IT Compliance Advisor

May 16 2011   6:19PM GMT

Use virtualization technologies to remove the hassle of e-discovery

Fohlhorst Frank Ohlhorst Profile: Fohlhorst

Compliance affects numerous technologies in the enterprise. Many compliance officers already know this and strive to make sure that data is properly protected, secured, audited and archived. Nonetheless, some are finding out that data security and storage are just not enough.

The primary tenants of compliance involve data security and storage, yet many overlook why that data is actually preserved. The reason is relatively simple — e-discovery — but the process is far from it, especially if an e-discovery probe involves any significant amount of time.

Take, for example, a situation where three years worth of financial transactions and related information needs to be recovered for an audit initiated by an e-discovery request. On the surface, the request may seem simple: Just run some reports from your applications and you are good to go, right? That sounds like a practical process that entails reasonable efforts surrounding data security and storage. However, let’s throw a monkey wrench into the works: In the past three years, IT switched mail servers, implemented new applications and performed OS upgrades — meaning you can’t just simply spit out a report.

Now, that may seem like an impossible situation, and for some it may very well be as it costs thousands of dollars to recreate the systems needed to retrieve that data. However, with a little bit of technology and a lot of planning, the process can be bought back under control. Let’s take a look at how to accomplish that very task.

First, compliance officers need to take a point of view where they can effectively recreate the past (sort of an information systems time machine). The trick to doing that involves regularly preserving data in a format that remains accessible with little effort. Perhaps a better way to describe it would be to use the phrase “virtual information systems time machine” — the key word being the word virtual.

I think you can see where I am going with this: I’m talking about leveraging virtualization technologies (server, storage and application) to recreate the past. It sounds complex, but actually isn’t. There are a few moving parts to keep track of and a few technologies that need to be implemented that will have an impact on IT operations.

First, let’s talk about preserving the data. The fastest way to go about that is with “snapshots,” whereby a snapshot of the data can be taken and stored at a certain point in time. But it doesn’t end with a data snapshot — that snapshot needs to be managed and preserved in a fashion where it can be remounted as a volume. With that technology in place, not only can the data be made readily assessable, but the supporting software can be as well. That is where virtualization technologies come into play.

Simply put, if you are running your servers, applications and databases under a hypervisor, you can just take a snapshot of the virtual hard drives involved and have the ability to recreate the environment at any time to ease e-discovery tasks. Until recently, attempting to do something along those lines involved a boatload of technologies and products. But, recently, some new ideas in storage have come along – namely, the combination of tier 1 and tier 2 storage technologies under a single platform. What’s more, physical-to-virtual conversion technologies have come on the scene to help simplify the move to virtual environments.

On the storage side, a high-speed storage area network (SAN) is probably the best way to handle the needs of accessing the data. However, that SAN solution should incorporate both tier 1 and 2 of the storage subsystem. Currently, one vendor comes to mind: Nimble Storage Inc., a storage-management manufacturer who has incorporated tier 1 and tier 2 into a single appliance that also supports snapshot technology.

The next piece of the puzzle can come from many different vendors, and that is the physical-to-virtual conversion technology (only needed if your systems are not yet virtualized). Backup vendors such as Paragon Software Group, Acronis Inc. and Symantec Corp. offer P2V applications (many as part of a disaster recovery suite). Most vendors of virtualization technologies, such as VMWare Inc., Citrix Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp., also offer P2V utilities.

Thanks to these new virtualization technologies, e-discovery can become a simple process of assembling the proper pieces of the puzzle and recreating the past.

Frank Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology arena. He has written for several leading technology and business publications, and was also executive technology editor at eWEEK and director at CRN Test Center.

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