The Data Pileup: Save Money or Save Data?

Expanding the storage farm may be cheap, but is it a cost-effective way for storing data?

Given how cheap storage has become, it's understandable enterprises are expanding arrays to house growing data. But stocking up on hardware and software to hold more and more information is a costly misstep, according to a Gartner report released today.

New regulations and legal concerns are likely prompting IT to keep every bit and byte of data just in case some litigation issue arises, and since storage costs are decreasing, the urge to push another box into play can be tempting.

The problem is that data growth will very quickly outpace the savings in storage, according to Whit Andrews, an analyst at Gartner (NYSE: IT).

"It's time for companies to modernize storage strategies and understand how information access technology can be a good tool for making sure they need what they're keeping," Andrews told

According to Gartner, the highest reported price in the first quarter of this year for managed storage was $12.50 per gigabyte per month, and the lowest was $0.29 per gigabyte per month for archive storage needs.

A recent survey of Gartner clients reported that none expected its storage budget to decrease this year, and that 67 percent expected the budget for storage hardware to increase. Of those polled, 64 percent also expected storage software costs to increase as well.

Just a quick look at backup storage provides a clear view of how storage costs are decreasing. Prices dropped by about 30 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to Gartner.

But then cheap storage isn't really cheap when additional management costs and increased power and cooling costs are factored in.

Enterprises that choose to retain everything run the risk of significant future costs, Gartner reported. Also, the longer information is saved, the harder it is to discern value, according to the survey.

Information-access tools

Companies need to create a clear distinction on which data should be saved on primary storage and what data should be housed on cheaper secondary storage, as the costs vary greatly in terms of hardware and software.

Gartner provided a scenario, using a rough estimate of $5 per gigabyte for backup storage and a generation rate of 10 gigabytes per employee per year. A 5,000-worker company faces annual costs of $1.25 million for five years of storage with those financials. Cutting the amount of data by 80 percent could save about $1 million for five years and lower the organization's liability, noted the report.

Information-access technologies include a wide range of tools such as enterprise search, content analytics and social search. Integration and deployment typically require some expertise, such as an information architect, to get the tools in place and working well, Andrews explained. And it's not cheap, either, as products can range from $10,000 to millions for advanced applications.

Still, companies can offset the costs through storage savings, as well as benefits from improved business processes.

The first step, according to Gartner, is to initiate and develop a content valuation process. "This is determining what's important to keep and how a company decides what to keep," explained Andrews.

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