The Way Business Is Moving published by
Issue Date: November 2008

Getting a handle on unstructured data sprawl

November 2008
Brett Haggard

Unstructured data is growing in volume and importance. But how are IT shops getting a handle on the protection and management of this data? Symantec claims to have an answer.

While businesses have over the years gone to great lengths to secure the ‘family jewels’ stored in their corporate database, CRM solution or line of business application, employees have increasingly grown accustomed to using tools such as e-mail, instant messaging and Word/Excel to carry out their daily tasks, so there has been an increase in the value of information stored in an unstructured form.
The traditional methods of securing these files ie, keeping them safe from malware using a slew of antivirus and anti-spyware solutions and controlling access to them using conventional operating system-level permissions, are simply not cutting it any longer.
Enterprises realise that if even one of these files finds its way into the wrong hands, the effects could be catastrophic.
As such, they are turning to solutions that not only allow them to securely lock their intellectual property away in safe online stores, but allow them to apply enterprise grade, hardened security policies to these assets.
More than protection
It is not just about peace of mind however. Enterprises also have to ensure they are complying with the data protection and retention policies of their countries of operation and the governance regulation of their shareholders.
And with a survey conducted in September by Symantec claiming that IT managers across the globe estimate that their e-mail and intranet content is growing at in the region of 30% per annum, the issue is only becoming more urgent.
Securing unstructured data is one thing. Being able to produce it on a whim is another thing entirely.
Three compelling solutions
Because of the alarming growth of unstructured data in the enterprise, IT managers are having to coordinate their efforts to secure unstructured data with the need to slow data growth, or for that matter slow the rate at which their enterprise storage systems need to increase in capacity.
It is clear that a multitiered approach is required.
The best illustration of this was demonstrated at Symantec’s Vision conference held in The Hague in October.
The company used the conference to announce three new solutions that target a great deal of the headaches IT managers face in securing and reducing the proliferation of their unstructured data.
Dealing with messaging
The first of these is Brightmail Gateway 8.0, which through enhanced sender reputation technology and improved management features allow companies to cut down on the volume of data their e-mail and instant messaging systems are required to cope with; and protect the business against messages that contain malicious code.
Inbound protection across the company’s e-mail and instant messaging solutions deals a crushing blow to spam and viruses, while outbound controls bring advanced content filtering and data loss prevention technologies to help companies protect sensitive information, thereby going a long way towards taking care of regulatory compliance.
Rounding the usefulness of Brightmail Gateway out, comprehensive reporting and granular controls ease the job of the IT management team when it comes to managing and administering the enterprise’s e-mail system.
Averting data loss
The second new product announced at the conference, namely Data Loss Prevention 9.0, as its name suggests is aimed squarely at preventing data loss at the enterprise’s endpoints.
Symantec claims that the product broadens the enterprise’s coverage of endpoint events, simplifying endpoint data loss prevention management and enhancing its data discovery capabilities.
The solution is designed to provide customers with the ability to discover, monitor and protect confidential information wherever it is stored or used.
Putting data in a vault
The last announcement was an updated version of Enterprise Vault, which aims to consolidate e-mail and other electronic information into a single repository, thus making it easier for businesses to protect and reduce the duplication of data in its data stores.
Symantec claims that Enterprise Vault 8.0 can assist organisations in reducing the costs of storing unstructured information by more than 60 percent.
While the reasoning is sound, these solutions will likely only surface during the first part of next year.
On the upside however, the problems these solutions address are going nowhere.
Unstructured data management and protection is likely to be a priority for many years to come and will likely persist long after cloud computing becomes a reality.
Symantec is not the only player in this space, but it talks a good tale and seems to have a good view of what is required. With the attention this area is getting today it is plausible that this challenge can be brought under control and be managed.
Unstructured data sprawl is a clear issue, and with the importance of this information on the rise, businesses must curb growth, while keeping it safe from harm.
There is no one-size fits all solution however.
IT managers should look into ways of addressing the data growth at its source ie, e-mail and instant messaging solutions, while at the same time reducing the number of identical copies of data in their data stores.
And then look at ways to protect that cleansed data, while allowing it to be easily retrieved and used by those authorised to do so.

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