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Dark data illuminated

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Dark data is a relatively new term to the industry, defined by Gartner “as the information assets organisations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes (for example, analytics, business relationships and direct monetising)”, says Bryan Balfe, enterprise account manager at Commvault.

Almost all organisations have volumes of dark data stored away in dusty vaults and off-site storage facilities, historically unaccounted for, unmanaged, and undervalued. However, modern day information sharing with analytics is bringing the reign of dark data into the spotlight – mobility trends mean that users can create and share at will through a range of devices, including smartphones, laptops and tablets.

Many organisations are discovering that they lack both the policy and technology needed to efficbiently manage data outside of the corporate data centre. Additionally, the growth of data – and big data especially – is causing enterprise to finally look to address the issue of dark data, if only to curb mounting storage costs.

Stepping into the light
Tackling dark data can be intimidating – even to the most accomplished of Chief Information Officers (CIOs). Organisations have very little awareness of the location, volume, composition, ownership, risk, and business value of their unstructured data.. Based on the complexity associated with managing dark data, Gartner recommends that “organisations should review the scope of their unstructured data problems by using File Analysis (FA) tools to understand where dark unstructured data resides and who has access to it.” FA differs from traditional storage reporting tools because the technology doesn’t just report on simple file attributes, but can also provide critical contextual information; with the ability to analyse, index, search, track, report on file mega data and even content.

Reducing the risk of the unknown
FA tools applied to dark data provide business value in a number of ways, one of which is by helping organisations reduce risk. By identifying which files reside where, and who has access to them, FA tools introduce an element of control. They can also help organisations make more informed decisions around prioritising their unstructured data management needs for classification and information governance, providing insights in setting retention policies for data movement. Many FA tools also offer reporting capabilities that help define these retention policies; according to Gartner, “The value of reports in FA tools is that they can be used to determine policy and strategy in areas such as access, retention and location.”

The real cost of keeping everything
IT administrators often struggle with having little to no insight into what data is being created; limited control over how it is being stored; and almost no understanding of its business value. When it comes to information lifecycle governance, more often than not, organisations choose to lean on cold storage tape vaults to keep every scrap of data due to a paralysing fear that they may throw away something of value. Recent studies suggest that 69 percent of a company’s stored data has absolutely no value to the organisation. In essence this means that organisations could be spending up to 20 percent of their annual budget on storing data that has gone stale, with virtually no Return on Investment (ROI) . When it comes to getting to grips with the mammoth task of dark data, FA tools deliver enterprises with the information required to ‘clean up’ legacy and current data, by identifying which data can moved to lower cost storage, and others which can be deleted.

Defining the value of business data
The key to satisfying the need to hoard information, as well as those who might leverage it for the business, is to first identify what data has value for which part of the organisation, and for how long, so that it can be leveraged. Once data has been evaluated and indexed properly, organisations can better determine how and where to store that data – whether it’s locally, in the cloud, or using a combination of solutions. The classification process, enabled by FA tools, can also support a well-defined data strategy and used to enforce information governance policies. Although, as Gartner highlights, less than 1 percent of organisations manage their unstructured data today, by 2018 that figure is expected to increase up to 25 percent . Budget implications will drive the need for data management policy and data classification. Automated classification will play an increasingly integral role in the implementation of data classification policies, which will ultimately lead to a more streamlined approach and cost savings.

Supporting e-discovery
Without FA tools, it can be extremely labour-intensive to sift through the masses of irrelevant information contained within dark data. This ‘run around’ either consumes IT management’s time and budget, leaving less bandwidth for immediate business needs, or requires a costly outsourced response. FA tools ultimately allow for faster location of data. In a corporate landscape, where the risks associated with locating necessary data in the event of a breach or in response to legal action are significant, e-discovery benefits are expected to drive the adoption of FA as companies begin to address their dark data.
The main challenge organisations face in adopting FA is that they are reluctant to finally face the abyss that dark data represents. However, IT management must bear in mind that at its core, dark data represents untapped opportunities to transform the business, and this can only be realised through a combination of efficient migration, or deletion, and content-aware retention. Once this process is started, the benefits can be seen almost immediately in terms of cost savings and resource reduction, as well as business insight via e-Discovery processes. FA tools can and will assist organisations to take action on dark data to ‘unleash the light’ within. As word spreads on the ROI potential of such tools, we will see these tools used more and more frequently.