Data volume is creating its own set of challenges. Much like a planet’s mass influences the movement of other celestial bodies, data volume can create its own “gravity. This phenomenon is becoming increasingly relevant in the digital age, as organizations generate and manage massive amounts of data, and as more and more business processes are being powered by cloud computing. Understanding the impact of data gravity is becoming increasingly important for organizations that want to succeed in their digital transformation journeys.
In this comprehensive guide to data gravity, we will explore the concept in detail, examining its causes, consequences, and how organizations can leverage it to their advantage. We will also look at how it impacts cloud computing, and how organizations can use hybrid cloud and edge computing to overcome its challenges.
What is data gravity?
This name refers to the concept that once data reaches a large volume, it “attracts” more data, applications, and other resources to its location. Basically, the more data you have in a specific location, the more likely it is that additional data, applications, and resources will be drawn toward that location. We can observe this in the same way that data centers and cloud storage facilities are becoming increasingly centralized as companies generate more and more data and store it in these locations.
As data accumulates, it becomes more difficult and costly to move or transfer it to another location, leading to a “gravity” that encourages companies to add other resources and applications to the same site.
The gravitational pull isn’t literal but describes more about human nature than machines. Data is costly, complex, and in many cases, risky. Companies are less likely to create new data locations when one location is already available unless something spurs them to.
But why is data gravity becoming such a common occurrence? A 2020 study uncovered several key reasons.
- The Continuous Data Creation Lifecycle spurs bigger data and bigger gravity. Companies gather more and more data seeking insights into markets, consumers, and competitors, and this continuous, rapid updating feeds the cycle.
- The increase of digitally enabled interactions and increasing regulatory pressure, such as data localization, prompts companies to copy data to multiple locations.
- Mergers and acquisitions post-COVID, meaning enterprises grapple with more (and increasingly disparate) data sources.
What does this mean for cloud strategy?
Data gravity can significantly impact a company’s cloud strategy in both positive and negative ways. Here are a few areas in which it can influence cloud strategy for good and bad:
- Centralization: Data gravity can drive companies towards centralizing their data and applications in one or a few cloud providers, making it easier to access and analyze their data but also potentially leading to lock-in and vendor dependence.
- Hybrid Cloud: Data gravity can make it challenging to move data and applications between cloud providers, leading some companies to adopt hybrid cloud strategies that allow them to use multiple cloud providers while still taking advantage of the “gravity” of their data.
- Edge computing: To overcome the challenges posed by data gravity, some companies are turning to edge computing, where data and applications are processed and stored closer to the source of the data rather than in a centralized cloud location. This reduces the processing and storage load.
- Data governance: Data gravity can make it challenging to manage data effectively, so companies may need to implement robust data governance and management practices to ensure they drive the full value of their data assets while also avoiding the negative consequences of data gravity.
Overall, data gravity can play a significant role in shaping a company’s cloud strategy, and companies need to consider its impact as they develop and execute their cloud strategies. The key is to balance the benefits with the potential challenges and to choose a cloud strategy that aligns with business objectives while also addressing the challenges posed by centralization.
So what are its potential pitfalls?
Data gravity can be a problem for digital transformation for several reasons:
- Data silos: When data accumulates in one location, it can create silos of information that are difficult to access and use. This can make it challenging for organizations to access the data they need to make informed decisions and to integrate different systems and applications.
- Lack of data mobility: The “gravity” created by data can make it difficult to move or transfer data from one location to another. This can limit the ability of organizations to take advantage of new technologies, platforms, and tools, as they may be unable to access their data in a new location.
- Dependence on a single platform or vendor: When limited by their data mobility, organizations can become dependent on the chosen platform or vendor. This can create lock-in and further limit the ability of organizations to switch to a different platform or vendor if they need to. Technical debt piles up until making a switch causes catastrophic operational upheaval.
- Inefficient use of resources: When data and resources are concentrated in one location, it can lead to inefficiencies and higher costs. For example, it can strain network bandwidth and storage resources or lead to duplication of effort as different teams work on the same data. In an era of compatibility, this is the opposite.
The biggest downside is its ability to limit organizations trying to take full advantage of digital transformation. This transformation should bring increased efficiency, innovation, and agility, but it can’t if the overarching cloud strategy favors limitations. Instead, organizations need to take a proactive approach to managing their data, including implementing data governance and management practices and consider alternative technologies such as edge computing and hybrid cloud architectures.
Are there benefits to data gravity?
No, it isn’t all bad. It’s an inevitable outcome of dealing with big data, so companies might spend unnecessary resources trying to avoid it entirely. Companies can leverage data gravity for good by using it as a strategic asset to drive their digital transformation efforts. By taking a proactive approach to managing their data and using data gravity to their advantage, companies can:
- Enhance data-driven decision-making: Strategic data centralization makes accessing and analyzing data easier, enabling more informed and data-driven decision-making.
- Increase collaboration and efficiency: By bringing data and resources together, companies can increase collaboration and reduce duplication of effort, leading to greater efficiency and productivity.
- Drive innovation: Companies can create new opportunities for innovation by consolidating data sources and platforms—with a clear plan—as they can more easily integrate different systems and technologies.
- Build competitive advantage: By leveraging data gravity to drive digital transformation, companies can gain a competitive advantage over those still struggling with data silos and lack of data mobility, as well as those wasting considerable time and resources trying to eliminate data gravity altogether.
Companies can use it as a powerful tool to optimize data management and utilization and achieve their business objectives. However, it is important to remember that data gravity can also pose challenges, such as increased complexity and the risk of lock-in. Companies must remember to take a balanced and strategic approach to using data gravity—one that neither ignores nor vilifies it.
What is influencing the future of data gravity?
Here are a few trends that are likely to impact the future of data gravity.
Increased adoption of edge computing
Edge computing is expected to become more widely adopted as organizations look for ways to overcome the challenges posed by data gravity. Edge computing allows organizations to process and store data closer to the source, rather than in a centralized location. Then, organizations can minimize the amount of data they must centralize, reducing the impact of data gravity. On the other hand, edge computing can also encourage data gravity by creating new data sources to manage. For example, the growth of the Internet of Things will generate massive amounts of data at the edge, and companies will need to ways to manage and analyze it. Most organizations may choose to centralize data, and many will allow data gravity to determine where.
Growth of hybrid cloud
The trend toward hybrid cloud will likely continue as organizations look to take advantage of the benefits of multiple cloud providers. By centralizing data in one or a few locations, organizations can minimize the impact of data gravity, making it easier to access and analyze their data. This can help organizations overcome its challenges, such as high latency and bandwidth costs, by reducing the distance data must travel.
On the other hand, hybrid cloud can also encourage data gravity by creating new data sources to manage. For example, organizations adopting more cloud-based applications and services may create multiple data sources that they must centralize in one or a few locations. The most likely influencing factors on its impact will be the amount of generated data, the location of the data, and the availability of cloud computing resources
The emergence of new technologies
New technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and 5G are expected to significantly impact data gravity by generating massive amounts of data that must be managed and analyzed. Additionally, as organizations become more data-driven, they are likely to adopt new management practices, such as datalakes and data warehouses, to organize and place data in optimized locations.
As companies grapple with data complexity arising from the sheer data volume of technology, strategic data gravity could help streamline processing. It also helps companies understand their data landscapes as they leverage cloud resources to handle the volume.
A checklist to turn data gravity into an advantage
It’s possible to turn this gravity into a strategic advantage. Here is a quick checklist to get companies on the right track.
- Understand your data: Map out where it is located, who owns it, and how it is used. This will give you a good starting point for understanding the impact of data gravity on your organization.
- Evaluate your data management processes: Assess how well you are managing your data and identify areas where you can improve. This includes everything from data governance and data quality to data access and data analysis.
- Centralize data where possible: Consider centralizing your data in one or a few locations to make it easier to access and analyze. This can help you take full advantage of data gravity.
- Consider a hybrid cloud approach: A hybrid cloud approach can allow you to take advantage of the benefits of multiple cloud providers while still leveraging the power of data gravity.
- Implement edge computing: Edge computing can help you overcome the challenges posed by data gravity by processing and storing data closer to the source, rather than in a centralized location.
- Invest in data governance: Data governance is crucial in managing data effectively, so make sure you have robust data governance practices in place, including data access controls, data quality management, and data retention policies. This also determines how and where data rests.
- Monitor and assess your data gravity: Monitor and evaluate its impact on your organization, making changes as needed to ensure you are taking full advantage of its benefits while avoiding its negative consequences.
Instead of ignoring it or putting too many resources towards eliminating it altogether, companies could view it as a competitive advantage when set up with correct parameters.
Data gravity, like many things, will require a strategic approach
Overall, the future of data gravity will be shaped by a combination of technology advancements, changing business needs, and evolving data management practices. Companies that can effectively leverage it and take advantage of these trends are likely well-positioned for success in the future.
Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for data science and AI and a background in linguistics. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain – clearly – what it is they do.