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Dark data is contributing to carbon emissions

Almost six million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be pumped into the atmosphere this year as a result of dark data, Veritas research finds

Dark data, or data that has been collected but not surfaced or used to drive insights, is inadvertently contributing to the world’s carbon emissions, according to Veritas.

New research by the data protection and management software supplier has found 5.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be pumped into the atmosphere this year resulting from the use of storage systems to house and process dark data.

Veritas derived the figure by mapping industry data on power consumption from data storage, industry data on emissions from datacentres and its own research.

On average, 52% of all data stored by organisations worldwide is likely to be dark data, according to Veritas. With the amount of data growing from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025, there will be 91 zettabytes of dark data in five years’ time – over four times the volume of dark data today.

Ravi Rajendran, vice-president and managing director for the Asia South region at Veritas Technologies, said that although companies are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, dark data is often neglected.

And with dark data producing more carbon dioxide than 80 countries do individually, Rajendran called for organisations to start taking it seriously. “Filtering dark data, and deleting the information that’s not needed, should become a moral imperative for businesses everywhere,” he said.

According to a Cushman and Wakefield report, Southeast Asia will be the fastest-growing region for colocation datacentres over the next five years, with an expected compound annual growth rate of 13% from 2019 to 2024.

Singapore, a datacentre hub for the region, was ranked the third most robust datacentre market in the world. “Imagine the carbon footprint that would be generated by Southeast Asia alone,” said Rajendran.

An organisation’s ability to surface and manage dark data also reflects its data maturity. A separate study by Splunk found that Chinese companies tend to fare better in that regard, with 31% of respondents stating that uncovering and using dark data better is their most important priority in the next two years, surpassing the global average of 25%.

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Australian firms are also doing well, with 74% of organisations having reduced their volume of dark data over the past year. This is more than any other country, showing a willingness by Australians to harness data’s potential and do something meaningful with it, said Simon Davies, vice-president for Asia-Pacific at Splunk.

“Some 63% of Australian companies are also using data to speed up manufacturing and product development,” said Davies. “This gives them a competitive advantage by enabling them to get to market quickly.”

Veritas’ Rajendran said that while businesses need to understand dark data and implement storage policies around it to keep carbon emissions in check, individuals can also play a role.

“Nearly every one of us stores data that we’ll never access again, simply because cloud storage is so cheap and available to us – thousands of videos and photos that we’ll never look at, or emails that we’ll never read – and there are hundreds of millions of people doing this,” he said.

“Businesses and consumers everywhere need to learn how to manage their data for the sake of the planet.”

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