For more than 80 years, American Textile Company has been a leading supplier of mattress and pillow protectors, bed pillows, and mattress pads, and its VP Information Technology John Miller is one of the most highly respected IT professionals in the Pittsburgh area. A 10-year veteran at American Textile, Miller has watched the company’s data storage grow at a rate of 5 TBs per year. Some key contributors are Marketing, which produces huge files of packaging artwork for thousands of products, and the shipping department, which stores countless bills of lading PDFs for orders shipped.
“Shared Drives Should be a River, Not a Lake.”
Miller is also keenly aware that many employees store personal files in their “My Documents” folder on one of the firm’s servers. When Miller first reviewed the content, he found files dating back to 1999. “At virtually any company, you’ll find that users are really good at creating content and posting data to the shared drives, but really bad at maintaining and cleaning up after themselves. Shared drives should be like a river with content flowing in and out, not a lake.”
Miller knew he had to find a solution. “It was growing out of control and taking two weeks to back up our servers. We purchased additional storage to enable us to back up in one week, but even that was too long.” What especially pained Miller was the knowledge that his team was backing up data that was long past the point of being useful. “We back up files that no one even knows are there and haven’t been accessed in years: it’s inefficient and I’m using IT resources to continually back up and change tapes.” Miller is also keenly aware that retaining so much out-of-date data is a potential hazard. “The risk of discovery far outweighs the benefit of being able to find an old email,” he observes.
Miller’s first solution for managing data growth was to educate employees about the need to ‘clean house.’ “We told everyone that they ‘had two months to archive obsolete files before we purge.’ But the human-centered approach doesn’t work, because you’re relying on people to remember to do it, and there’s so much new content getting added every day.”
Sherpa’s Altitude IG: Customizable Rules for Data Governance Policies
Miller learned about Sherpa through a friend of their Chairman of the Board. What attracted Miller to Sherpa’s Altitude IG® software was that he could set the parameters for retention and deletion based on the needs and culture of American Textile, rather than shaping their culture to the capability of the software. Whenever IT sets out to implement a data governance policy that involves deletion of user files, it’s common to get pushback from employees. Altitude’s infinitely customizable workflows could mitigate their concerns.
“For Altitude, the key for me was that it was rules-based – and we get to set the rules,” says Miller. “Different departments have different needs. Shipping’s bills of lading need only be retained long enough to verify that the correct shipment has been received. Compare that to HR, which needs to maintain data in perpetuity. Sherpa’s workflow engine gives us the tools we need to customize the exceptions – the if’s, then’s, and but’s: we can make our policy as complex as we need it to be.”
An Automated Solution for Enforcing Policy
And almost as important for Miller was the fact that Altitude is an automated solution. “I don’t want the burden of manually running a program each week or month. I can automate it, put it on a schedule, and have it run automatically on a recurring basis.”
Measuring the ROI
American Textile installed Altitude in December 2016. “I have nothing but compliments for the whole process, from sales through installation through production,” says Miller. “Sherpa support assisted us with the installation; it went very smoothly and required a minimum amount of time from my team. And setting up the configuration for our first purge was painless.”
Miller is pleased with the results so far. “We started by taking a crack at 8-year-old content, and eliminated terabytes of data. Then we started to run it on 6-year-old data. Then we’ll run for four years, then two years on the departments that allow us. In the Accounts Receivable department, we have massive bills of lading PDFs for every order shipped going back to 2002-03. With Altitude, we can build into the policy that those PDFs get deleted after one year, which is more than long enough.”
Using Altitude to run their new retention/deletion policy can accrue a measurable return on investment: Miller believes they can cut storage on the network drives in half, and greatly reduce their back-up time as well. “We just paid $15,000 to buy extra space on our back-up server, and our company is growing. If I can avoid buying more servers, that could save us $15,000 – $20,000 per year.” That ROI will grow when Miller co-locates their backup and replicated servers to an offsite storage vendor. “The less data I have, the less it’s going to cost me to co-locate and the less I need to replicate. I’m no longer thinking about just what I’m storing here; I’m thinking about what I’m paying someone to manage for me there. And an offsite storage is not a capital expense I can depreciate; it’s an operating expense I have to pay every year.”
Moving forward, Miller plans to use Altitude to run policies on their SharePoint data. “Our SharePoint folders already have their share of obsolete data, especially from users saving every version of a given file. We need a tool to get rid of the interim versions.” Miller also plans to implement Altitude retention/ deletion policies on email inboxes, which have swelled well beyond what is considered best practice in the industry.
Miller concludes by saying, “I’d absolutely recommend Sherpa to others. It works exactly as advertised. I’ve been in IT for over 40 years and far too many times, I’ve seen things that were supposed to work a certain way, but brought us unpleasant surprises. Let’s call those ‘Undocumented Features,’” he observes with a wry smile. “But with Sherpa, you get exactly what you are paying for.”