5 Tips to Optimize Your Unstructured Data

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This article was adapted from its original publication in TechBeacon.

IT organizations have more unstructured data than ever before – data which could inform a number of critical decisions and initiatives across the company. Yet they also face many challenges in putting all their unstructured data to good use. Problems like figuring out how to move unstructured data without disrupting users, poor visibility into unstructured data, and legal constraints are all common barriers to optimizing unstructured data management, according to the Komprise 2022 State of Unstructured Data Management Report.

To overcome those hurdles, IT organizations need ways of deriving value from unstructured data while simultaneously addressing priorities like securing the data, reining in data storage costs and future-proofing data against the business needs of tomorrow. It’s possible to square this circle, but only with the right approach to unstructured data management.

This article walks through five best practices for maximizing the value of unstructured data—meaning any type of data that doesn’t originate in a database, spreadsheet, or other structured data format.

1. Don’t Fly Blind with Unstructured Data

Effective management of unstructured data starts with knowing your data and understanding the core metrics surrounding your data. To get started, you’ll need visibility into such things as:

  • How much data you have and its age;
  • Where the data is stored;
  • File types and file sizes;
  • Data owners and access patterns and;
  • What it costs to store the data.

This visibility is critical because, in most cases, unstructured data is born inside silos. And unless you know which unstructured data you have, you can’t make informed decisions about how best to manage it.

2. Plan for Ongoing Data Mobility

Businesses tend to treat data migration as an infrequent, periodic event. When they plan to migrate data from on-prem into the cloud, for example, they might assume that migration ends once data has been moved to the cloud.

The reality of data lifecycles is more complex. In many cases, unstructured data is constantly in motion. After you move it to the cloud, you’re likely to move it to different storage tiers within the cloud, or from one type of cloud service (like object storage) to another (like a data analytics platform).

It’s best to treat cloud data migrations as an ongoing process, supported with policy-based automation wherever possible. That’s the only way to ensure that data is always living in the right place as it moves through the lifecycle from active use to cold storage or archives—and then, sometimes, back again to active use.

3. Continuously Add Value to Unstructured Data

IT leaders are already thinking about how to add value to unstructured data. For instance, according to the Komprise survey, 65 percent of organizations seek to deliver unstructured data to big data analytics platforms to derive value from it. But smart IT leaders are also indexing unstructured data as part of their data migration and consolidation processes, so that the data becomes easier to find, search, and use. And they’re using the cloud not just as a low-cost storage solution, but to build a data lake where they can easily leverage cloud compute services and drive analytics for their data.

The point here is that IT leaders should be constantly on the lookout for ways to make unstructured data easier for everyone within the business to use. Big data analytics are part of that equation, but they’re not the only component.

4. Enable Secure Self-Service for Your Data

Along similar lines, empowering business users with self-service access to unstructured data should be a priority for IT leaders. Moving data into the cloud nor creating a data lake are enough on their own to guarantee that data has real business value. To achieve that, users must be able to find the data easily and integrate it into their workflows using seamless self-service processes.

Systematically tagging unstructured data is pivotal. When data is well-labeled, users across the business can easily search for and find the documents, photos, videos, and other types of information they need—no matter how many data assets the business owns and no matter its organizational structure. Of course, the search and access mechanisms need to enforce security and access control so that each user only sees the data they are authorized to access.

5. Embrace Standards-Based Data Management

Your data is yours. Don’t let vendors control where you can store it and what you can do with it. Instead, choose unstructured data management tools that are standards-based. This ensures that you can move data across any platform or use any type of data service that is also standards-based, without depending on a specific vendor to enable that functionality. As well, standards-based tooling ensures that you never end up stuck using a platform you no longer want because you can’t migrate data otherwise.

On top of this, standards-based tools help ensure that businesses can do whatever they need to do with their data without paying licensing penalties and costs, such as for a third-party cloud filesystem or unnecessary cloud-egress fees. By using data management solutions like Komprise that store data in native format in each tier, you can directly access the data and use all the cloud data services on your data without having to pay a data management or storage vendor. Avoiding these costs is a priority for 42 percent of IT leaders surveyed by Komprise.

Parting Thoughts

The amount of unstructured data that businesses manage will grow steadily for the foreseeable future. Rather than viewing unstructured data as a liability or a challenge, IT leaders should look for ways to derive more value from it. Doing so starts by understanding the data and implementing automated data management. From there, businesses can build data enrichment into their management processes, offer self-service access to data, and embrace standards-based operations to get the most out of the unstructured data they generate.

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