What is dark data and why is it expected to waste 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 this year

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With all the chaos surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, one may be forgiven for forgetting that today is World Earth Day (22nd April). We bring it up as software firm Veritas Technologies recently pointed out a concern regarding digitalisation and the storing of data – dark data.

It’s a term that many are not too familiar with, but it pertains to the undeleted digital data that an organisation stores, and the wasted energy involved with housing it. To that end, Veritas estimates that 5.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be unnecessarily pumped into the atmosphere as a result of dark data.

“In order to protect the planet from this waste, businesses need to get on top of their data management strategies, use the right tools to identify which data is valuable, and rid their data centres of ‘dark data’,” the firm explains.

Veritas adds that an estimated 52 percent of data stored by organisations across the globe can be classified as “dark”, as the people responsible for managing it are completely unaware of its content or value.

“Analysts predict that the amount of data that the world will be storing will grow from 33ZB in 2018 to 175ZB (zettabytes) by 2025. This implies that, unless people change their habits, there will be 91ZB of dark data in five years’ time – over four times the volume we have today, with all the energy associated with powering the infrastructure in which it lives,” the firm points out.

Around the world, individuals and companies are working to reduce their carbon footprints, but dark data doesn’t often feature on people’s action lists. However, dark data is producing more carbon dioxide than 80 different countries do individually, so it’s clear that this is an issue that everyone needs to start taking really seriously,” adds Phil Brace, chief sustainability officer and EVP for appliances and software-defined storage at Veritas.

Looking at the steps that organisations can take in handling dark data, the firm has outlined the following best practices:

  • Identify all data stores and gain overview: Data mapping and data discovery are the first steps in understanding how information flows through an organisation.
  • Illuminate dark data:  A proactive data management approach allows organisations to gain visibility into their data, storage and backup infrastructure.
  • Automate the discovery and data insight routines: To keep pace with the data explosion, companies should automate the analytics, tracking, and reporting necessary to deliver organisational accountability for dark data, file use and security.
  • Minimise and place controls around data: Data minimisation and purpose limitation ensure organisations reduce the amount of data being stored and establish what is retained is directly related to the purpose in which it was collected.
  • Monitor to ensure continual adherence to compliance standards: Compliance rules like GDPR and PoPI introduce a duty on all organisations to report certain types of data breaches to the relevant supervisory authority, and in some cases to the individuals affected.

“Filtering dark data, and deleting the information that’s not needed, should become a moral imperative for businesses everywhere,” concludes Brace.

[Image – Photo by Alexander Tsang on Unsplash]

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Editor of Hypertext. Covers smartphones, IoT, 5G, cloud computing and a few things in between. Also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games when not taking the hatchet to stories.


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