I’ll start this blog with a three part series detailing some of the things I’ve learned as I’ve entered the world of data management and storage solutions. This first entry is about the issues that might arise when storing and managing your own data. The second entry will be a more in-depth look at the different storage options that are out there. The final entry will cover some of the issues I’ve run in to in letting go of direct control over my data.

When I began working with a company that provides data storage services, I knew I’d have to learn about all the options that are out there for storage, both to understand what my company had available, and to understand the issues our customers were facing. It begins with two questions. Do I store my own data or do I pay someone to store it for me? How this differs from individuals to large companies is only a matter of scale. The second question is, how am I going to manage my data? Will I take care of it myself, or should I get someone else to organize it, maintain it and write software code for it? This one can be a tricky balance of accessibility, security, and cost.

Storing and managing my own data seems the simplest and easiest solution. First off, it’s tangible. I can interact directly with my data whether that’s on my computer’s hard drive, some nearby portable drives, or possibly a small file server in my organization. It’s comforting to know I can have that information at a moment’s notice and it takes at most a short walk down the hallway to know exactly where my data as. Perhaps more importantly, it’s cheap! The cost of storage has, and will continue to plummet. You can pick up a terabyte (1,000 gigabyte) hard drive for $50 these days, and the price tag is only going to go down from there. Additionally, I have the peace of mind of knowing that my data is sitting safe and sound on my desk or in that server down the hall. It’s under my control and I never have to worry about some hosting company being offline, my internet provider giving me trouble, or any other worry about storing data off-site. I don’t have to keep uploading and downloading data and there’s no unfamiliar company with employees I’ve never met that have the potential to see my private information. For small organizations on a budget with small amounts of data, this is probably the ideal solution. It’s quick, it’s cheap and it gets the job done.

Storing my own data also means taking the risks associated with it. What happens when disaster strikes? Hard drives crash or get misplaced, data gets corrupted, and coffee cups get knocked over. If I’m being cautious, I’ve backed up the data onto another device. Hopefully recently, and not several months ago, before I made all those important changes I dedicated the last week of my time to. What if someone breaks in to my office? A portable drive is an easy thing to pocket and walk off with. What happens then? I have to track down the spare, restore my data or create a new backup, hope that my backup is not corrupted, and redo any lost progress I had made.

Further, the difficulties of dealing with data on a series of hard drives can go from manageable to a nightmare in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen customers that have stacks of portable hard drives with Post-It notes stuck to each one identifying what was on the drive. One careless step and you have a pile of hard drives on the floor and sticky notes flying everywhere. Even in a less extreme example, the problems can be numerous. So long as you’re beyond the size of your personal computer’s storage, what are you going to do if two people need that data at the same time? You can’t both share a portable drive. What if you need to run some analysis on files spread out over multiple drives? It is my experience that once data moves beyond an individual, there is almost always some challenge that arises in managing that data, whether it’s who has the hard drive at the time, who has access to it, who can edit or delete it, or how two or more people can work on the same data at the same time without creating conflicts.

If you’re ok with these risks, personal storage may be exactly what you need. A careful individual can mitigate a lot of these risks by saving files in mutliple locations and keeping track of what data is where. If you desire a higher level of security and additional help in managing large amounts of data, it may be time to start looking towards some of the other options.