Like smog surrounding a city, information sprawl can infiltrate an organization, its employees, and partners, creating a haze of unnecessary storage costs, governance complications, and compliance issues.
With so much data available to them in so many formats via multiple devices, employees may not resist the urge to easily save countless documents, videos, and files in multiple locations. That's one reason 46 percent of business information today is stored outside the firewall, according to Symantec's recently released Digital Information Index, which surveyed 4,500 companies in 36 countries.
This, of course, creates security and privacy concerns, increases the threat of breaches and data loss, and intensifies an organization's potential for breaking laws or best-practices. Without their traditional centralized controls, IT departments find themselves hard-pressed to manage costs, too.
Mobile devices are one of the main drivers of information sprawl. Globally, 14 percent of data is now stored on these technologies, Symantec found. Likewise, 28 percent of business information access is occurring via smartphones or tablets. In enterprises, 31 percent of access takes place on mobile devices, compared to 25 percent at smaller businesses, the study says.
Employees have quickly adopted tablets, Dean Gonsowski, eDiscovery Counsel at Symantec, told me in an interview. As organizations increase their use of these devices, the threat of more sprawl -- and its resultant issues -- becomes more likely, he warned.
Cloud, one of the underpinning technologies that has enabled the en masse adoption of mobile devices, is one of the technologies that can help organizations rein in information sprawl. It is, after all, an architecture that provides employees with anywhere, everywhere access to data without requiring local data storage. By protecting the data, IT can ensure files are secure as employees view, edit, and share them -- and then return them to cloud storage.
Worldwide, 23 percent of business information is stored in the cloud, Symantec's study found. Enterprises store an average of 46 percent of their information in the cloud, compared with 53 percent of SMBs.
Those nations that did not invest in earlier technological infrastructures have been faster to adopt cloud. Countries including Indonesia, China, and Vietnam store at least one-third of their business data in the cloud, according to Symantec's survey. In both the United States and the United Kingdom, that figure was only 16 percent. One-fourth of Canada's business data, the survey says, is stored in the cloud.
In addition to implementing cloud, organizations can curtail information sprawl by using deduplication. Adoption of data deduplication has been on the rise, growing to 46 percent in 2012 from 37 percent in the prior year, reports the 2012 InformationWeek Data Deduplication Survey.
However, IT organizations are taking longer to see a return on their investment: In 2012, 26 percent achieved ROI in seven to 12 months, versus 36 percent who reached this point in 2011, InformationWeek reports. And the number of respondents who said it takes at least 12 months to see an ROI increased to 21 percent in 2012, compared with 11 percent in the prior year. Obviously, the technology itself is not a panacea, but dedupe can be part of your information sprawl resolution.
Archiving is another important component of preventing sprawl. Combined with careful consideration of the data itself, relegating information to the correct type of storage saves money, time, and protects your organization in case of lawsuits.
In the cloud, it can be tempting to save everything. But just as it can be hazardous to delete something prematurely, it can be equally dangerous to hold onto a document longer than you legally must. A partnership between the legal and IT departments should result in a well-run storage policy that protects your organization, its employees, partners, and shareholders.
No matter the technologies your department opts for, employee training and written best-practices are key to limiting the amount of unnecessary and duplicate data your company spreads throughout the cloud and its datacenter.
Big, public campaigns helped cut down on smog and paper waste. Let's hope we can do the same with information sprawl.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution