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Data excess linked to climate change

IT departments are unwittingly contributing to climate change by storing too much data, much of which will never be used

The Databerg report from Veritas has estimated that 5.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are being unnecessarily pumped into the atmosphere from storing data that will never be used.

According to Veritas, on average, data administrators are unaware of more than half of the content or value of the information stored by their organisations. It describes this data as “dark”.

The research, based on a survey of 1,475 respondents across 14 countries, conducted by Vanson Bourne, found that although 46% of organisations’ data has been tagged, the respondents admitted that 32% of this data was trivial, obsolete or redundant.The worst dark data offenders are Germany, the UK and South Africa with, respectively, 66%, 59% and 58% of their stored data defined as dark.

Overall, Veritas estimated that just 14% of the data being tagged is business-critical, while 54% of organisations’ data is untagged, which means data admins are unaware of its business value.

Phil Brace, chief sustainability officer and executive vice-president, appliances and software-defined storage, at Veritas Technologies, said: “Around the world, individuals and companies are working to reduce their carbon footprints, but dark data doesn’t often feature on people’s action lists. However, dark data is producing more carbon dioxide than 80 different countries do individually, so it’s clear that this is an issue that everyone needs to start taking really seriously. Filtering dark data, and deleting the information that is not needed, should become a moral imperative for businesses everywhere.”

Across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, almost 20% of respondents to the survey said they currently do not, or have no plans to, calculate the business value of their data.

According to analyst IDC,  the amount of data that the world is storing will grow from 33 Zbytes (33 billion Tbytes) in 2018 to 175 Zbytes by 2025. Veritas warned that unless people change their habits, there will be 91 Zbytes of dark data in five years’ time – over four times the volume that exists today.

Brace added: “The IT industry has to get ahead of the challenge, since data volumes are getting bigger every year. Businesses need to understand this type of data, and the storage policies around it, so that we don’t see emissions spiral.”

Read more about green IT

  • Tech trade body TechUK claims the datacentre sector must do more to tackle climate change, and assist the government with its pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • Microsoft’s Planetary Computer platform will combine global datasets to help organisations manage biodiversity and reduce climate change.

Veritas recommends that data admins identify all data stores using data mapping and discovery tools to understand how information flows through an organisation. This, it said, will enable organisations to gain visibility and insight into where data and sensitive information is being stored, who has access to it and how long it is being retained.

According to Veritas, this is a critical first step in tacking the untagged dark data problem.It also urged organisations to consider minimising and placing controls to ensure they reduce the amount of data being stored and establish that what is retained is directly related to the purpose for which it was collected. “Classification, flexible retention and compliant policy engines allow confident deletion of non-relevant information,” said Veritas.

Finally, it urged IT heads to consider changing how they fund storage. “Basing our budgets and IT strategies on the volume of data stored and processed, rather than the data’s value, rewards bad behaviour,” said the report.

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