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Storage is the secret weapon that protects unstructured data

14 Jun 18

Article written by StorageCraft APAC head of sales Marina Brook

The volume of unstructured data—freeform information that does not fit neatly into databases organised by fixed categories—is exploding. By 2022, 93% of all digital data will be unstructured, IDG Research predicts.

Much of this will be corporate data, including email and text messages, audio files of customer service recordings, video files of YouTube uploads, text files or Word documents and PDFs, social media posts and more.

Having reached epic proportions, unstructured data presents huge storage and processing challenges. Machine-generated data such as medical 3D imaging and satellite imagery, and data created by the Internet of Things, keeps adding new and larger streams of unstructured data to the flood.

Because unstructured data is far more accessible and easier to share than structured data, it poses a significant risk in terms of vulnerability from cyber-attacks.  Due to its varying nature, and the challenges of identifying where it resides in the enterprise network, it is difficult to protect unstructured data from unauthorised access and/or to prevent it from leaving the secure company environment.

The challenges presented by storing and protecting such data raise concerns relating to compliance with data protection and privacy laws such as Australia’s NDB and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Traditionally unstructured data has been of lesser value than structured data. But that’s changing. Its value is rising quickly because as unstructured data grows unabated, it tends to contain a higher level of vital information. And because it is increasingly spread across an organisation’s infrastructure, this data is a treasure trove for hackers. Often, organisations have little awareness of the volume, composition, risk and business value of their unstructured data—making awareness a critical first step in its protection.

Unlike structured data, which grows predictably, unstructured data grows unpredictably and exponentially. Predictable, linear growth can be managed with old-school storage techniques such as over-provisioning—purchasing more storage than is needed to meet anticipated growth. But unstructured data is another animal entirely and most enterprise IT infrastructures are not designed to handle it. This is a problem both in management terms and from the data security perspective. Infrastructure that can’t scale and adapt to unpredictable data growth exposes the data to risk.

Organisations understand this. They know they need multiple layers of protection from endpoint to network security, patch management, and Identity and Access Management (IAM) etc. to safeguard their data. However, security measures are perfect only until they are penetrated, and organisations need to get security right 100% of the time. Hackers need just a single successful breach to compromise data.

That’s why enterprises need to reexamine both their security infrastructure and their storage infrastructure from the ground up. They need to implement modern storage techniques if they truly want to defend against attacks. They need to realise that storage is not merely a container for enterprise data, it can also be designed to successfully mitigate the risks associated with unstructured data.

All organisations face the danger of a hacker destroying their data. And they all need a backup storage solution to be able to recover it in that worst-case scenario. So, in a perfect world, they would all keep extremely close track of their data and back it up to ensure it can be recovered easily.

The trouble is, the closer an organisation comes to real-time data saving, the more expensive it gets. So they make a choice: depending on the value of the data they’re protecting, they may decide to accept one minute of data loss—or perhaps one day.

The way forward

Fortunately, this dilemma can be resolved. Innovations such as continuous storage snapshots allow organisations to capture and ‘back up’ their unstructured data cost-effectively in near real-time. A storage snapshot is a set of reference markers for data at a particular point in time. It serves as a detailed table of contents, providing organisations with instant access to previous copies of their data.

IT managers are realising that storage-based technologies like snapshots provide an additional form of backup and offer the next level of reactive recovery from an attack. For example, the data referenced by snapshots is immutable, making it highly resilient to ransomware attacks.

The second challenge is that unstructured data can simply overwhelm organisations. Just as they have dealt with one terabyte, 10 more terabytes arrive. Market analyst Gartner expects to see growth of 800% over the next five years. This calls for a storage infrastructure that can both manage growth and secure all that unstructured data. This is where object-based scale ou storage stands out.

Object-based scale-out storage gives organisations the means to deal with exponential data growth cost-effectively. With features such as deduplication and compression which compact the overall data, it helps organisations to get out of reactive mode and having to constantly deal with storage provisioning. Object-based scale-out storage lets organisations focus on higher value tasks of data management and protection.

Despite the many challenges, the good news is that modern storage technology can come to the rescue of organisations: it can deliver quicker, more granular recovery points so they don’t lose data in the event of an attack. It can also lock down certain types of data to ensure higher levels of protection. Indeed, object-based scale-out storage can be an organisation’s secret weapon in gaining better control of their unstructured data and mitigating risk once and for all.

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