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How Enterprises Finally Tamed Information Sprawl: The View from 2015

March 9, 2012


This “report from the future” describes the steps that enterprises will have taken by 2015 to tame information “sprawl” and regain control of their information. It’s a look back at today’s information pain points from the perspective of tomorrow.
Fast-forward to 2015.
Even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it’s hard to believe how many costly information management mistakes were being made just a few years ago.
For example, consider how much data was routinely retained: At one point, 75% of enterprise backup storage consisted of infinite retention or legal hold backup sets. ¹ It was a huge amount. In fact, over-retention had created an environment where it was 1,500 times more expensive to review data than it was to store it. While many enterprises said they believed in the value of a formal information retention plan, in reality less than half actually had one.
Moreover, unstructured data was growing at an annual rate of 60%. The growth in file-based data had overwhelmed organizations’ ability to manage and protect it. There was a clear need for automation and for establishing accountability to support large-scale data management efforts.
Then there was the runaway growth of data in Microsoft SharePoint. According to one survey, 40% of the companies using SharePoint as their collaboration platform had more than 1TB of data stored, while 20% of the companies had more than 6TB stored. At organizations with more than 1,000 users, almost half expected growth of 40% or more each year. ² The survey also found that more than half of the organizations were “archiving” SharePoint data using backup software. Clearly, the need to intelligently manage rampant SharePoint growth had become urgent.
At the same time, massive amounts of information were being stored on difficult-to-access backup tapes, making eDiscovery a lengthy, inefficient, and costly exercise. According to one survey, approximately 40% of organizations were keeping data on their backup tapes indefinitely and using those backup tapes for their legal hold process. This exposed them to the costly and dangerous proposition of restoration in the event of litigation. ³
To sum up, then: By 2012 it was becoming abundantly clear that information explosion and sprawl had made it impossible to effectively manage information using traditional methods. Backup windows were soaring, while recovery times had become prohibitive. Companies were drowning in information and unable to tell which information was important and what was not, which was personal and which was business-related.

How information sprawl was finally tamed

So how did enterprises finally regain control of their information? Surprising as it may sound, they began by realizing that the costs of waiting for the “perfect plan” were far outweighed by the benefits of being proactive. Then they took the following steps:
  • A formal information retention plan was created. Without a formal plan it’s hard to know when—and what—to delete. That’s what drives over-retention. Smart companies got started with a formal plan and improved on it as they progressed.
  • Backup was no longer used for archiving and legal holds. Backup is intended for disaster recovery. All you need is a few weeks of backup (30 to 60 days). Files should be deleted according to the retention plan or archived after that.
  • Deduplication was deployed. Implementing deduplication further reduces the amount of storage needed in all areas of the company. Smart enterprises deployed deduplication close to information sources to reduce storage everywhere. This cut down the amount of storage that must travel across the network. They also centralized the management of deduplication to reduce complexity.
  • An archive system was used for discovery. In general, discovery means identifying relevant material, placing it under hold so it cannot be deleted, and then efficiently reviewing the information to extract the value. A modern archive system makes discovery as efficient as possible. There’s no need to make additional physical copies “for compliance reasons.” An archive system enabled enterprises to search for and find information much more quickly—and with finer granularity. This reduced the time and cost it takes to evaluate litigation risk.
  • Data ownership was established by tracking usage. Data ownership identification helped bridge a gap between IT and the business owners of the data. Armed with data analytics such as who was using the data and how it was being used, IT could effectively engage and empower business owners to reduce risk, improve efficiency, and achieve compliance.
  • Data loss prevention technologies were deployed. A content-aware DLP solution enabled enterprises to discover, monitor, and protect confidential data wherever it’s stored or used—across network, storage, and all endpoint systems.


Information is the lifeblood of any enterprise. But too much of it can lead to information overload, driving up storage costs, expanding backup windows, complicating eDiscovery, and increasing risks.
Taking the needed steps to address those challenges isn’t always easy. A prioritized plan of action is required, but creating the optimal plan can seem overwhelming. Instead, Symantec recommends a straightforward action plan, which includes the steps outlined above, for regaining control of your information—both today and in 2015
  • ¹ Symantec Corp., 2010 Information Management Health Check Survey
  • ² Enterprise Strategy Group, “Microsoft SharePoint Adoption, Market Drivers, and IT Impact,” March 2009
  • ³ Symantec Corp., 2011 Information Retention and eDiscovery Survey

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