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What Is Data Sprawl and How Can You Manage It?

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What Is Data Sprawl and How Can You Manage It?

Data sprawl is the accumulation of vast amounts of data by organizations, to the point where they no longer know what data they have or what is happening with that data. Data sprawl comes with a number of obvious drawbacks, including increased management overhead (i.e., tying up technical talent with less impactful administrative tasks), hidden security risks, and opportunity loss in the form of sub-optimal usage of customer data or not using the right data for the right things. As software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications proliferate, data sprawl will only become more prevalent and harder to deal with.

What Causes Data Sprawl?

Enterprise applications and operating systems consume a wide range of both structured and unstructured data stored on a variety of endpoints. The data might be stored locally on premises or in one or more cloud platforms located in different geographic areas.

That said, there’s a reason data sprawl is sometimes seen as being synonymous with SaaS sprawl: because it’s caused primarily by SaaS applications. SaaS apps such as CRMs, video conferencing systems, project management tools, and file storage applications produce massive amounts of data within the organizations that use them. You also have employees storing company-related data on their own laptops, furthering the sprawl.

Put it all together—hundreds of SaaS applications and data storage in many different locations and on many different devices—and you have the perfect recipe for data sprawl.

The Risks of Data Sprawl

For a long time in the tech world, something like data sprawl—i.e., having more data than you know what to do with and so much that you don’t even know where a lot of it resides—might have been seen as a good thing: How can it be bad to own so much oil? But times have changed. The security, data management, and data storage implications of data sprawl are far too wide and damaging to see it as a good thing.

These are the main challenges of data sprawl:


The advent of stringent data privacy laws such as the GDPR make it imperative for companies to know exactly where their sensitive data lives and to be able to retrieve that data in a timely manner if it’s needed. The GDPR gives individuals the right to access, modify, and remove any personal data collected on their behalf, and organizations must respond to subject access requests (SARs) within a month or they risk facing costly fines or lawsuits. Thus, non-compliance and its related charges and fines is one of the primary challenges that data sprawl creates. 

Lost Knowledge

Data sprawl makes it very difficult to know where your data is and who owns it. Thus, when that data is lost, it’s lost forever and a knowledge gap is created. Knowledge gaps can significantly hamper a company’s progress and make it hard to keep up with competitors. 

Security Breaches

Data sprawl leaves sensitive and valuable company data far more exposed to cybercriminals. Without the protection of an organization's cybersecurity systems and tools, data that the company is unaware exists can be far more easily exploited or stolen. While it may reside in places protected by cybersecurity software, it’s almost a guarantee that this software won’t be as thorough or protective as the company’s software. 

Management Overhead

One of the largest impacts of data sprawl is management overhead. With data sprawl, the storage team spends the majority of their time managing multiple data sources and silos that cannot be automated or managed like a portfolio. As such, you take smart people away from doing impactful things and turn them into admins.

How to Manage Data Sprawl

There are various tools and strategies you can use to manage and potentially even significantly reduce your data sprawl or at least the risks associated with it.

  1. Give your employees all the tools they need
  2. As the saying goes: the best cure is prevention. Given that the primary cause of data sprawl is unknown use of SaaS applications by employees, perhaps the best way to battle data sprawl is to ensure it never happens in the first place by ensuring your employees never lack the tools they need to do their jobs well. If you see the same teams asking for the same tool or tools, consider getting them so that they don’t get them on their own.

  3. Establish policies and best practices for data governance and access
  4. If you feel like you can’t prevent data sprawl from happening, then the next best thing to do is control it by doing your best to know where your data is coming from and where it’s residing. You should have strict policies in place guiding how data from all sources is collected, stored, managed, and accessed, and make sure your employees are aware of these policies by requiring their review of them as part of onboarding. This is also known as data lifecycle management.

  5. Consolidate your data storage management
  6. One of the most damaging aspects of data sprawl is not knowing where the data is being stored. Consolidating your data storage management using systems that can manage on-prem, hybrid, and cloud storage as a single experience instead of going the storage destination route is key. As you do this, though, definitely consider cloud data security challenges and risks.

  7. Remove duplicate data
  8. A large aspect of data sprawl is the sheer amount of data out there, much of which isn’t useful to you because it’s either duplicated or redundant in some way. There are many data deduplication tools out there that will help you reduce data sprawl by removing irrelevant or duplicate data.

How Pure Storage Helps with Data Sprawl

As the amount of devices and both structured and unstructured data proliferated, data sprawl is only going to become more of a challenge. Properly storing, managing, and leveraging your data is key to preventing and dealing with data sprawl and its risks. 

Pure Storage® delivers solutions that help you turn unwieldy, hard-to-manage data into revenue-generating outcomes. Pure modernizes your storage with a fast, unified unstructured storage platform that allows you to get the maximum value from all of your unstructured data.

We recently launched Pure Fusion — a nearly infinite, scale-out storage model that unifies arrays and optimizes storage pools on the fly. It brings the simplicity of the cloud operating model anywhere with on-demand consumption and back-end provisioning.

Learn more about Pure Fusion here.






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