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Dark Data – About the Data Load and how to face it

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In our customer projects, we repeatedly experience a wide variety of file storage structures. But there is always one common denominator: a very high proportion of legacy data.

Data is constantly captured, stored and therefore filed. After some time, nobody thinks about the data anymore and it remains contained in the structures of the storage systems or file servers. Nowadays, this data is also called “dark data”.

In this article, we will look at how this happens, what the consequences are, and finally, how to face the problem.


The Situation

Organizations are struggling to make sense of exponentially growing volumes of unstructured data. With annual growth rates of 25-30%, managing the sheer volume is top of mind.

A user with 5,000 files in 2016 now has between 15,000 and 19,000 files. If growth remains constant, it will only take 4 to 5 more years for the original file quantity to increase tenfold.

At the same time, the gap between the amount of legacy data that is no longer used and the productive data is increasing.

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The Problem

Significant consequential costs are caused to the companies not only with regard to storage space and backup – rather, efficiency and satisfaction of the employees in the departments suffer. This effect will be explained in the following.

Based on categorization by projects, processes and departments, flat structures are recommended for organizing file storage: the “click paths” are short and access rights are simple.

In contrast, permSECURE’s many years of project experience show that companies are creating deeper and deeper – and thus inevitably more confusing – directory structures to cope with data storage (the data “sinks” deeper and deeper, so to speak). This means that the goal of providing users with short paths in flat structures is missed by “miles”.

Instead, the paths become longer and longer and finding the right(!) files becomes increasingly time-consuming. 10 minutes of additional daily time for file search costs 625,000 € per year in a company with 500 employees (at 250 working days and 30 € hourly rate).

Moreover, as folder structures become more complex, transparency decreases and the likelihood of deviating access rights at lower levels (inheritance breaks) increases. Incorrectly set permissions, however, pose a significant risk for data misuse. Finally, in the event of data loss in a complicated system, the effort and cost of restoring the files, folder structures and access permissions are enormous.

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The Way Out

The way out of the chaos is via the departments, because they suffer every day from uncontrolled growth in the directory structure. If the people responsible for the departments are given suitable strategies and tools, they will be more than willing to clean up the mess. Many long for a lean and clear directory tree!

To achieve this goal, the files and folders that are no longer needed must be removed from the workspace automatically, because cleaning up by hand is obviously impossible with these volumes of data.

Ideally, all data that has exceeded a certain age is moved script-based to a separate parallel area and emptied folders are automatically deleted. However, users can independently switch to this legacy data archive via central links and retrieve files in their productive workspace at any time. They do not need any support from the IT department for this.

It is the departments themselves that decide when data is old, what the folder structures should look like, and who gets access rights to it. The prerequisite for this is a sustainably designed file repository as well as reliable and easy-to-use analysis and self-service tools.

permSECURE offers all this together: Modular tools for analysis, optimization and cleanup of file shares as well as individual consulting (every system is different!) on the way to the most suitable folder structure. We recommend to design this as flat as possible to keep dependencies within the directory structure low. Then, for example, project or application folders that are no longer needed can be removed from the structure without complications. Access Based Enumeration (ABE) should be activated in such a structure so that employees only see those folders for which they have access rights.

The reward for the effort is more satisfied colleagues who also work more efficiently and cost-effectively.

About the Author:

Picture of Christoph Schulze
Christoph Schulze is Senior Consultant at permSECURE. Since 2013 he has been designing and supporting file server projects and helping customers to optimize their permission concepts.