information, protect it and make it accessible to users and applications.  However, storage systems do not make the information useful to the front-line businesses that own them. 

Many storage system folks will respond, ” That isn’t true.  We have CAS and NAS solutions that make use of information.”  This might be true on a limited basis but overall we have failed to bridge the gap between storage infrastructure and information.  Once we had high hopes that this would occur, but it is yet to be realized on a mass scale. 

The reason we have not achieved this is because it is the job of applications to deal with the use of information.  Therefore, information lives on storage systems but the greater use of that information is via applications. 

The problem with applications is that there are so many of them and they each generate information that is proprietary.  There is no correlation of information.  There is no single pool of information.  All of our information is stovepiped.  As such, we limit the use because our information is bounded and boxed. 

I submit that we need information applications that have a universal or federated view of all the information within a company.  The information application (IA) would provide users the ability to access data regardless of what application created it.  At the heart of the IA would be search and indexing – consider it middleware or the engine – that sits between the IA and the company’s storage.  The IA would allow for analysis and cross correlation of information.  The IA would provide tools to re-use of data.

Search already is an application providing tools and use of information.  However, I am also talking about using search and indexing for deeper integration within existing applications and as an engine for new applications.  There will be applications that use the concept of IA as a component and pure IA applications. 

This is a new idea and like so many new ideas it will be met with some misunderstanding (we can already do that), with lots of questions (how much will this cost and whose budget does it come out of?), and with hopefully inspiration to take it further (we can build it).  Information applications will turn the Information Age into the Useful Information Age.

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I was an industry analysts for many years. I focused heavily on storage systems and was convinced that search and storage would eventually be like peanut butter and jelly. Although we have not seen the realization of this yet – I am still convinced that it needs to and will ultimately occur. However, like all things in the data center, it just takes time.

There are practical reasons why storage and search aren’t more bounded together. For one, search solutions haven’t been scalable or intelligent enough to provide the value that IT professionals are looking for. Second, most search solutions have been associated with specific storage systems and not the entire storage complex. That is very limiting. We need Enterprise search solutions that can access all storage within an organization. The third big issue is that storage adminstrators haven’t figured out why they need it. There are some applications and use cases that are a priority – such as eDiscovery. But storage admins have not found the killer app that gives them that “aha” moment where they just need to have it and are willing to invest time and money.

What is the killer app for search and storage? I believe one killer app is using a universal search application as a tool to give Enterprise end users greater access to the company’s data. We create so much content, using any number of applications, and instead of looking for data via the various application interfaces, having a single pane of glass, to get to any and all content in the Enterprise, would provide huge increases in productivity and efficiency.

This concept should not be a leap for most people , but since no one is complaining about it or demanding it, it isn’t a priorty. However, if you think about the power of being able to easily access content – data – information – we all know that mountains can be moved when this ability is provided. This is where storage admins have to transcend their nuts-and-bolts view of the world and think about the business and how they can apply technology to elevate the companies they work for. It is “right brain” thinking (creative) versus the typical “left brain” logical and rational thinking that is typically needed in the data center. Only by combining the creative and the logical can real leaps forward be made.

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