It’s dubbed “digital shadow” – and the name is as ominous as the reality. Digital shadow is the volume of digital information generated by various sources. And it’s spiralling out of control.

Digital shadow eclipses Canadian firms’ data management efforts

Digital shadow – the volume of digital information generated by various sources – is surging, and Canadian firms are struggling to handle the flood of data, technology experts say.

With a compound annual growth rate of 60 per cent, the digital universe is growing faster than earlier projected and is now expected to exceed 1.8 zettabytes (ZB) by 2011, according a recent study conducted by analyst firm IDC for the EMC Corp. One ZB is equivalent to 1,024 exabytes (EB).

The report titled: The Digital Universe, is part of IDC’s ongoing research on worldwide data storage and management.

Currently, estimates put the sum of all the world’s printed material at five EBs.

Worldwide digital data, on the other hand, was estimated at around 281 billion gigabytes (GB) or 281 EBs last year. That figure is equivalent to every person on earth having nearly 44 GBs of data or 17 billion 8GB iPhones, EMC said.

The results indicate a phenomenal increase in digital data growth from previous growth estimates of around 10 per cent.

The growing use of high-resolution digital cameras and surveillance camera deployment in urban centres, greater Internet access, adoption of high-definition TVs and creation of various digital media are fueling the growth, according to one EMC executive.

“An individual’s digital shadow – that is all digital information generated about the average person on a daily basis – now surpasses that person’s digital footprint or the amount of digital information individuals actively create themselves,” said Rob Lunney, director of Western Canada for EMC.

The survey also indicated that while 70 per cent of digital data is created by individuals, more than 85 per cent of the information is managed by businesses.

The challenge for Canadian firms if four-fold, according to Philip Barnes, senior research analyst covering the storage market space at IDC Canada.

“Companies need to determine: what sort of data do they have, do they store or get rid of it, how will they secure it, and how will they retrieve data in a timely fashion for compliance and business value purposes.”

While hesitant to say that Canadian companies are ill-prepared for the data deluge, Barnes did indicate that organizations aren’t investing in data storage/management to the degree that the situation calls for.

“Average storage expenditure of companies is around 11 per cent of the IT budget,” he noted. “From 2002 to 2007, spending has remained flat at around seven per cent while the data grew by a compounded rate of 60 per cent.”

The IDC Canada analyst said enterprises need to move away from data storage-centric strategies to a data management approach.

“Most companies are purchasing more storage disk drives to deal with their data challenges rather than looking into various hardware and software data management solutions.”

The key, he said, lies in classifying the data properly to determine the proper life cycle or management process it requires.

Among the data products and strategies available today are: tiered storage, virtualization and data de-duplication said Barnes.

Another industry insider said companies are struggling with data overload.

“If companies needed to store all the data they have digitally, there would not be enough space right now,” said Bill Dupley, IT strategist for Hewlett-Packard Canada.

He said a recent survey indicates that one third of CEOs and CIOs believe that in two to five years their data centres will be incapable of dealing with the rapid demand for services and applications.

By 2010, more than half of all data centres will have to relocate to new facilities or outsource some applications and over 50 per cent of large enterprises will face data centre floor space shortage in five years, Dupley said.

One solution that HP is implementing is the use of cloud computing.

In 2006, the company opened six data centres in the U.S. dedicated to cloud computing.

HP moved away from the traditional practice of servers being owned and controlled by business units to a model where IT assets and servers were managed and controlled by IT, Dupley said.

“In the old model most business units tended to guard their IT assets jealously, keeping server use to themselves and preferring the servers to remain idle when not in use rather than allow other units to use them,” he said.

In the cloud computing model, the IT department is given free rein over provisioning storage and server use to any group within HP anywhere in the world.

“IT is able to provide server capacity, application use and storage as the need arises for anyone in the organization.”

Dupley said HP has achieved immediate benefits from the exercise.

For instance IT budgets are expected to go down from four per cent of revenue in 2006 to just two per cent by 2009.

This cost reduction will be driven by reducing applications in use from 6,000 to just 1,500, and cutting down the number of data centres from 85 worldwide to just six.

The use of cloud computing also streamlined the provisioning process, said Dupley

Traditionally, business units would have to purchase their own servers and have an IT team to manage provisioning tasks.

With cloud computing, business units only need to log onto a corporate site, pick the type of server they want and specify the service they require.

An automated process takes care of the rest and provisioning is usually accomplished within 30 minutes, said Dupley.

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