The Real Big Data Gold Mine is Unstructured

April 12, 2023 | Jim Liddle The Real Big Data Gold Mine is Unstructured

When people in the technology industry talk about big data, they are typically referring to structured data. If you swipe or tap your credit card at a specific location, the information associated with that transaction will be logged and stored in structured form in a traditional or cloud warehouse. The technology solutions developed to store, analyze, and transform this structured data into business insights and advantages have been tremendously successful over the past decade. The industry has a handle on structured data.

Unstructured data is an entirely different and more exciting story. Files and other unstructured datasets have been growing quickly for more than a decade and this growth accelerated during the pandemic. As people began working from home, and companies shifted to hybrid office models, unstructured datasets began expanding even faster. The complexity increased as well. Users resorted to Shadow IT, storing files in various systems, and large organizations were left to manage disparate datasets residing on different arrays. The potential risks here are numerous, especially with regards to cybersecurity and data governance, but the opportunity costs associated with losing easy access to those files, and not being able to mine them for insights, will be just as significant in the years to come.

There is tremendous value hidden away in all those distributed historical files. The question now is how companies can manage, protect, and extract insights from their unstructured data. Since its inception, Nasuni has offered a new way to store unstructured data by moving it off traditional, siloed hardware and into cost-effective cloud object storage. While that fundamental value proposition remains, Nasuni is also uniquely positioned to lead this next phase of the big data revolution as more and more large organizations look to turn unstructured data from a costly liability into a transformative asset.

The Value of Historical Data

Prior to the pandemic, companies were embracing digital transformation strategies that centered on traditional storage arrays like NetApp and Isilon. Apart from the scale limitations this approach introduced for a vastly growing unstructured data set coupled with the access issues fostered by the pandemic unstructured data that was stored was often effectively locked away after a period of time, pushed off to backup or other arrays to conserve space locally, and, at this point, effectively rendered inaccessible. The value of this data naturally declined. You can’t use files that you can’t find.

Then everyone began working from home. The world of work has changed. Companies are now giving up their office leases entirely or downsizing to flexible, hybrid, hotel-style spaces. Plans to invest further in legacy on-premises storage hardware have been reassessed in favor of cloud first data management and data storage strategies such cloud file data services solutions as provided by Nasuni. Why invest in more on-prem hardware when your people aren’t on-prem? Why build out office storage arrays when everyone’s working from everywhere?

Insights and Analytics

The cloud offers unlimited, cost-effective capacity for those datasets, but it also allows businesses to more effectively organize and manage their distributed and historical unstructured data — the files that had been so hard to use and analyze. Once all files are securely stored in the cloud, it opens new avenues of opportunity. Businesses can think about leveraging technologies that can make this data more accessible to your hybrid workforce, and businesses can also start to think about extracting unexpected value from that unstructured data. What sort of value?

Marketing and advertising agencies looking to bid on a new campaign might want to leverage work they completed five or ten years ago, either to spark new ideas or bolster their pitch. One of our clients, an apparel manufacturer that specializes in licensed brands, often needs to refer back to and update product designs that were last worked on a decade before. The faster their creative teams can find that work, the better.

Law firms and other legal organizations need to quickly find old contracts quickly and efficiently.

Architects, engineers, and designers often want to scan through projects for inspiration or call up examples of similar elements that will help in a pitch for new business.

The list goes on. The use cases vary by industry, but the common theme is that unstructured data can be a tremendous asset to your organization if it’s easy to find and access.

Governance and Security

It’s not just about making sure businesses extract value from their data. They also need to ensure they don’t lose that data, especially in the age of ransomware. Attackers don’t simply go after the files employees are working on today. They go after the history. The right cloud data protection approach can protect an organization against such attacks, including ransomware variants that target backups.

Finally, businesses have to consider data governance and compliance. If you’re a CISO, paying a $500,000 ransom to a shady group of hackers is equivalent to handing over a $500,000 fine to a governing body for a data-related regulatory violation. Both would be much better avoided, so you want to have your arms around both of these problems. Moving your unstructured data to the cloud and deploying the right file data services platform can take this potential problem off the table through intelligent services.

Imagine you’re the CISO or CIO at a large multinational corporation that has grown in part through acquisitions. You’re going to have massive, historical, distributed unstructured datasets all over the world. The governance rules and regulations in those territories have probably evolved over time, so even if a given dataset was compliant at one point, it might not be any longer. With this new and next generation set of cloud file services, you could set up a system that scan your 50 million files for sensitive information, such as passport or social security numbers or Personal Health Information. Then you can throw a digital lasso around those files and put them somewhere they can be protected and not easily shared out into the wild, which, if it occurred, would leave you in breach of local regulations or data governance requirements.

These are just a few of the many possibilities. We’ve all seen what companies can do with structured data analytics and now many of us will have been exposed to systems such as ChatGPT in which data can be ingested and searched using natural language.  Now imagine the possibilities if your business could apply AI and other intelligent tools to photos, videos, building designs, documents, spreadsheets, PDFs and more. The possibilities are tremendously exciting, and we expect to have some major news to share on this front later this year. In the meantime, if you haven’t moved your unstructured datasets to the cloud already, consider starting the process now.

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