Jan 042011

I’m going to run a few posts about overall data management, and central to the notion of data management is the data lifecycle. While this is a relatively simple concept, it’s one that a lot of businesses actually lose sight of.

Here’s the lifecycle of data, expressed as plainly as possible:

Data Lifecycle

Data, once created, is used for a specific period of time (the length will depend on the purpose of the data, and is not necessary for consideration in this discussion), and once primary usage is done, the future of the data must be considered.

Once the primary use for data is complete, there are two potential options for it – and the order of those options are important:

  • The data is deleted; or
  • The data is archived.

Last year my partner and I decided that it was time to uproot and move cities. Not just a small move, but to go from Gosford to Melbourne. That’s around a 1000km relocation, scheduled for June 2011, and with it comes some big decisions. You see, we’ve had 7 years where we’re currently living, and having been together for 14 years so far, we’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. I inherited strong hoarder tendencies from my father, and Darren has certainly had some strong hoarding tendencies himself in the past. Up until now, storage has been cheap (sound familiar?), but that’s no longer the case – we’ll be renting in Melbourne, and the removalists will charge us by the cubic metre, so all those belongings need to be evaluated. Do we still use them? If not, what do we do with them?

Taking the decision that we’d commence a major purge of material possessions lead me to the next unpleasant realisation: I’m a data-hoarder too. Give me a choice between keeping data and deleting it, or even archiving it, and I’d always keep it. However, having decided at the start of the year to transition from Google Mail to MobileMe, I started to look at all the email I’d kept over the years. Storage is cheap, you know. But that mentality lead to me accumulating over 10GB of email, going back to 1992. For what purpose? Why did I still need emails about University assignments? Why did I still need emails about price inquiries on PC133 RAM for a SunBlade 100? Why did I still need … well, you get the picture.

In short, I’ve realised that I’ve been failing data management #101 at a personal level, keeping everything I ever created or received in primary storage rather than seriously evaluating it based on the following criteria:

  • Am I still accessing this regularly?
  • Do I have a financial or legal reason to keep the data?
  • Do I have a sufficient emotional reason to keep the data?
  • Do I need to archive the data, or can it be deleted?

The third question is not the sort that a business should be evaluating on, but the other reasons are the same for any enterprise, of any size, as they were for me.

The net result, when I looked at those considerations was that I transferred around 1GB of email into MobileMe. I archived less than 500MB of email, and then I deleted the rest. That’s right – I, a professional data hoarder, did the unthinkable and deleted all those emails about university assignments, PC133 RAM price inquiries, discussions with friends about movie times for Lord of the Rings in 2001, etc.

Data hoarding is an insidious problem well entrenched in many enterprises. Since “storage is cheap” has been a defining mentality, online storage and storage management costs have skyrocketed within businesses. As a result, we’ve now got complex technologies to provide footprint minimisation (e.g., data deduplication) and single-instance archive. Neither of these options are cheap.

That’s not to say those options are wrong; but the most obvious fact is that money is spent on a daily basis within a significant number of organisations retaining or archiving data that is no longer required.

There are three key ways that businesses can fail to understand the data lifecycle process. These are:

  • Get stuck in the “Use” cycle for all data. (The “penny-wise” problem.)
  • Archive, but never delete data. (The “hoarder” problem.)
  • Delete, rather than archive data. (The “reckless” problem.)

Any three failure can prove significantly challenging to a business, and in upcoming articles I’ll discuss each one in more detail.

The articles in the series are:

There’s also an aside article, that discusses Stub vs Process Archives.

  5 Responses to “A basic data lifecycle”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by bobthomson70 and James Payne. James Payne said: A basic data lifecycle http://goo.gl/fb/29UnB […]

  2. […] This is part 2 in the series, “Data Lifecycle Management“. […]

  3. […] is an adjunct post to the current series, “Data lifecycle management“, and is intended to provide a little more information about types of archiving that can be […]

  4. […] in the four part series, “Data lifecycle management”. The series started with “A basic lifecycle“, and continued with “The importance of being archived (and deleted)“. (An aside, […]

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