Dodge the data deluge

Many people in IT are terrible hoarders, keeping things that should have been ditched years ago. The justification for this is usually that this hardware could come in handy some day, or that it would be fatal to remove them.

Many banks have rogue routers and ghost gateways on their networks which they are pretty sure add nothing, but nobody dares remove them in case they unwittingly sever a nerve that brings the whole network down.

Much the same could be said of data. These days, marketing departments are convinced that every scrap of data holds vital clues about customers. So you can’t chuck out any files, no matter how many millions of copies there are of them, just in case they’re worthy of an analysis.

Added to this, most CIOs work in heavily regulated industries, where they dare not delete even the most innocuous word document.

Which is why the cost of storing all your data continues to soar, despite all the advances in technology that halve the cost of storage every 18 months. Managing data is labour-intensive, but storing it is relatively cheap, so financial logic says you should keep throwing hardware at the problem of all that big data.

“Storage is getting cheaper if you want cheap and cheerful and keep away from the big brands,” says Richard Fox, head of IT at distribution company Gem.

Recent storage innovations like de-duplication have lessened the burden, he says.

By only storing unique data, and not the endless identical backups, each record can be shrunk to a tenth of its size which means much less data has to be transferred between sites for backups.

However as data needs grow exponentially, the falling cost of each gigabyte merely encourages more fat files to be laid down.

The trap that many CIOs fall into is over ambition. The popular theory is that all the tons of image files and social media chit chat are going to yield incredible insights into the customer base, just as soon as the analysis tools can be honed to make sophisticated searches.

Meanwhile, many complex management layers, bought at great expense for storage systems, go unused. This is a tremendous waste, says Fox.

“Some of these features are excellent value and have obvious business benefit when they’re incorporated into backup and data recovery strategies,” he says.

The problem is not everyone gets time to learn how to use these features.

“If you don’t make use of these features you’re probably paying more than you need for storage,” Fox adds.

Shouldn’t CIOs be encouraging end users to create less, store less and delete more? The problem is that few end users realise that most of the data they create they never even see.

“Users are typically unaware of the automatic versioning, database and file replication, desktop and laptop shadow copying that take place until they’ve lost something,” says Fox.

“All those features are needed, and save a lot of hours. If you have the space, use it.”

But if you want to change the way users amass files, you could have a revolt on your hands, warns Fox.

“People just expect unlimited data storage: they have it at home with their email, so why not at work? People love their files, their movies and photos and monster Excel files. Humans are natural hoarders.”

So what can firms do to dissuade users from storing so much data – much of it personal?

“Many firms have 10 copies of backups around,” points out Mac Scott, partner at KPMG’s Advisory Practice.

“Archive and backup strategies aren’t sexy so have been at the background of thinking and investment,” says Scott. But, “with costs coming home to roost now,” perhaps that could change.

Another option is to bill departments according to their use of facilities, a strategy which could be driven by the cloud providers.

“Cloud providers and data storage providers might want to consider charging more for data as it ages. This would encourage businesses and consumers to have a pro-active archiving policy,” says Garry Lengthorn, director of IT services at recruitment company SThree.

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