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Clearing out ROT data to reduce your carbon footprint

Image: Adobe Stock / metamorworks

Operating 24 hours a day and often powered by the burning of fossil fuels, data centres have a huge and unsustainable environmental impact.

Data centres alone account for over 2% of global carbon emissions – a worrying statistic considering it equals that of the global airline industry. Even more concerning is that it shows no signs of slowing down. By 2040, it is predicted that 14% of global carbon emissions will come from data centres. The impact that this will have on the planet is well-known and it is common knowledge that carbon emissions should be kept to a minimum. So why is this situation getting out of control?

The simple answer is that data production is rising at unprecedented levels. It is currently predicted that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated every day. Of course, organisations cannot stop producing data – in today’s digital world, it is an essential part of business. Whilst many organisations are increasingly turning to the cloud as a more eco-friendly method of data storage, cloud migration can take a long time and many businesses remain reluctant to operate as a 100% cloud company. Data centres will, therefore, remain a crucial part of data storage for the foreseeable future.

Abandoning the use of data centres completely is not a feasible solution, but there are actions that businesses can take now to reduce the environmental impact of their data storage.

Have a clear out

Good data management is an essential step in improving the situation. The less data stored, the smaller the environmental impact. However, everyone knows the pain of deciding what to discard – when clearing out a cupboard at home, we always question when we may need an item again, even if it has not been used in the past five years. This cupboard of unused objects is just like a business’ files – the majority of it is unneeded or should be properly stored elsewhere.

This is what we call ROT data: information that is redundant, obsolete, or trivial. Simply put, this is data that is not essential to the day-to-day running of the business. It could be anything from duplicate copies of documents, out-of-date statistics, or any other information that does not help the organisation meet its long-term goals. As this data is unnecessary and irrelevant to most daily activities, a secondary data centre is usually used to store it. With the amount of electricity used and carbon emissions let out by data centres, the use of one to store such data is totally unnecessary.

One type of ROT data that can be easily removed from a data centre is personal documents and files. Unlike most ROT data, you would not want to discard this information but it is much more sustainable – and logical – for these to be stored on personal systems. It is just a simple step but I guarantee that you’d be surprised by how much data it could take out of a data centre.

For the rest of the stored data, unfortunately, it is not as simple. The process requires consideration and cooperation; you cannot risk discarding important data or deleting valuable copies of such information – simply right-clicking and sending it to the recycling bin is not an option. All departments within the company should be involved – from legal and compliance to HR and, of course, IT. Working together the different teams need to determine whether storing the data is necessary, the lifecycle of the data and how long it will be needed for, how often access to the data is required, and the best way to store it to enable the necessary access. These factors will help determine which data is important and should be kept on-site, and what needs to be kept in a data centre or can be discarded all together.

Utilising intelligent data management solutions will prevent ROT data from building up. Such technologies can generate insights to assist the process by establishing the lifecycle of data from creation to storage, helping to determine what data is ROT and at what stage it becomes so.

Small steps make a big impact

The rising rates of data production are inevitably showing no signs of slowing down, so it is essential that changes are made to reduce the environmental impact. We cannot expect an overnight fix but if every business invested time and effort into using data centres in a more sustainable manner, we could take significant steps towards reversing the damage we are currently doing to the planet. A greener future can only be achieved through action and time is of the essence – make the first steps towards a more sustainable business practice today.

Picture of Marco Fanizzi
Marco Fanizzi
SVP and GM at Commvault International

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