Year on year, organisations are generating increasingly large volumes of data. Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many more organisations have embraced digital transformation to survive and thrive in this new landscape. But all this data has a cost associated to it – both monetary and environmental.
As we celebrate Earth Day 2022 this month, I thought it would be worth revisiting a recent article written by Matthew Addis (Arkivum’s CTO), for the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) on environmentally sustainable digital preservation in the cloud.
The article provides a detailed answer to the question of whether digital preservation is bad for the environment, exploring the real cost of keeping data for decades or longer. He also provides his tips for storing long-term data in the most environmentally sustainable way, and it is these that I want to focus on today.
If you would like to read the full article on the DPC site (and I would highly recommend that you do), you can do so here.
But in the meantime, here are our six tips to supporting environmentally sustainable digital preservation…
Do I need to keep it?
It might seem strange for a digital preservation solution provider to encourage organisations to not store data for the long-term, but it’s simply the best starting point when looking at the environmental cost of data storage.
If you do not need to keep the data, then perhaps it’s best you don’t. Every byte has a cost associated to it. So, unless you need to keep it (for example due to regulatory requirements) or there will be other long-term benefits in retaining it, then it may be that the environmental cost of storing it outweighs the long-term benefit in you retaining it.
But before you press delete, the below questions may be a helpful starting point in deciding which data should and shouldn’t be kept. This simple step will help any organisation to mature their approach to long-term data management by challenging the business to only keep the data that it will need in the future.
- ‘What are the benefits in keeping it?’
- ‘Will people need to access or use this content in the future?’
- ‘Are there other forms of content already available that would be a viable substitute?’
Continue to ask…‘Do I need to keep it?’
Just because at one point in time data may have held (possible) future value, doesn’t mean that it always will. Organisations should continue to assess its existing archived data, to assess what it still needs to retain and what it doesn’t.
Retention policies can help to regularly assess the value of data and delete anything that no longer needs to be kept.
Where are you storing your data?
As I mentioned previously, every byte has a monetary and environmental cost so think carefully and critically about where it’s being stored.
Today, there are many storage options available for organisations across hyper scale cloud providers, on-premise deployments or a hybrid approach.
Where possible it’s also worth considering the whole cost involved. For example, an on-premise deployment would not only have a day-to-day running cost, but future costs associated with updating or decommissioning hardware.
In our experience, hyperscale cloud providers often provide a better long-term solution – they operate their data centres in different geographical locations and offer the ability to select and control exactly which locations your data will be stored in. This includes being able to select which has the lowest environmental impact.
Selective digital preservation
The digital preservation process of normalising files and maintaining them in usable formats will ensure long-term use but comes at an environmental cost. At a basic level it is generating an additional copy of a file (the normalised version in addition to the original).
Therefore, it’s important to ensure that in your digital preservation planning, you are not undertaking unnecessary preservation activities and only preserving files that must be usable long into the future or are at a high risk of becoming obsolete.
How accessible does your data need to be?
Not every file in your archive will need to be easily and quickly accessible. Any data which doesn’t need to be accessed quickly can be stored in deep archival storage – this has a lot lower environmental impact as well as being much cheaper for the organisation.
By being strict when deciding how accessible your files need to be, can help reduce the overall environmental cost of your archived data.
Creating smaller access copies of your files
Following on from the above, it is worth considering that if you need a file to be quickly accessible, to create a smaller access version of the file while retaining the larger file in archival storage (as explained above).
This approach can be particularly effective for larger files such as video where the original footage (for example captured in 4K) is kept in lower cost storage, while a lower resolution version (for example in 720p or 1080p) is used as the access version. While the difference will depend on the video, this could easily reduce the file size by at least four times.
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we always should.
Long-term data management and digital preservation is a fantastic example of this – just because we have data it doesn’t mean this should be retained forever.
A well planned and mature approach to digital preservation is crucial to ensure organisations today do not drown in their own data in the future.
By asking some simple questions such as:
‘Do I need to keep this data?’ and ‘How accessible does this data need to be?’ can act as the starting point to ensuring a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable approach to the long-term retention of organisational records and data.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, this was drawn from a longer article published through the DPC. If you found this post interesting, I would highly recommend having a read of the full version here. Matthew also provides links to several other useful resources within the article for further reading.
If you have any questions about how we can help you with your digital preservation plans, then please do get in touch with us here.
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