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Downsizing the digital attic

No matter how big the attic, most people accumulate possessions at such a rate, they exhaust all the available space.

The same principle has held for digital storage. However, the usual response of people who have exhausted their disk space has been, in recent years, simply to add more. The steadily falling price of digital storage has, so far, enabled enterprises to keep digital capacity one step ahead of digital possessions54.

The danger of this approach is that users start to assume that space is infinite. As a consequence, their approach to file management becomes reckless. If storage space costs next to nothing, then next to nothing need be discarded.

One outcome is global digital storage centers the dimensions of which appear to be ballooning inexorably.

While digital storage has become cheaper, the associated costs, from raw power to maintenance and from metadata to search engines, have not kept up with the proliferation of data. Although the power required to maintain a unit of data has fallen, the cost of facilities which house the digital storage has tended to rise55. The cost of labor has also generally risen over time.

In 2009 there is therefore likely to be a changed approach to data. The imperative for companies to cut costs is likely to include attempts to control the escalation of storage costs. This could in turn cause a fundamental change in the way employees perceive the total cost of ownership of storage.

In 2009, companies may halve what they spend on physical storage. Spending on new servers may increase by just 4 percent56 to $58 billion57. Even so, the cost of keeping servers powered-up and cooled is expected to increase by over 15 percent, to $35 billion58.

Enterprises are still expected to create several exabytes of additional data per month59, highlighting the fact that current approaches to data storage appear neither lean nor green.

Bottom line

Companies should assess whether their total cost of storage is growing faster than revenues, and if so, whether this is beneficial to them.

Enterprises should review all aspects of digital data use and management. This includes behavior, such as training users on how to manage their 'data footprint'. Just as in real life it is prudent for collectors to discard old memorabilia from time-to-time, periodical equivalent assessment and pruning of digital files may also be useful.

Companies should assess technological approaches, such as de-duplication tools that could free space on existing servers by reducing the quantity of duplicate copies of the same file.

There should also be an assessment of individual applications to identify any particularly profligate tools: email is estimated to take up 25 percent of enterprise storage capacity60.

One response to lack of space in physical and digital worlds is offsite storage. In the digital context, this could mean using third-party providers to store overspill data. Companies using this approach should monitor costs and regulatory implications. External storage could be anywhere in the world, with 20,000 different regulations worldwide controlling the data61.

Companies should also evaluate third-party storage specialists' vulnerability to attack by hackers. These organizations may be more likely to be targeted by hackers, as penetrating storage specialists' security may provide access to many companies' data, rather than just one. However, such companies may also be far more secure than a typical enterprise. If so, there may be a case for transferring a greater volume of files to storage specialists.

Hardware makers should reorient their sales approach in a manner similar to energy companies. Rather than selling just hardware, they should also integrate software and additional services aimed at minimizing consumption.

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