According to analyst firm IDC, the digital universe is doubling every 18 months and total storage on the planet now stands at 487 billion gigabytes. It's a mind-boggling situation that is only getting worse because of a perfect storm of reasons. There's the data-hungry multimedia formats that are increasingly being stored, the proliferation of content-creation devices, the numbers of people capable of creating that content, and the waves of corporate governance that make organisations store and tag more data than ever, often many times over for purposes of backup or just through inefficiency.

We all create data whether we want to or not, by walking in front of a CCTV camera, using phones, taking digital pictures or swiping smartcards in supermarkets or on transit systems. Healthcare records and scientific/medical applications alone can generate vast amounts of data, and then there are the new furrows being ploughed by the likes of Google Maps and other systems.

Through 2012 the storage total will grow by a factor of about five as IT budgets grow by a factor of 1.2 and staff headcount grows by a factor of 1.1 in the same period. Given the greater sensitivity with respect to data privacy and financial reporting, more attention must be paid not only to the sheer volume of data but also the way the information is managed.

From a cost point of view, from a corporate social responsibility point of view and from an information management point of view, one thing is clear: you can't just keep on storing data the way you did before, adding more and more gigabtyes, knowing the truth is in there somewhere, and not worrying about tomorrow. Clearly, Something Must Be Done, but what?

First of all, the CIO needs to look more broadly at the management of information technology to see how the business performs and operates in the datacentre with a dashboard and key performance indicators that really look at departmental breakdowns and the IT/business unit relationship. These should reflect not just the service levels but also opportunity levels.

For example, we've been working with ING in The Netherlands on a dashboard of the datacentre with simple stuff like storage capacity, utilisation and energy efficiency by treating this information as just another data source. It sounds very straightforward doesn't it, but not many firms are doing this; instead they just chuck any data they have into spreadsheets. This data can go all the way to the CIO or higher, providing any interested party with a clearer picture for managing data to reduce storage needs. It can then be used to let them charge back and allocate business priorities. It's basic to look at these things but in many cases the data doesn't exist, or it isn't used.

There are huge cost pressures today and companies need to be more agile and fleet of foot. They can't afford to deploy more infrastructure and people to operate it, or go on with limited interoperability and manual management rather than automation. They need something for fundamental IT management along the lines of a balanced scorecard with key performance indicators.

There is a sea of data out there with huge levels of duplication caused by a world of data hoarders. We really need master data management to get a single version of the truth together with a search-based front-end to make information discoverable. People have been focusing on how to store information but now they have to address ways to classify it and how to secure it.

There are other opportunities out there. Cloud-based storage offers an attractive way to keep information that is accessible locally even if the data resides on the other side of the world. For companies that see their storage needs go through spikes and troughs, this could be attractive, especially in the form of ‘private clouds' that take their cue from the likes of and Google but offer the assurance of being built and managed for each organisation's specific needs.

Storage virtualisation promises to do what VMware did for servers, boosting utilisation, making information easier to manage and providing flexibility and lower admin thresholds. Older capabilities such as de-duplication and tiered storage are also well overdue some love and attention.

Some people will throw up their hands and simply outsource the issue in order to pursue a quiet life but that just raises the old adage: never outsource a problem. It's no longer enough to just copy everything onto yet another storage device: you have to act now or run the risk of an inability to respond to legal and regulatory probes, or to find the information that answers a business problem.