An IDC study has found that storage sales have jumped recently and it's largely due to compliance. Yes, customers are complying with the compliance pitches put forward by storage hardware and software vendors.

The messages were so persuasive that storage spending leapt by 18 percent in the last quarter of 2003. Suppliers like nothing better than a killer app which makes customers buy. With government regulations concerning compliance tied in with regulatory standards, they appear to have found it.

Bill North, an analyst at IDC, said: "The backup and replication markets were propelled by a combination of increased storage hardware spending and the need to support disaster recovery and regulatory compliance initiatives."

More and more storage development is driven by compliance opportunities. For example, Documentum and IBM. Commenting upon a recent MSI report Hamish Macarthur of Macarthur Stround International said that "legal and regulatory factors will certainly result in a new storage sales peak in the short and medium-term."

Company directors hearing a message that they could go to jail if found not to be in compliance has had an enormous loosening effect on purse strings. And it's virtually open-ended. In summary, it seems that business needs to keep all electronic information about all financial transactions - structured, unstructured and semi-structured. Ditto health records and drug development histories. No one knows which bits might be demanded by fee-hungry lawyers rooting through their files. It is a frightening prospect.

Business doesn't know the half of it. Regulatory agencies have given little thought to the cost to business of keeping the huge amount of information that is generated over years. There appear to be no clear rules about what should be kept and what can be discarded. It's a lawyers' banquet with in-house lawyers in favour of playing it safe and keeping almost everything.

That could mean that storage hardware needs in a business could double in just a few years. Or worse. No one knows - but the direction is firmly up. Ask a lawyer if information should be kept (so lawyers can later search through it, or to avoid litigation penalties) and the answer is rarely going to be no. Storage hardware and compliance software vendors are, it is safe to say, not unhappy about the situation.

It would seem that at least one group of people have benefitted from the actions of Enron, WorldCom and Parmalat.