The case for better data management (The rime of the data manager)

“Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink” Samuel Coleridge wrote in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If we fast forward 200 years, he may have written something similar about one of the ancient mariner’s descendants, the hard-put-upon data manager! “Data, data everywhere, but it’s hard to find the stuff that is of use!” while not as poetic it is something that many of us have muttered more than once. However, a lot of businesses have still not addressed the challenge.

But it is now time for that to change?

Why is our data badly managed?

We know the problems that large amounts of data cause, it extends backup and recovery times, makes finding information more complicated and presents security risks, why then do we often not tackle it? It reminds me of the dog on the porch where every so often it howls for seemingly no reason. Why does it howl? Because it’s laid on a nail and while it hurts occasionally – it doesn’t hurt enough to move! In the world of data, because storage is cheap (relatively) it’s often easier and cheaper to add more capacity than invest time and money in managing it better. So, while the nail of data may occasionally hurt us, the business case doesn’t stack up to make us move.

Why we need to change

As organisations evolve their IT, they are looking at how they store data, they are thinking about capacity, security, protection and whether to move to the cloud. But as they assess their options, the first stumbling block is a lack of knowledge of what they currently have. They don’t know where data is, what it contains, who uses it, when or if it is accessed and importantly, why they have it at all. While this may not have hurt too much in the past, it is now having an impact.

What impact and why now?

  • Migration: This is at the heart of it, whether it is because they want to move to the cloud or new storage hardware, not having data under management is impacting their ability to efficiently migrate. They could just move it all, but this increases migration time and costs, whether that is buying too much new hardware, increased cloud operational costs or over-long migrations. These all have a significant financial and business impact.
  • Data Security: The threat posed to our data is a real concern. Businesses what to improve security and reduce the risk of a data breach but they are doing this from a position of weakness. They have no idea where data is, what it contains and whether they should even have it. Therefore, trying to secure it becomes hugely complex and expensive and buying more storage is only going to make that worse!
  • Cost Reduction: While storage has been relatively cheap, operational cost is increasing. Buying unnecessary capacity is not the only issue, cloud costs are now raising monthly questions about capacity and data usage. And as energy costs continue to increase powering unnecessary infrastructure is becoming very expensive.

What should we do?

The inspiration for this article has stemmed from work I’ve done over the last 18 months alongside NetApp’s Cloud Data Sense team (this is their cloud-based data discovery, compliance and governance tool, it’s very good you can find more about it in this video series) and a number of different businesses. Using a tool like Data Sense has allowed them to understand their current data estate better and in doing so they have been able to.

  • Speed-up migration: Understanding the profile of their data has allowed businesses to more efficiently plan for and move data, whether to new hardware or to the cloud. Moving just active and relevant data has greatly reduced cost and complexity.
  • Improved security posture: Reducing the complexity and amount of data and gaining better insight into the what, who, where, when and why of usage has been critical in allowing them to more effectively secure it and reduce the risk of breach.
  • Gain better insights: Ensuring only relevant and useful data is held has significantly enhanced their ability to use it to drive business operations.

Making the business case

The time to build a data management business case has never been better. In terms of technical benefits, the case is clear, It makes it easier to manage, migrate, protect and secure and only holding relevant information allows us to do more with it. But what is the financial case? This is more complex but equally strong. While it is hard to give specifics let me share some areas to consider in your business cases via a simple example.

If we use the generally accepted figure that 30% of unstructured data in an organisation is redundant, obsolete or trivial. If we removed 30% of data from your storage infrastructure, what financial impact would it have in these areas?

  • Capacity costs: Less physical storage? Less Cloud Capacity?
  • Protection costs: If we have 30% less data how does that impact our backup infrastructure and operations costs?
  • Security: The average data breach according to an IBM study is $4.4M. By having insight into data and its usage we greatly reduce the risk of a breach.
  • Management overhead: If we better understand our data and where it is, how does that reduce operational overhead? Fewer queries to find information, quicker recovery for deleted data, less complex infrastructure to manage?

The financial business case will depend on many variables; however, it should be clear, that the case for not managing data better in today’s environment is flawed and eventually, poorly managed data will impact your business, It’s just a matter of time. Perhaps now is the time to finally get off that nail and move somewhere less painful!

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