Sustainable data management and the future of green business

By Krishna Subramanian, President and COO of Komprise
Sustainable unstructured data management is the next frontier for green business. We take a look at how it is to be implemented and what problems may arise

Enterprise IT organizations have long paid lip service to sustainability. The sustainability agenda was second from bottom in boards’ priorities for their technology teams, according to the Harvey Nash Group Digital leadership report. With CXO pressures to support line of business innovation and growth, you can’t blame IT leaders for putting business (and their jobs) first. However, it’s now possible to achieve business agendas and be sustainable.

The conversations around sustainable IT have traditionally focused on green data center technology. Certainly, consolidating data centers, using energy-efficient data center products (such as SSD storage) and investing in new technologies which are known to reduce energy use are smart strategies that make a difference.

A lesser-known concept relates to managing data itself more efficiently. Most organizations have hundreds of terabytes of data, if not petabytes, which can be managed more efficiently and even deleted but are hidden and/or not understood well enough to manage appropriately.  In most businesses, 70% of the cost of data is not in storage but in data protection and management.  Creating multiple backup and DR copies of rarely used cold data is inefficient and costly, not to mention its environmental impact.  Furthermore, storing obsolete “zombie data” on expensive on-premises hardware (or even, cloud file storage, which is the highest cost tier for cloud storage), doesn’t make sage economic sense and consumes the most energy resources. 

Regardless of whether your organization has mandates to reduce energy consumption and adhere to sustainability goals, many enterprise customers likely do care. You might lose a big deal or account if your internal practices aren’t deemed as clean and green. Deloitte research found that more than 70% of corporate leaders say that pressure from investors and other stakeholders is compelling them to focus on climate. 

Also, the growing incidence of profound natural disasters which take a high toll on human life is a red flag that scientists claim is linked closely to climate change. We all should be concerned about the safety of our own communities. Aside from the notable savings your company can generate by adopting sustainable practices and lowering your carbon IT footprint, expect growing government incentives for private sector organizations to reduce their carbon footprint and emissions.


First step to sustainable data management: understand your unstructured data

 Managing your data footprint begins by gaining a thorough, always updated view of all enterprise unstructured data—on-premises, edge and in the cloud. Key metrics include the types of data being stored, age and access patterns (aka time of last access) and where it’s being stored. How much “cold” data is actively stored and managed on expensive, high-performing Tier 1 storage and backups? What are the energy and management costs of your different tiers of storage? Can you tier or migrate the cold data to a more passively managed yet durable cloud object storage (AWS S3/Glacier, Azure Blob) for a more affordable and greener long-term archive? For cold data that has not been touched in months to years, do you really need active management with multiple backup copies or is durable storage-level redundancy sufficient?  Do you have a policy for data retention and deletion and is it appropriate or should it be more aggressive? What compliance measures pertain to your data management practices and can you monitor data for noncompliance? For instance, GDPR requirements govern how and where data is stored.

Second step to sustainable data management: automate data actions by policy

Once you have visibility into data and a way to continually monitor and measure key metrics on usage, age and governance, it’s time to act. In most organizations, at least 60% of data is cold and has not been touched in months to years. This is easy low-hanging fruit to consider with an unstructured data management solution that provides transparent tiering to durable secondary storage—drastically reducing the number of extra backup copies for cold data and hence the data footprint and costs without changing any user or application behavior. If your organization does not have data retention and deletion policies, create them and communicate them broadly. Data management policies which state that after X years, data is permanently deleted, only work if enforced. Today, unstructured data management solutions can safely automate those policies and even place data in a “confine” location for review prior to deletion.

Naturally, cloud providers operate on massive, energy-consuming data centers--but you can go a step further by learning about the sustainable technologies and practices of cloud providers as a selection factor. Automated policies governing data movement throughout the data lifecycle is a key tenet of modern data management. Beyond saving energy and cutting utility bills, doing this will save your company hundreds of thousands of dollars annually or more on data storage and backup costs. Treating data all the same by keeping it on the most expensive and high-performance storage forever is no longer viable much less sustainable.

Step three: work with data owners and key stakeholders

Unstructured data management technologies and other monitoring tools are critical to achieve sustainability objectives – but don’t omit real conversations with departmental data owners and experts. These interactions can help IT better understand data objectives and priorities for proper planning. Sharing insights on departmental data (such as older/cold data versus active/hot data) helps steer the conversation in the right direction toward archiving or deleting data that no longer has value or even bears risk by keeping around. Finally, the ability to give authorized users – such as researchers or data scientists – access to data management tools so they can view their assets and do their own searches for data needed for analytics projects gives them back power and reduces the manual work of IT.

Sustainable data center and data management practices are no longer nice to have – but in many respects, a need to have. The world is storing too much data and without smart strategies for managing it, the price is becoming too high: significantly higher IT infrastructure costs, lack of opportunity to participate in government incentives, potential customer attrition, and long-term potential brand damage by ignoring the sustainability movement.

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