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Reference This!

[letter to the editor, InfoStor, February 2004]

When I picked up the December issue of InfoStor, I noticed the front-page article titled “New Approaches to Managing Reference Information” – also available online. I’ve seen the term “reference information” floating around the storage industry for about a year now, so the title immediately caught my attention. Now that I’ve read the article, I have a few comments and clarifications.

The “reference information” issues raised in this article and elsewhere – e.g., searching, indexing, and long-term retention — may seem new to some people, but to anyone familiar with content management, these are issues that the content management industry began to address years ago (that is to say the *boom* began years ago). After all, “reference information” is nothing more than content.
Content comes in two basic flavors: structured (i.e., database) and unstructured (i.e., files). In that context, content can be further subdivided according to its specialized needs – for example, web copy versus multimedia files versus complex documents. The life cycle of content can be divided into four general phases: production (meaning it is unfinished), published (finished but not necessarily fixed), archived (fixed), and permanently deleted (a.k.a. shredded).

Storage vendors are finally (albeit slowly) incorporating core content management functionality into their products, as well they should be, because that is precisely where some of it belongs. But these vendors need to recognize they’ve arrived late to the content management party – about 10 years late, and the issues are neither new nor revolutionary. The problem space is well-defined, and after years of effort, customers are [arguably] finally accustomed to the terminology.

My advice to vendors – don’t complicate the lives of customers and salespeople by introducing yet another new term for an old concept. Instead, recognize that the convergence of storage management and content management is inevitable. Leverage the path that has been laid before you – hundreds of millions of dollars spent in customer education. And invest your resources to bring content management and storage management together to solve your customers’ problems.

While you’re at it, you can keep your “fixed-content data” too. Archived data will do just fine, thank you. When the U.S. National Archives changes its name to the U.S. National Fixed-content Data, then I’ll take back everything I’ve said.

As an aside, if you happen to have a print copy of the December issue of InfoStor, turn to pages 14 and 15 for an in-your-face illustration of the problem. Hint: Sony gets it.

[author’s note: If you’re interested in delving deeper into the needs of specialized content types, or you’re interested in discussing the convergence of content management and storage management and how it’ll affect your organization, drop me a line. In 2004 I plan to explore these topics in greater depth.]

This post was originally published in Data Mobility Group’s first blog, “Perspectives on Storage”, on January 3rd, 2004.

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