Taking a New Approach to Unstructured Data Management

Written by: Steven Hill - Senior Analyst, Applied Infrastructure and Storage Technologies – 451 Research

Enterprise storage has never been easy. Business depends on data—and all things data begin and end at storage—but the way we handle data in general, and unstructured data in particular, hasn’t really evolved at the same pace as other segments of the IT industry. Sure, we’ve made storage substantially faster and higher capacity, but we haven’t dealt with the real problems of storage growth caused by this increased performance and density; much less the challenges of managing data growth that’s now spanning multiple, hybrid storage environments across the world. The truth is, you can’t control what you can’t see; and as a result, a growing number of businesses are paying a great deal of money to store multiple copies of the same data over and over. Or perhaps even worse, keeping multiple versions of that same data without any references between them at all.

This massive data fragmentation between multiple storage platforms can be one of the major sources of unchecked storage growth; and added to that are the new risks of a “keep everything” approach to data management. Privacy-based initiatives like GDPR in the EU and California’s CCPA-2018 require a complete reevaluation of storage policies across many vertical markets to ensure compliance with these new regulations for securing, protecting, delivering, redacting, anonymizing and authenticating the deletion of data containing personally identifiable information (PII) on demand. While this can be a more manageable problem for database information, it’s a far greater challenge for unstructured data such as documents, video and images that make up a growing majority of enterprise data storage. Without some form of identification this data goes “dark” soon after it leaves the direct control of its creator, and initiatives like GDPR don’t make a distinction between structured and unstructured data.

There can be a number of perfectly good reasons for maintaining similar or matching data sets at multiple locations, such as data protection or increased availability. The real challenge lies in being able to maintain policy-based control of that data regardless of physical location, while at the same time making it available to the right people for the right reasons. Documents and media such as images, audio and video are making up a growing percentage of overall business data, and companies have a vested interest in making continued use of that data. But at the same time, there can be serious legal ramifications for not managing all this data properly that could potentially cost companies millions.

The cloud has changed the IT delivery model forever; and with a hybrid infrastructure, business IT is no longer limited by space, power and capital investment. The decisions regarding workload and data placement can now be based on the best combination of business needs, economics, performance and availability rather than by location alone; but with that freedom comes a need to extend data visibility, governance and policy to data wherever it may be. In this context, the problems of data fragmentation across multiple systems are almost inevitable; so, it really comes down to accepting this as a new challenge and adopting next-generation storage management based on an understanding of what our data is, rather than where it is.

Mass data fragmentation is a problem that existed before the cloud, but fortunately the technology needed to fix this is already available. From an unstructured data perspective, we believe this involves embracing a modern approach that can span data silos for backups, archives, file shares, testing and development data sets and object stores on that bridges on-premises, public cloud and at the edge. A platform-based approach can help to give you visibility into your data, wherever that data resides, and more importantly, can help you maintain greater control by reducing the number of data copies, managing storage costs, and ensuring your data stays in compliance and backed up properly. We also think an ideal solution seamlessly blends legacy, file-based storage with the management flexibility and scalability offered by metadata-based object storage. This requires a fundamental shift in the way we’ve addressed unstructured data management in the past; but it’s a change that offers the benefits of greater data availability and storage-level automation and provides a new set of options for controlling and protecting business data that’s both a major business asset and a potential liability if not handled correctly. 
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