Today's businesses are collecting more data than ever before, and that data continues to grow at an exponential rate. This seems like a problem destined to spiral out of control, but new data storage and analysis technologies and applications are helping businesses manage their digital transformation and gleen value from the data they generate and collect.
Data scientists now measure global data volumes in zettabytes – a unit of data storage equal to a trillion gigabytes or 1-followed-by-21-zeroes bytes. The global data sphere has more than doubled in size in the last three years – growing from 41 zettabytes in 2019 to 97 in 2022 – and will do so again by 2026. If that data was stored on DVDs, the resulting stack today would reach the moon, and by the end of 2025, it would span all the way back to Earth.
Amount of data created, consumed, and stored 2010-2025 source
With more data, enterprises have more power and enjoy more possibilities. But, these massive amounts of data also come with challenges. The vast majority of data being generated today – 80-90% according to 2021 estimates – is unstructured data. Big Data offers huge possibilities, but only if it is in a usable format. This means that this unstructured data must be analyzed and processed.
New data is being generated every second, and the responsibility of managing and storing all that data is huge, especially in the face of continually evolving regulations. Today's enterprises must look ahead to anticipate future data needs and embrace emerging technologies to navigate this increasingly challenging landscape.
What Is Unstructured Data?
At the dawn of the third decade of the 21st century, we're spending the vast majority of our days using some kind of electronic device. In these digital times, almost every action we take creates data – opening a website, using social media, and even walking down the road with a smartphone creates GPS data.
Moving into the future, it's not just people creating this data. With the birth of the Internet of Things (IoT), smart devices such as cars, televisions, and home devices also generate massive amounts of data. As the IoT continues to grow year on year – at a pace set to reach 41.6 billion devices by 2025 – it's easy to see why the world's data is multiplying so quickly.
Some of this data is structured, meaning it has a specific format that can be processed easily. A basic example of structured data would be a customer database, where name, address, email, and other details are stored in pre-defined places.
Unstructured data is raw data that has no defined organizational structure. While structured data resides in relational databases formatted in alphanumeric characters, unstructured data typically lacks character-oriented representation and cannot be queried by SQL-based methods. Some examples of unstructured and semi-structured data would include social media posts, email messages, documents, images, videos, audio files, and other document file types.
Unstructured data creates storage and management challenges because it comes in many different formats, it can’t be searched easily, and it’s not easy to sort valuable data from data which can be discarded. Left unsorted and unmanaged, unstructured data can quickly fill up storage infrastructure, causing enterprises exponentially increasing costs for very little business benefit.
Storage Considerations for Unstructured Data
Corporate enterprises that are considering how to manage their current unstructured data and planning data storage solutions for the future should consider several factors when choosing data storage systems and infrastructure:
- Capacity and Scaling – The first and possibly most important consideration to make is how much storage space do you need? Not just for today, but how will you scale your storage needs in the future? For example, if scalability for purely unstructured data is your priority, your organization may benefit from pay-as-you-go native format storage structures such as data lakes.
- Performance – For any strategic data management system to be fit for purpose, it must be powerful enough to support the required number of users accessing the system simultaneously and process data by searching or sorting within acceptable timescales.
- Accessibility – Who needs access to your data on a daily basis? Do you have different teams working across the globe, and if so, how can you enable fast and efficient access to these teams while still maintaining data security and integrity?
- Security and Compliance – How will you ensure your data is safe from unauthorized access or accidental loss? Is certain data subject to stricter security protocols than other data? Is your industry subject to specific data protection legislation? For example, if your organization collects any customer data from EU countries, that data is subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and cannot be shared or exported without express customer consent.
- Ease of Deployment – Between your current and legacy data storage solution systems and the solution that you’re considering lie many potential pitfalls. It's vital to consider the process of building and deploying new architecture, what is needed in terms of new hardware and software, and how your business will be affected during the transition.
- Backup and recovery – When you’re considering capacity, it's worth remembering that backups may double or triple your data storage needs. Backups can be made at fixed intervals, such as hourly, daily, or real-time. The type of backup most suitable for your enterprise will depend on your individual business needs. It's also vital to anticipate potential data losses or breaches and have a data recovery plan in place.
The Benefits of Properly Managing Unstructured Data
With something as big and challenging as dealing with terabytes of unstructured data, it can be tempting to put off the issue to a later date. But, enterprises that procrastinate on data management run the risk of falling behind their competitors.
In fact, organizations that prioritize data management benefit from lower long-term storage costs and typically experience an average annual revenue increase of 5.32% and have a 162% increased chance to outperform their peers. The reduction in costs and unnecessary steps frees up IT teams for higher value tasks.
Unstructured data stores may contain critical information that can help business leaders make better decisions. But, extracting this important information can be a challenge. Technology solutions designed to help enterprises store and manage their unstructured data can provide business intelligence tools to mine this data for the nuggets of gold hidden within.
Editor’s note: Nutanix offers intelligent, scalable, hybrid-cloud solutions designed for enterprises to tame their rapidly growing unstructured data and escape data overload. With the ability to store VM, file, block and object storage on the same platform, Nutanix Files and Nutanix Objects offer flexibility and full control for all your data storage and management needs.
This is an updated article that originaly published on May 29, 2020.
Michael Brenner is a keynote speaker, author and CEO of Marketing Insider Group. Michael has written hundreds of articles on sites such as Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and The Guardian, and he speaks at dozens of leadership conferences each year covering topics such as marketing, leadership, technology and business strategy. Follow him @BrennerMichael.
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