SMEs today are trying to run their IT operations, whilst facing a flood of ever increasing volumes of structured and unstructured data. With data volumes rapidly growing, 2015 will become a more challenging year than ever for businesses to effectively backup, store and access information – without experiencing significant pain and requiring costly resources.

The key to successfully managing data storage, is achieving a better understanding of your information and its actual value. This will help avoid, not only the costs arising from ineffective backing up, but also data loss and compliance risks. To make this task easier, I have discussed typical data management mistakes and highlighted some practical tips and solutions.

Get Data Aware

As most businesses have no idea about the value of their data or when they may need to access it, they mistakenly believe that they must retain all of it – which always proves resource intensive and expensive. It’s therefore important that you get to know your data, by classifying and protecting it. The bottom line is to establish a data type’s value to, or impact on your business – if lost.

Getting a grip on structured data – that’s held in databases, spreadsheets or record systems, is fairly easy, as it’s easier to find, comprehend and utilise. The problem is that nowadays, most saved data is unstructured – this includes email, images, voice and social media. In fact, Gartner estimate that 80% of organisations’ data is unstructured. This stuff is much harder to find, use and manage – whether it’s for compliance, access, search or recovery tasks.

To gain a better understanding of all your data sources, its relevance and how it will be captured, stored and accessed – an IT policy should be created. This involves cataloguing data, by business unit, to generate a more granular insight into its nature, type and location. This will enable easier, more centralised, identification of relevant data sources, in a consistent and informed way.

Using this acquired knowledge, you can then apply better backup policies. For example, you won’t want to backup all user files if they contain personal stuff, such video, photos or music files. A policy can be made to move, exclude or delete them.

Data Management Checklist

  • Data loss can be very damaging, from both a compliance and operational perspective. To protect against this, you should have a type of backup system that copies all the data on its network. It’s important to regularly check if this system works, by establishing when the last time backup logs were examined to see if all data was copied.
  • To guarantee that restored data is accurate, conduct trial runs of restoring data from the backup. Another must is regularly checking all the drives and shares in a network and matching them with the drives and shares that are being backed up.
  • It is also worth ensuring important backups are stored outside of an office building, with some kind of offsite backup solution. It could be as simple as backing up data on storage devices which are taken offsite, or setting up an automated cloud backup solution.
  • Habitually store all data on the network so that it’s accessible and backed up regularly. If data is stored on a local workstation, not only is it inaccessible to others, but in the event of the computer failing, it could be lost forever. This can be prevented by creating a documented protocol for saving files onto the network, a file naming convention and a system for granting read-access to users on the network.
  • Implement lower costs storage solutions by moving older, less frequently used data to lower cost network storage. Also, remove any data that is no longer accessed or required and train users to delete large media files from emails, old mailboxes or databases.
  • By keeping only most current file versions and removing duplicates and savings of up to 30% space can be achieved. Apply data backup duplication using the correct backup process and technology can also save on storage requirements.
  • With emails, just having an email backup policy is not enough, especially for the long-term retention of data for compliance purposes. Backups on their own will not help the retrieval of old emails, as they rarely go back more than 14 days. To avoid these risks, adopt either an on-premise or cloud-based data & email archive solution.

With the multiple pressures that data growth volumes place on a business, it’s critical to understand the location and nature of data and rationalise approaches to its management. This will not only help avoid compliance risks, but save significant costs associated with backup resources and poor efficiencies.