This article has been adapted from its original version on Dataversity.
We live in a data-driven economy, but what lies beneath the data is hidden gold. Metadata, or data that describes data, delivers many benefits for storage and IT managers. Yet metadata is complex, vast, and distributed across hybrid cloud infrastructure. Understanding and strategically managing metadata as part of your overall data storage strategy has become central to optimizing unstructured data management and data governance practices across the organization.
Explaining Metadata for File and Object Storage
Metadata management includes both standard metadata that most storage systems create and track as well as extended attributes that are customized and specific. Standard metadata are system attributes such as: when the file was created, who created it, what type of file it is, its size, when it was last accessed, and when it was last modified.
Advanced metadata is handled differently by file storage and object storage environments:
- File storage organizes data in directory hierarchies, which means you can’t easily add custom metadata attributes.
- Object storage lacks the hierarchical directory structure of file storage, but you can customize it.
For instance, a clinical image file would only contain metadata such as creation date, owner, location, and size. But if it is stored as an object, a user can enrich the metadata with demographics such as patient’s name, age, and diagnosis.
Ideally, metadata leverages both standard attributes and customized tags (by users or systems), which add context. For example, a metadata tag could identify a project, sensitive or PII data, demographics, location, or financial results such as quarterly sales.
Read about how tagging works in Komprise here.
Metadata Management Benefits for Unstructured Data Storage
Why invest in metadata management for data storage? Firstly, metadata brings structure to unstructured data, which is critical for search, data mobility, management, and analytics. Below are some additional benefits of metadata management for data storage teams:
- Gain data visibility: Metadata supplies more information on your data, such as: top data owners, top file types and sizes, and usage information such as last access date. These basic file characteristics are a great starting point to help guide decisions, such as where to store the data based on its business priority or to answer questions, such as, “Who are the top data owners in a department?” As you enrich metadata, authorized users can segment and search for data based on keywords so they can reuse it, delete it, or move it.
- Improve cost savings and decision-making for data storage: Since metadata improves overall visibility and understanding of your data, you can ensure it’s always in the right place at the right time. For instance, set a policy whereby once a research project has concluded, all files tagged with the project name and data are archived – preserving costly, top-tier storage for your latest, most active data.
- Improve compliance: By tagging regulated or audited data sets, such as PII, IP, or FDA data, you can search across the enterprise to ensure sensitive files are stored according to compliance rules. You can expand this to include internal corporate policies, such as how to handle ex-employee or financial data or when to confine files for deletion.
- Improve search and workflows for AI/ML: Metadata management is becoming central to AI and machine learning initiatives, helping data owners and stakeholders find key data sets faster and move them to the right location for projects. With AI tools needing massive sets of the right kind of data for a project, the ability to automate this process will become increasingly vital to successful AI/ML outcomes.
However, there are some challenges related to managing and using metadata. These include its volume, diversity in data types, over-tagging, and the wide distribution of data (and its metadata) across hybrid IT environments. All of this can make metadata unwieldy and un-useful.
In the second blog in this series, we discuss these challenges in detail and suggest ways to corral metadata to benefit the broader organization.