How deleting data waste can reduce the carbon footprint of digitalisation

Massive sprawls of dark data pollute data centers worldwide; deleting data waste could help to reduce the carbon footprint of digitalisation data carbon footprint

Digitisation can be part of the solution to climate change but storing digital data that is never used can also consume an enormous amount of energy and, as a result, produce CO2 that need never have been wasted. Veritas estimates that 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 will be unnecessarily pumped into the atmosphere as a result of powering the storage of this kind of data this year alone.  In order to protect the planet from this waste, businesses need to get on top of their data management strategies, use the right tools to identify which data is valuable, and rid their data centres of ‘dark data’.

On average 52 percent of all data stored by organisations worldwide is ‘dark’ as those responsible for managing it don’t have any idea about its content or value. Here in the UAE, dark data stands at around 47 percent, according to the 2019 Veritas Middle East Databerg Report. Much has been said about the financial cost of dark data but the environmental cost has, so far, often been overlooked.  Analysts predict that the amount of data that the world will be storing will grow from 33ZB in 2018 to 175ZB by 2025. This implies that, unless people change their habits, there will be 91ZB of dark data in five years’ time – over four times the volume we have today, with all the energy associated with powering the infrastructure in which it lives.

Johnny Karam, Regional Vice President, Emerging Region, Veritas Technologies, said, “The UAE has been a pioneer in the implementation of programs and initiatives that contribute to reducing its carbon footprint in pursuit of a greener future. The nation is also leading the charge when it comes to digital transformation across the region, with the efficient utilisation of data being a key catalyst. However, as data volumes increase every year, solving the problem of dark data needs to be considered a top priority. The dark data we store as businesses and individuals is producing high amounts of carbon dioxide, especially in large economies that have excelled in their digital transformation. It’s clear that this is an issue that everyone needs to start taking really seriously.

Johnny Karam, VP Emerging Region, Veritas
Johnny Karam, Veritas

“This is both a global and a local issue. Last year, we released the 3rd edition of our “Middle East Databerg Report” which revealed that UAE businesses surveyed were failing to manage their dark and ROT data, with only 12 percent of the data stored by organisations reported to be clean – the rest being ROT (redundant, outdated, trivial information)and unclassified data. The good news is that the IT industry has a unique chance to get ahead of this challenge. By taking steps to understand our data better, implementing policies to filter dark data and deleting the information that’s simply not needed, we can help reduce spiraling emissions.

“While this needs to become a moral imperative for businesses everywhere, we as individuals also have a key role to play here. By simply managing the thousands of videos and photos that we’ll never look at, or emails that we’ll never read, we will each be playing our part to reduce our impact on the environment. Businesses and consumers everywhere need to learn how to manage their data for the sake of the planet.”

Veritas has defined best practices that will enable organisations worldwide not only to delete data waste with confidence but also help them to reduce cost and strengthen their compliance:

  • Identify all data stores and gain overview: Data Mapping and Data Discovery are the first steps in understanding how information flows through an organisation. Gaining visibility and insight into where data and sensitive information is being stored, who has access to it and how long it is being retained is a critical first step in pursuit of dark data and the key foundation to build from.
  • Illuminate dark data: a proactive Data Management approach allows organisations to gain visibility into their data, storage and backup infrastructure, so they can take control of data associated risks and make well educated decisions which data can be deleted with confidence.
  • Automate the discovery and data insight routines: to keep pace with the data explosion, companies should automate the analytics, tracking, and reporting necessary to deliver organisational accountability for dark data, file use and security. Companies might need to handle petabytes of data and billions of files, so their Data Insight approach should integrate with archiving, backup and security solutions to prevent data loss and ensure policy-based data retention.
  • Minimise and place controls around Data: Data minimisation and purpose limitation ensure organisations reduce the amount of data being stored and establish what is retained is directly related to the purpose in which it was collected. Classification, flexible retention and compliant policy engines allow confident deletion of non-relevant information providing a cornerstone of any dark data project and companywide compliance.
  • Monitor to ensure continual adherence to compliance standards: compliance rules like GDPR introduce a duty on all organisations to report certain types of data breaches to the relevant supervisory authority, and in some cases to the individuals affected. Organisations must evaluate their ability to monitor breach activity and quickly trigger reporting procedures to ensure compliance.
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