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Worried about storing unstructured data? You're not alone

Most data being created today is unstructured, and storage pros often find themselves struggling to keep up. Luckily, efficient unstructured data storage is still possible.

Storing unstructured data is one of storage's major challenges. It can be hard to appreciate some modern technological advancements knowing they are creating massive amounts of data that must be managed, stored and analyzed.

Dealing with unstructured data is far from impossible, however, and vendors are rising to meet the needs of organizations working with a lot of unwieldy data. Storage technology is evolving as well, and with the right storage systems and practices in place, working efficiently with unstructured data is possible.

Below, we answer five frequently asked questions about storing unstructured data. From breaking down the challenge it presents to which system is best suited to storing it, we hope to soothe your unstructured data fears and help your organization get the most out of it.

What is unstructured data?

As its name implies, unstructured data does not adhere to a traditional structure, such as data found in financial systems and business applications. While structured data lends itself to rigid formats like databases, unstructured data is more free-spirited. Examples of unstructured data include images, text files, sensor data and emails.

The unstructured nature of these files has its benefits, such as allowing analytics teams to work with data without first standardizing it, which can lead to more comprehensive analytics. Advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are making the labeling and categorizing of unstructured data easier so that information is more accessible and less daunting to sort through.

What are the biggest issues involved in storing unstructured data?

Unstructured data makes up the majority of data being produced today, and there is a lot of it.

"Daunting" is one word that could be used to describe the amounts of unstructured data out there. Unstructured data makes up the majority of data being produced today, and there is a lot of it. The three biggest hurdles to unstructured data storage are volume, variety and value.

Because unstructured data is made up of files like audio, video, pictures and even social media data, it's easy to see why volume is a challenge. Luckily, there are a number of vendors in the business of storing unstructured data, including Dell EMC, Pure Storage, Scality, Igneous Systems, Red Hat and Qumulo. Referring to the vast array of data types, variety can lead to major security problems if not handled correctly. With so much data being stored, the types of data -- including personally identifying information, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers -- may not be taken into account.

Similarly, the value of the data can get lost in the shuffle when working with so much of it. There is value to be found in unstructured data, but harnessing that information can be difficult. Vendors such as Cohesity and NetApp offer products that can help you sort through the data efficiently and be mindful of what it holds.

Which system is best for storing unstructured data?

Both NAS and object storage have their benefits when it comes to unstructured data storage. NAS is a traditional and reliable storage system, and its hierarchical and organized format keeps files categorized and easy to sort through. NAS is fast, user-friendly and widely supported. However, NAS lacks scalability, at least when compared with object storage.

Rather than use a rigid format, object storage systems use metadata to describe the data and sort it by attributes, such as name, creation date and location. Object storage is highly scalable, making increasing capacity easy. However, performance is more likely to be lacking in an object storage system. While object storage seems to have an edge, there are pros and cons to both storage systems.

Unstructured data

What about flash?

If you're looking to give your storage system a boost, it might be worth investing in flash to help handle your unstructured data. Flash costs continue to drop, making the speedy alternative to hard disks a viable option for more workloads. Because object storage struggles with performance, using hybrid or all-flash can speed things up significantly.

Along with better performance, flash-based SSDs consume less energy and take up less space. However, while prices are going down, flash storage is still an expensive option. Before adding flash to your unstructured data storage strategy, assess your organization and be sure that it is a sensible investment.

Can storage tiering help?

Storage tiering is nothing new, but the need for proper tiering has gained traction with the rise of unstructured data. With automated storage tiering, you can assign categories to unstructured data, organizing it so frequently accessed data is readily available while less important (but still necessary) data is on the backburner. With such a wide variety of data types under the unstructured umbrella, prioritizing it in this way can improve performance and manage storage costs.

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