Ben Hatton Managing (and backing up) your unstructured data

April 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Paper overflow

Unstructured data is kind of like this, but in digital form. (Image courtesy of Flickr user zoetnet)

A term that is often used within the data backup industry is ‘unstructured data,’ which refers to any type of data that doesn’t fit into a formal structure, like data you would typically find in a database.

Just a few types of unstructured data include:

  • Digital files of any kind, such as Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.
  • Emails
  • Website content

More of your data is unstructured than you think

Unstructured data like this can be more difficult to fully quantify than structured data that you’ll find in databases, but it deserves all the attention it gets. This is because unstructured data accounts for upwards of 80% of all the data that is generated and used by organizations, according to estimates from research firm Gartner. This percentage has been shown to be steadily increasing year over year, as well.

This can present a challenge when you’re trying to maintain a level of control over all of the data that your business generates, as well as a challenge for your data backup strategy. Here are a few basic steps that can help you begin to more effectively manage this data, as well as identify how you can backup each different type.

1. Determine what you have

The 3 examples I listed above no doubt apply to your business (we all have email, right?), but these are just a few straightforward sources of unstructured data; there are many, many more out there. It is important for you to take the time to identify what that data looks like for your own business, and where it resides.

2. What’s the business impact?

Once you’ve identified what your unstructured data looks like, you will want to analyze the overall business impact of that data. In other words, what would be the business impact of losing some of that data? If we stick with those same examples of files, email, and web content, I’m guessing that a major loss in any of those 3 areas would have a pretty substantial impact on your day to day operations. You should take the time to determine the level of impact, and ultimately the level of importance, for each area of unstructured data that your business uses.

3. How do I backup the unstructured data?

By its very nature, unstructured data isn’t always as straightforward to backup as data you will find in a database, but that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. Anything can be backed up, and each source of your unstructured data is no different. Let’s take one last look at the 3 examples, and some basic backup methods for each one:

  1. Digital files: This type of data can easily be backed up to a file server that is maintained on or offsite, as well as backed up via a cloud service.
  2. Emails: Most email clients allow you to backup all of your emails into a retrievable file format on a routine basis (daily/weekly/on the fly/etc.). These files can also be backed up to any offsite or on premise location.
  3. Website content: The files that make up your website reside on a web server somewhere, and it is wise to enable these files to be routinely backed up to a secondary location as well (creating a full backup copy of your website). Most web hosts allow for this backup function, allowing you to have your site backed up at regular intervals.

Look at what else is out there

These are just a few rudimentary examples of unstructured data, and I’m sure that you can think of many others as well! As this type of data continues to grow, it will become more and more important to gain a firm understanding of where your unstructured data lies, and identify exactly how you will go about backing up that data regularly.

When it comes to backing up your data, Data Cave offers an Offsite Backup service that could help play a role in your overall data backup efforts. I encourage you to reach out and contact us if you’d like more information!

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