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IT leaders ‘oblivious’ to the environmental impact of ‘unwanted’ data, research shows

Research commissioned by IT infrastructure services provider NTT reveals knowledge gaps among IT leaders regarding the environmental footprint of their data storage estates

The majority of enterprises are seemingly oblivious to the environmental impact of their data storage strategies, suggests research commissioned by IT infrastructure and services company NTT.

A total of 312 senior IT decision-makers from across the UK, Germany and the Netherlands participated in the research, which sought to shine a light on the link between enterprise data storage strategies and carbon emissions.

In the resulting 24-page report, NTT said its data showed that sustainability is a top-of-mind concern for 75% of the C-suite executives who participated in the poll, with 59% acknowledging that having a full-proof sustainability strategy helps attract and retain top talent.

The data also showed that 67% of organisations are “oblivious” to the environmental consequences of their data storage strategies, with many holding on to data they no longer need, which has a knock-on effect on the energy used by their datacentres and the number of servers they require.

“Respondents acknowledge that up to 60% of their data is unused, and most organisations fail to comprehend the profound impact of untracked data on emissions and storage costs,” said NTT in its report, The unseen environmental cost of data.

“As the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is set to become mandatory in 2025, organisations must urgently refine their data strategies to optimise storage and meet reporting requirements. Failing to track and reduce carbon emissions tied to data could also send costs spiralling out of control.”

To remedy this, the report said enterprises should start to prioritise the removal of “useless and unwanted” data from their IT infrastructure estates and introduce a “robust practice” to discover and profile data so they can set about minimising the amount of superfluous data storage they use.

“This should be followed by analysing if the data is running on the right storage tiers, both on-premise and in the cloud. This is not a one-time effort, but should be part of day-to-day datacentre operations,” it added.

“While organisations are gradually becoming aware of the amount of wasted data they store, what’s particularly worrying is that so many haven’t found an effective way to proactively tackle this”
Matt Watts, NetApp

On a related note, more than half of respondents (58%) said they see the IT department playing a “crucial” role in terms of driving forward sustainability initiatives, but – it is claimed – IT operators do not consider the removal of unwanted and unused data as being a top working priority.      

“A data estate is difficult to reduce in data capacity, with one-third of enterprises reporting feeling overwhelmed and almost two-thirds seeing rising data quantities as a problem they must deal with,” the report continued. 

“Many IT professionals are holding off conducting data waste disposal due to the magnitude of the task, the risk of deleting something useful, and the effort required to gain organisational agreement.” 

The research also pinpointed a disconnect between the sustainability priorities of IT suppliers and their customers, with half of the respondents citing having to work with suppliers that “do not share their vision and goals” on sustainability as a barrier to change.  

“This is exacerbated by a lack of understanding around how various technologies impact sustainability and limited awareness of the impact that data storage has on carbon emissions,” it added.

Miriam Murphy, CEO for Europe at NTT, said the data serves to highlight how “complex and convoluted” the link between technology and sustainability really is.

“There is clearly still a lot of work to be done, with only 38% of those surveyed having successfully implemented a comprehensive business-wide strategy. This is where partners can step up and offer everything from consulting, technology audits and strategy, to roadmap designs, implementation and governance services,” said Murphy.

Matt Watts, chief technology evangelist at data storage appliance manufacturer and report contributor NetApp, added: “While organisations are gradually becoming aware of the amount of wasted data they store, what’s particularly worrying is that so many haven’t found an effective way to proactively tackle this.”

He added: “The research highlights how much more work is required, even in an era where efficiencies and sustainability targets are at the forefront of business. At NetApp, we believe that smarter data storage is essential to reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.” 

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