Blog / Look at all this STUFF! – We’re becoming a society of digital hoarders
I mentioned in a previous article that I’m on a bit of a cleanup mission at home. I’m working through piles of old computer equipment that’s either destined for local buy-and-sell websites or the recycle bin. I’ve also been looking at my library of old books and magazines and it’s not a pretty sight. I have more than one stack of magazines dating back to 1988. A quick glance shows that these publications have absolutely no value to me or anyone else, so they’re destined for the recycle bin. But as I look around my home office, I see lots of publications that are long since forgotten and have no relevance to my current work or interests. Let’s face it; it’s just clutter. Then there are the mementos—little trinkets picked up on holiday travels or given to me as a sign of friendship by someone in my past.
I’m sure phycologists and anthropologists has studied our need to collect stuff. It might be a deep-seated instinct handed down by our ancestors as they struggled to exist, or a subconscious act to help define our place in society, like an “I have more stuff than you” mentality. Regardless, collecting—and it’s evil cousin, hoarding—seems to be an almost universal human trait. All of this got me thinking about how we also collect digital stuff.
We’re several decades into the Information Age. The tipping point between analog and digital information creation and storage occurred around 2002. Since then, we have been rapidly accelerating the growth of digital information. There are now orders-of-magnitude more digital information out there; for every piece of analog information created, well over 1,000 digital pieces are created. To put this in very simplistic terms, for every physical book you buy, you probably create, copy or store 1,000 digital files. To test this out, I counted about 40 books on one of my shelves. I then ran a scan on one of my storage drives on a local computer, and there were just under 40,000 (data) files.
The good news is that 40,000 digital files take up a lot less space than 40,000 pamphlets, magazines, pictures, and books.
The bad news is that, except for a few files I use on a weekly basis, I don’t have a foggy clue what’s in those 40,000 files or why I need them. Out of sight, out of mind.
If we apply this to an average organization, it’s not hard to see why most firms are drowning in a sea of digital files. To exacerbate the problem, most files have either been long forgotten or are organized so poorly that it’s almost impossible to find anything of value. Certainly most organizations are required by law or through their professional associations to keep certain records; tax returns, client invoices and receipts, legal documents, accounting files, and patient records come to mind. But, I’m talking about the other stuff.
There is a whole industry devoted to document (file) management to help businesses control their digital glut. We’ve seen more than one organization invest heavily in this technology—upwards of six figures— only to fail miserably. It’s becoming a serious problem for many businesses.
At first glance, you might think “what’s the big deal”? Digital storage is cheap and readily available through many different Cloud systems. You might even convince yourself that having all of that information at your fingertips is a business advantage, but there are a few dark clouds underneath these silver linings.
- Cloud storage, especially the low or no-cost versions, come with hidden disadvantages. They often store data on servers outside your legal jurisdiction and thus may be subject to the laws of another country. They offer little in the way of data retention or recovery capabilities. They may be subject to data mining activities on the part of the host. Finally, their cyber security countermeasures may not be robust and offer little in the way of protection if their systems are hacked.
- Private or fee-based Cloud storage overcomes these disadvantages and offer customization of various environments and management services to ensure data is secure and accessible to legitimate users, but this type of storage is expensive.
- In-house storage, while both private and secure, brings its own problems. It can require a heavy investment in equipment, supporting infrastructure and staff to maintain it. Servers, SANs, NASs, networking gear, emergency power systems, and backup software all cost money. We recently had one client who wanted to increase their in-house storage requirements from 4 to 40 terabytes of data; the cost was eye-watering.
- Increased digital storage brings increased cybersecurity risks. Cyber criminals are drawn to large data storage “vaults” as they know that valuable information may be stored in them. Thus, large volumes of digital storage increases your exposure as a desirable target. Worse, if you are hacked and held for ransom, hackers will base their ransom demands on the amount and value of the data. If your data is poorly organized or you don’t have a concise idea of what’s really there, you can’t evaluate the business risk of a cyberattack. Nor can your insurance company. Are those pics of your last company party, or your employment records and tax receipts?
So it might be time to start thinking seriously about an organization-wide purge of unneeded data. It can be a daunting task and require dedicated staff resources. In the next article, I will describe a few key elements and steps to creating a modern storage vault for your required data, and how to purge the other “stuff”.
If you’d like more information about data storage requirements for your firm or want to book an appointment to chat about it, please contact me or your TRINUS Account Manager.