5 Steps for How to Better Manage Your Data

Businesses today store 2.2 zettabytes of data, according to a new report by Symantec, and that total is growing at a rapid clip. To control and leverage this information, you need to focus on managing it, not the device or data center.

Are you staying on top of your data? If so, are you able to leverage it?

According to a new report by Symantec, the total size of information stored by all businesses today is 2.2 zettabytes. Enterprises, on average, have 100,000 terabytes of information, while small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) on average have 563 terabytes of data. Moreover, that number is expected to grow 67 percent over the next year for enterprises and 178 percent for small and mid-sized businesses.

Those numbers can be difficult to visualize. So try this: 10 kilobytes is about the equivalent of a single sheet of paper filled with text. If you were to stack those sheets of paper, 1 million terabytes (or sheets of paper) would give you a stack as high as the Empire State Building (1,454 feet). And 2.2 zettabytes would be enough for 1,287 Empire State Building-sized stacks of paper, about 374 miles.

"Information is becoming so critical," says C.J. Desai, senior vice president of the Information Management Group at Symantec. "The growth in information is very rapid. Organizations need to have a full grasp of how, where and why it is growing."

Desai notes that a 20-year IT manager veteran at one financial services firm said he is now adding more data to his data centers per day than he used to add per year in the 1990s.

Enterprises Spend $38 Million a Year on Data

The reason organizations need to understand their information growth is clear, Desai says: Worldwide spending on business information is now $1.1 trillion per year. Breaking it down, enterprises spend an average of $38 million on information per year, according to Symantec, while SMBs on average spend $332,000.

"The vast amount of information that organizations produce today can help them better serve their customers and increase productivity," says Francis deSouza, group vice present for Enterprise Products and Services at Symantec. "However, the same information can also become a major liability if it is not properly protected. Companies that effectively use their information will have a major competitive advantage over those who cannot, and in some cases it can be the difference between success and failure. With its increasing value and rising cost, successful companies will find ways to more effectively protect their information and unleash the productivity it can bring."

On average, respondents say that information represents 49 percent of their organizations' value. And that means loss of the information could be catastrophic due to loss of customers, brand damage, decreased revenues, increased expenses and more.

"Companies are saying it's almost half of their value," Desai says. "All of their IP is in their data. If that information gets lost and you don't have a chance of recovery because of some natural disaster or machine failure, what does that really do?"

Organizations Still Struggling to Secure Data

And yet, despite the danger, organizations are having trouble securing that data. Symantec found that in the last 12 months:

  • 69 percent of organizations lost important business information due to human error, hardware failure, software failure and lost or stolen mobile devices
  • 69 percent of organizations exposed confidential information
  • 31 percent of organizations had compliance failures

When it comes to exposure of confidential information and compliance failures, one of the smoking guns is information sprawl. Thirty percent of respondents said information sprawl was a somewhat or significant factor in these mishaps. "Our biggest concern in IT about information is the ability to control and be able to normalize it to really understand what we have," says an IT manager at a large financial services enterprise. "We have so much information it's hard to glue it all together. With all the different regulations in the financial industry, it becomes very difficult."

In fact, Desai says, as much as 42 percent of data stored by organizations is duplicate information-data stored on a file share, backed up on a desktop, attached in an email file or copied to a mobile device.

Given the ballooning amount of information and the potential dangers it represents if unprotected, how can organizations get a handle on it?

"You have to make sure that information is at the top of your mind," Desai says. "Focus on the information, not the device or data center. Track your information flow. Where are you storing the information? Are you tracking your sensitive information?"

Five Ways to Better Manage Data

Here are five steps you can take to better manage your data:

  • Focus on the information, not the device or data center. Focus on building an information infrastructure that optimizes the ability of your organization to find, access and consume critical business information. Key technologies include virtualization, cloud computing and mobile devices and applications.
  • Gain a complete understanding. Know your information and recognize that not all information is equal. Many organizations lack basic knowledge like who owns specific information, how important the data is or even whether it is personal or business in nature. You need to map and classify information to discover its relative value. Once you've done this, you can more easily prioritize security, protection and management resources for the information that really matters.
  • Be efficient. Use deduplication and archiving technologies to protect more while storing less. Only store what you really need.
  • Set consistent policies. It's essential to set consistent policies for information that can be enforced wherever the information resides, whether in physical, virtual or cloud environments. This unifies information classification, automates discover of who owns and uses specific information, controls access and distribution, automates information retention and deletion and speeds the process of eDiscovery.
  • Stay agile. Plan for future information needs by implementing a flexible infrastructure that supports continued growth.
  • Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at tolavsrud@cio.com

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