The goal of data protection is to protect the organization from outages. The scope of these outages can impact an application, a server, a storage system or an entire data center. IT faces the challenge of restoring the most recent copy of an impacted dataset as quickly as possible based on organizational expectations.
Achieving the data protection goal requires IT to execute high quality backups frequently enough to meet the organization’s recovery objectives. IT needs to store those backups on reliable but cost effective on-premises storage. The backups also need to be moved off-site for protection against data center outage and to meet long-term data retention requirements. All of this data movement must occur quickly and efficiently so backups can be made often, without consuming network bandwidth. Lastly, the environment has to adapt to a data center that is constantly changing.
The Five Data Center Trends That Will Challenge Your Data Protection Plan
Meeting these requirements is difficult. Even if the data center remains in a status quo, the problem is the emergence of five data center trends that will force organizations to re-examine their data protection strategy and either move to new solutions or adapt existing ones. These challenges are the shift to hybrid IT, cyber threats like ransomware, the proliferation of mission critical applications, cloud storage and cloud applications and the rise of remote office computing.
The Shift to Hybrid IT
Hybrid IT is the shift from a traditional single data center with siloed applications to clustered applications, virtual application clusters and hyperconverged clusters. Each of these environments count on more of a shared everything model instead of a siloed approach with dedicated hardware for each application. Additionally, each of these environments can run on-premises, in the cloud or both (hybrid cloud) and they can move in-between as needed.
A shared everything environment, especially one where the application can move from on-premises to the cloud and back again, is particularly challenging from a data protection perspective. Data protection applications need to become more data-centric. Instead of focusing on a physical machine, backup solutions need to be able to “follow the data” since it is very likely the active copy of data may have changed locations since the completion of the last backup job.
Another challenge for Hybrid IT is that workloads can spin up instantaneously without requiring the notification of IT operations. The backup solution also needs to be able to detect new data and protect it appropriately.
Cyber-Threats like Ransomware
Cyber-threats have evolved. Instead of being malicious, hackers have figured out a way to make money with their efforts. Instead of deleting or exposing the organization’s information, they develop applications that, once inside the organization, will encrypt all the data they encounter. The organization must pay the hacker a ransom to unlock the encryption key, giving birth to the ransomware industry. The hackers take these ransom payments and invest in developing newer and more nefarious code. Some strains now even attack the snapshots and backup applications IT might use to protect themselves from the attack.
Ransomware has placed three new challenges on the data protection process. First, IT must protect all data much more frequently than ever. One of the targets of ransomware is user data, often found in home directories on NAS systems or file servers. Traditionally the data protection strategy would only protect these data stores once per night, at best. Since ransomware can strike at any time, this data is very vulnerable to attack. This is also data for which an organization might be willing to pay.
The second challenge is the concern that ransomware can attack the backup data itself. Backup software needs to take extra precautions to not only make sure the data it protects is secure from a ransomware attack but even its own configuration files. Without such precautions the backup software may have the data but may not be able to recover it.
Other than increasing backup frequency and increasing security, organizations also need to be able to recover these file servers and NAS systems much more quickly. IT’s ability to recover is compared to the “ease” of paying the ransomware. Despite the risk, many organizations end up paying the ransom because the backup copies are too old or recovery will take too long.
Mission Critical App Proliferation
Along with the growth of unstructured data, there is also a growth in the number of applications organizations are deploying. Driven by initiatives like mobile, IoT and analytics processing, these applications are brought online quickly, often into the hybrid IT environment described above. The organization comes to count on these new applications in much the same way they count on more traditional legacy applications. As a result, they quickly rise in stature to being considered mission-critical.
The reality is that most organizations can’t treat these applications like they do their legacy mission-critical applications and in most cases, they don’t need to. While these applications need rapid recovery they don’t, in most cases, require recovery in seconds. For most of these applications, recovery in 15 to 30 minutes is more than enough. In other words, they need rapid recovery but not necessarily high availability, which is far more complicated and expensive.
IT professionals need to look to backup applications that can provide rapid recovery to minimize the investment in high availability. Rapid recovery requires frequent, low impact backups, data protection with storage system snapshot integration, and live or instant recovery. Instant recovery is the ability of the backup software to present the backup image as a usable volume by an application. It saves the time required to transfer data from the backup system to the primary storage system, which, if the data set is large enough, could take longer than the time allotted for recovery.
Cloud Storage and Cloud Compute
Most organizations now have a cloud strategy. That strategy can range from the simple use of cloud storage as a backup target to using cloud storage for archiving. Additionally, many organizations are looking to move applications to the cloud to leverage cloud compute. These applications can be transferred to the cloud full-time or only when on-premises resources are running out, also known as cloud bursting. Many organizations are also shifting core software services to software as a service (SaaS) applications like Salesforce.com, Office 365 and G-Suite. Finally, organizations also need to work the unexpected return of applications into their cloud strategies. Called the cloud boomerang, some applications, after cloud migration, end up not being a good fit for the cloud either from a cost or consistency standpoint.
The organization’s cloud strategy challenges the data protection process in many ways. Firstly, the application needs to support cloud storage as either a backup or archive target or even both. Secondly, the data protection solution should be able to assist with cloud migration, being responsible for moving data to the cloud and then back from the cloud to on-premises storage, as needed. The data protection solution should also protect cloud-hosted applications. While it is true most of these providers provide their own backups, those backups are for their protection, not the customer’s protection. IT must assume the responsibility to protect this data from both internal and external threats. Lastly, the backup solution should be able to assist with a cloud exit, whereby cloud data is migrated back on-premises.
The Rise of Remote Office Computing
The final trend is the rise of remote office computing (ROBO). Organizations are forced to be more geographically diverse than ever. Acquisitions drive part of this diversity. The need to find talented employees drives another part. After an acquisition, instead of shutting down an office, the organization will now tend to keep the location. The networking between offices is much easier to provide than in years past. In addition, organizations are creating new office pods, so employees don’t all have to commute into a single corporate headquarter.
The rise of remote offices leads to a computing demand that challenges data protection as well. Now the data protection solution has to be able to protect that remote office without requiring local IT staff. It also needs to transfer that data to a centralized data center, which means it has to be bandwidth efficient and leverage efficiencies such as deduplication.
The top five trends of 2018; the shift to hybrid IT, Cyber threats like ransomware, the proliferation of mission-critical applications, cloud storage and cloud applications and the rise of remote office computing will challenge the organization’s data protection strategy. Adapting that approach will mean the solution will need to meet very specific requirements while at the same time continuing to support legacy applications and data. IT professionals should make sure their solutions can provide critical capabilities like data-centric protection, data-efficient protection, rapid data movement, rapid data recovery and robust cloud support.
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