Exploding the data storage myth

Contrary to popular belief, it's not cheaper to keep everything

We must explode the myth of cheap data storage. People who say we should save everything because storage is cheap are talking nonsense.

Here’s an example of why: The Air Force learned it had petabytes of stored data, but users had accessed only a relatively small percentage of it in the previous year. People often did not know what information they had in storage, and the task of finding out was too daunting to contemplate. The annual cost of storage technology had reached several hundred million dollars for the Air Force, and it continued to grow.

Officials realized that vast amounts of data kept going into storage, little ever came back out, no one knew what was stored, and the costs kept mounting. The Air Force’s conclusion: We are creating giant information landfills.

In a civilian agency with which I am familiar, nearly two-thirds of the data stored on the primary storage-area network server has sat unused for four years. Agency managers clamor for more storage and servers, while a big chunk of rarely used data sits untouched — an obviously inefficient use of resources.

The storage technology industry has sold a false bill of goods. Individual items of storage technology might be cheap and effective, but storage devices multiply by the hundreds unless they are managed well. The total cost can be staggering. Nearly every government agency is probably misusing data storage technology and, in the process, wasting significant amounts of scarce resources.

Storing information is not the same as managing information. For example, e-mail archiving avoids actually managing the messages by capturing all of them to storage devices and stacking them in a dark corner to be forgotten. To be sure, that practice relieves the pressure on crowded servers. But it offers no help when an agency receives a subpoena demanding that officials produce some of the messages in court. In that event, the agency will spend still more money to manually paw through poorly indexed e-mail messages to find the right ones.

Deceptively cheap storage technology has lured agencies to retain information indiscriminately, without periodically culling files and destroying data that has no further use. Agencies seem oblivious to the fact that storing data that serves no further purpose is wasting money that could be spent elsewhere.

If data has enduring value to the agency, records managers should handle it properly so that the data will be retained for a justified time period and then destroyed or moved to permanent archives. If it has no further value now, destroy it now. Alas, storage technology tempts the pack rat in each of us.

Agencies should inventory their storage technology, find out what data is no longer useful and dispose of it. They should stop storing data for indeterminate periods. Above all, they should count the total costs of data storage and then ask themselves whether the costs are justified or represent a waste of taxpayer dollars.

About the Author

Tim Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above