Wendy Yale (North America) - Successful Data Management in the Metadata Era

With the emphasis on networking and collaborative data when conducting business, dangers to security and the sheer amount of data are causing problems. Wendy Yale, Senior Director at Varonis, argues that 'Meta-data'is required in order to protect and order current data loads.

Over the past 20 years, the widespread availability of computing resources and connectivity has fostered the rapid growth of digital collaboration and an exponential increase in the amount of data that is created, shared, streamed and stored.

Take the latest WikiLeaks disclosures. In a show of executive power President Obama issued a directive that federal agencies must improve their data governance policies, and called for severe penalties for those caught leaking information. But the reality is that without established data governance processes, organizations will find it challenging to prevent unauthorized access to data and ensure only the right people have access to the right data because digital collaboration and the access to data that comes with it is now critical to conducting business.  Organizations are becoming more collaborative, not less. As a result, data is more widespread and vulnerable than ever before. While this collaboration is necessary and beneficial, organizations must ensure that they have processes in place to automate both the authorization of access to data and the monitoring who is using that data.

Today's organizations are droIDwning in an electronic data deluge, comprised primarily of unstructured or semi-structured files such as documents, images, spreadsheets, presentations, videos, and audio files. According to an IDC Technology Spotlight, the digital universe volume is projected to reach 1.2 million petabytes this year, with up to 90% of that content consisting of unstructured data - the fastest growing data type where the majority of high-value information is stored. 

The amount of data and content that is governed by security, compliance, and archival requirements, is also skyrocketing. In 2008, IDC found that 22 to 33% of the digital universe consisted of this type of high-value information. In another ten years, by 2020, IDC forecasts that high-value information will grow even further, representing nearly half of all data in the digital universe. 

If the deluge of information is to remain valuable, it must be organized, managed and protected. Digital integrity is a critical business differentiator for any organization. Too often, users have access to data that isn't even relevant to them. These excessive and/or out of date access rights are often considered as having the greatest financial impact on an organization. Exacerbating the issues are IT departments (rather than data owners) who are burdened with ensuring that users and roles are aligned to correct groups, and that groups enable access to the appropriate data containers- without having the business context of the data, knowing who the rightful data owners are and without knowledge of role changes, etc.

Data About Data: The Metadata Era Has Arrived

Certainly, computers have the ability to analyze large amounts of information. But computers are mere machines and without the right information about the data to analyze it accurately, they are ineffective. Today, we are entering a new era where organizations must have continuous data about their data, the era of metadata.

Organizations need metadata to determine who the information belongs to, who has access to it, who shouldn't have access, who uses it and what kind of content it contains. This critical metadata can only be effectively collected with robust metadata framework technology since each file and folder has many metadata elements associated with it at any given point in time. If we track changes and access activity, the associated metadata grows very quickly. The constantly changing files and folders generate streams of metadata, and the combined metadata streams become a torrent. To capture, analyze, store and understand so much metadata requires a metadata framework technology specifically designed for this purpose.

Automated Analysis: Continuous Intelligence and Metadata's Right Hand Man

Simply collecting the metadata isn't enough. To truly visualize and understand the complex functional relationships, metadata must be synthesized and analyzed to determine where sensitive data is exposed, who it belongs to, who has excessive permissions to it, and other data management and protection concerns. The torrent of metadata elements and the functional relationships between them are far too numerous and complex for humans to analyze effectively, so we must turn to automated analysis.

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Automated analysis transforms an overwhelming set of information into a digestible one, picking out items of high interest, so IT resources don't have to ferret through them manually. Automating the analysis of metadata uncovers data that requires the highest level of attention. Without it, manual approaches to managing and protecting information become unwieldy, error-prone, and ineffective. IT needs automated analysis of the permissions structure to determine which containers require ownership, and to evaluate actual access activity so that data owners can be identified.

Managing and protecting data without automation is as inefficient and costly as trying to find information on the Internet without a decent search engine. With the exponential growth of mutually critical data shared by organizations, customers, partners and employees, organizations that do not protect and manage their data with automation will drown and struggle to remain competitive.  Indeed, the high-profile data breaches in the last three years demonstrate that organizations who fail to protect sensitive data will incur serious regulatory and legal liabilities, and suffer from revenue and market share declines.

Organizations that do protect and manage data with automation will have significant advantages: the right data will be more promptly available to the right people, and only the right people. Intellectual property will be secure, and trade secrets will stay secret. Customers and partners will have confidence that shared information is protected. 

The digital revolution has reached a watershed-there is simply too data much being created too quickly to manage, protect, and realize its full value without the automated collection, analysis, storage, and presentation of metadata. To keep up with already overwhelming data management-related tasks (permissions management, data auditing, data ownership, data classification, data migrations, and archiving) IT needs continuous intelligence about their data.  They need automated analysis that provides actionable intelligence and workflows that fit in with and accelerate existing business processes.

Controls and automated entitlement management need to be in place to mitigate the risks of unauthorized data access that leads to, data theft, loss, and integrity. By collecting, synthesizing, processing, and presenting metadata streams, organizations have complete visibility and control over their data, and can quickly answer critical questions to assure the value of their data has not been lost. Those IT organizations that adopt and embrace metadata technology will have a distinct advantage over those that do not-their organization will be more efficient, secure, and cost effective. Organizations that make the decision now to create a metadata infrastructure will be leaders in the era following the digital information revolution.

By Wendy Yale ,Senior Director for Worldwide Marketing at Varonis. Wendy is a veteran brand strategist with 16 years of marketing experience.