Digital Landfill

Lately I’ve become attracted to phrases which capture a wealth of ideas or concepts in just a few words. I’ve been accused of talking too much while saying too little. While reading the book Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath it occurred to me that I need to trim down my use of words into what they refer to as proverbs. While I work on my own verbiage, I’m always on the look out for other peoples simple catch phrase or coined expressions or proverbs. Digital Landfill is one of them.

Check out the great slide show here at the AIIM Information ZEN site or here on YouTube, where they talk about the corporate digital landfill. Not hardware or electronic devices but data that lives everywhere in an organization and on a multitude of storage media –  PC hard drives, PDA’s, phones, CD’s, DVD’s, servers, USB RAM sticks (thumb drives), backup tapes and on and on. Digital Landfill – there is no better way to describe all those files. At least we clean up and recycle our paper once in a while. Digital ‘stuff’ seems to go on forever (or at least until your hard-drive crashes and takes the only known copy of your resume with it).

Back in the good ol’ days of mainframes, data storage space was expensive so there was little waste. Or at least little chance for waste to grow into a landfill. It was also highly managed. With today’s extremely cheap storage space  (I just purchased a Maxtor external drive with 500Gigabytes of space for $200 – my first PC hard-drive was 20Megabytes and it cost me $250 used) it’s easy to amass a mountain of data and just forget about it.

What’s the solution? Move everything back to the hosted environment! SaaS (software as a service), web based storage, cloud computing, thin client desktop and portable computers that have little to no storage capacity. Within a corporate environment and a world with almost ‘ubiquitous’ internet access (I love that word ubiquitous – “Existing or being everywhere, or in all places, at the same time; omnipresent“!) this is not an impossibility. At least this keeps your data from wandering off and making landfills of it’s own. But even by putting your data in a cloud you still need to manage it. Digital landfills live on servers as well.

Corporate policies regarding data (creation and duplication and re-storage) are important but they need to be tuned to meet the needs of the community of workers who need access to data. Keep it simple and easy to navigate. Keep it protected and confidential when required. Accept the fact that digital landfills exist and work hard to eliminate them. There are countless stories in my past when our servers alerted us to a disk capacity threshold being reached. We would take a look at the top consumers and what they had stored: hundreds of songs from Napster (how did they get past the firewall? – another problem to look into), four complete and distinct copies of an obsolete version of Novell Netware installation CD’s (we didn’t run Novell so where did these come from and why?), weekly backups of local PC images from the last year-including the Windows OS, every email message this user had ever received from email systems we abandoned years ago and lots of porn. Less than 10% of the users consumed 75% of the available diskspace. Talk about a digital landfill stinking up the neighbourhood.

Unlike physical landfills that are a huge challenge to deal with, digital landfills can be disposed of by simply deleting them when the data is no longer required. I’m reminded of the BOFH (the bastard operator from hell) who was a cranky character whose adventures many IT folks followed years ago. Some still do. When a user called to ask for more storage space on the mainframe, the BOFH had a simple solution…something like this – “Just let me enter a few commands here at my terminal and you’ll have lots of space – del *.*, enter. There you go!”


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