Change in behaviours needed to address data explosion

When it comes to accurately targeting existing and potential customers there can be nothing truer than the mantra that data is king – ask anyone who’s been in business for longer than 10 minutes and they’ll tell you the more information you have on your target market or customer, the easier it is to sell to them.

Businesses of all sizes are experiencing more rapid data growth than ever before; growth rates of over 100 percent per year are no longer uncommon. Driven by the three key factors of business continuity, regulation and data protection, there is no sign that storage growth will slow down some time soon, and this exponential growth is causing IT departments to re-evaluate their practises and policies….fast.

And it’s a headache that companies have identified, and are only too happy to offload, with 39% of global organisations already outsourcing data storage to third parties.

Research from Gartner suggests that businesses will struggle to keep up with the ever increasing demand for data archiving as the scale of firms’ assets grows.

From a data centre operators perspective it’s not just the obvious issues of physical space, security and hardware that are focusing the mind. It is estimated that storage accounts for 26% of the overall data centre power budget so unsurprisingly ‘doing more with less’ is the common mantra. With the average company’s storage utilisation running at 50%, it is not difficult to understand why cloud storage is at the centre of so much activity.

Anyone plugged into IT news services, can’t help but noticing the rising number of stories, and market valuations, relating to storage and data growth.

Last year’s excellent IDC titled “The Digital Universe Decade – Are You Ready?” highlighted the issues that we will are now facing globally. The study suggests that the amount of digital information created annually will grow by a factor of 44 from 2009 to 2020, as all major forms of media – voice, TV, radio, print – complete the journey from analog to digital. But perhaps the most astonishing statistic revealed by the study was that 35% more digital information is created today than the capacity exists to store it. This number will jump to over 60% over the next several years.

So what is the solution? Is it cloud storage, is it a combination of traditional storage models, is it bigger disks? Or is it simply that we to actually have to change our behaviours and start considering what data we do need and what data we don’t? Maybe we simply need some simple housekeeping and data discipline.

Now call me an old fashioned luddite, but I still long for the days of the 12″ Vinyl LP. Life was so simple then.

You purchased your favourite album, you kept it near your hi fi and played it when you felt so enamoured. And it took up an album’s thickness of floor or cabinet space. If you lost it or damaged it, you either bought another one or if it had been discontinued, you’d happily spend the next few years hunting it down in charity shops, on eBay or in garage sales. And the feeling of pure joy when you finally tracked a copy was simply indescribable.

Not today. Today you can buy a CD (and we’ll ignore downloads for the moment) and then rip it and store it on your pc, you then sync it up with your player/devise and store it on that. You may use some of the tracks to mix the perfect playlist. The kids decide that your taste in music is surprisingly OK – not cool but OK – and they would like a copy on their players. So you load the tracks on for them. Fearful of losing all of this data, you back it up to a portable storage devise or into the cloud and then you sit back happy. And that’s when it dawns on you that you still have the original CD on the shelf and you’ve probably eaten about 400 Gb of storage space. Did you need to?

OK a pretty simplistic example granted, but one that is being replicated a billion times each day. We now take thousands of pictures, safe in the knowledge that we never have to pay for film development costs, and we back them up – even the rubbish, out of focus ones. We’ve all become budding film directors and stars, convinced that our misguided attempts to swing over a local stream on an old tyre will make us the next big You Tube hit. And all the time, we forget or are afraid, to periodically review and delete. Far easier to buy the latest gizmo with greater storage capacity then actually apply some sensible housekeeping.

A sentiment that businesses might want to consider?

Not only are businesses storing simply everything, (I know of one large organisation that archives and stores all email including every piece of spam/junk mail received) but they are compounding the situation by asking for, and accumulating, data just for the sake of it.

Storing a degree of customer and business data has always been a necessity, of course; for both operational and legal requirements But surely there are certain data gathering activities which just don’t need to be carried out.

The public sector is particularly good at requesting information completely unrelated to what one is actually trying to do. Granted, there are times when knowing a person’s gender, age, salary, ethnicity, religious beliefs, disabilities or otherwise, could be necessary. Applying for a grant to replace lead piping with copper surely isn’t one of them? And of course the more you request, the more you store and the greater the risk of a security breach.

Some would no doubt argue that such intricate detail is required to prove that these grants are being fairly distributed, or that some other function is being performed with due carefulness. But come on?

There can be no doubt that storage demands, if left unabated, will continue to grow in line with expectations, but we need to start to think and work smarter.

Once we have determined what data we need to record, and why, we must then ensure that we take the appropriate steps to protect it and store it.

And we must be brave enough to actually consider deleting some of it!

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Phil Worms is the director of corporate communications for iomart Group, one of Europe’s largest providers of managed hosting, cloud computing and business continuity services. Having spent 25 years working in the IT industry he is recognised as one of its brightest thinkers. He regularly contributes internet and "new media" related features for trade publications and national newspapers and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is an advocate of social media using it for both business and charitable causes. Phil has sat on several national advisory committees ranging from the provision of broadband access to online safety initiatives. He is now heavily involved in the debate surrounding the greening of IT with energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction a particular topic of interest. In his spare time Phil is dedicated to raising money in an attempt to bring a new arts and music centre to his hometown of Helensburgh. It is this venture that has given him his finest moment – being mentioned on David Bowie’s official website when he organised a mass community recording of the classic song Heroes!