I sorted out my in-tray this week - or at least I tried to. I spent a good hour and a half reading through various press releases, email print-outs and brochures, deciding that I really ought to keep all of them, just in case. Perhaps, I reasoned, at some point in the distant future I will be desperate for that Iomega press pack from CeBit that I've nearly thrown out four times.
You never know, do you?
My computer is an electronic version of my in-tray, only worse - up to eight copies of the same document and a log of emails dating back to the dawn of time. Apparently, in August last year, my mate Simon agreed to meet me in the pub at 8pm.
It's human nature never to get rid of stuff. I know the rest of the company is as bad as I am and I imagine most other companies are the same. So does that mean the data storage industry, the fastest-growing sector of IT, is a response to users' inability to sort their lives out once in a while?
Perhaps that's a bit strong, but it does raise a few interesting points. Is the data storage industry wrong to focus on ever-increasing capacities and ever-higher area densities?
Instead, shouldn't it be focused on distilling personal data to a manageable level? Perhaps, instead of moving to a bigger house, we should just clear out the attic once in a while.
Of course, we do need increased capacity to store data - increased use of email, the internet and bigger applications make sure of that. But as we produce bigger and bigger documents, so the need to manage that data becomes more important.
Storage management is a huge area of growth. Highground and Legato just two out of hundreds of software management vendors, all of which do a laudable job of putting what we've got into the best possible order. The fact that the storage management market is currently worth billions of pounds suggests that corporates are at last regarding effective management of their storage resource as a fundamental part of their IT strategy, and that can only be applauded.
But the problem is more fundamental than that. The issue is not how best to store the data, but whether or not you need to keep the data in the first place.
Take data warehousing. Organisations proclaim how many terabytes of customer data they possess, as though bigger automatically means better. But unless you can make effective use of that data, what's the point? Yes, I know size is important, but someone once told me that it's not how big it is, it's what you do with it that counts.
Recently, Western Digital proudly launched an 8.4Gb drive, which is all well and good. But most users' disks will end up half-full of duplicate documents, files ending in .tmp and a couple of those applications that were more important than life itself when you installed them but have never been used since. Bigger can be better, but only if bigger means better rather than just being 'the same, with a load of extra useless bits'.
It's not really an issue for the individual user. Two or three gigabytes are neither here nor there, especially when today's drives offer a bottomless pit of resource. But multiply 3Gb by the 200-odd users in an organisation, then try to back it up, and you cause an unnecessary headache for the IS department.
This is the bit where I'm supposed to come up with the answer. But I haven't got one. Organisations need to impose a regime to control the amount of dross on employees' drives, but only the user knows what's vital and what's not. So, it's a job for each and every one of us to tidy up after ourselves once in a while: to check through our own directories and get rid of what we really don't need. And it's up to database managers to ruthlessly discard information that will never be needed again. But then I look at my in-tray, and I despair.
Richard Williams is editor of Ideal Hardware's IT Network magazine.
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