The spread of data – cloud and data protection for remote locations

Companies today are becoming ever more decentralised. Their data is no longer being aggregated in massive data centres in one central location, but is instead being stored in countless servers located around the world. All this data is spread widely across the business in ever thinner layers, yet it still has to be managed as if it was a coherent whole.

For many companies, however, remote offices and branch offices (ROBOs) are like the Wild West: lawless and largely unregulated. This can cause problems as data can slip through the gaps in established approaches to information protection or never be protected adequately.

>See also: Data protection: businesses are spoilt for choice

While each enterprise may have a well-defined set of policies and procedures in place for server data protection, these are often not enforced at every remote location. No, the staff involved are not negligent or incompetent. Instead, ROBO sites face some unique challenges that make traditional data protection approaches difficult to implement and manage effectively. Taking these into account can help those teams work more efficiently and ensure that all company data is protected.

What problems do ROBOs face?

One of the main problems for ROBOs is that they often don’t have trained IT staff on-site. For small offices with a small number of employees, it may not make sense to have a full-time equivalent (FTE) there to handle IT issues. Instead, those staff that are there will normally receive some perfunctory training on what should be done to protect any data created in that office.

This can lead to the second major issue: human error. Many ROBO environments use manual backup processes depending on tape shipment or other off-site processes. When the steps are followed adequately, this can work well enough. However, it’s easy for mistakes to take place that lead to backups occurring infrequently or not at all, putting ROBO data at an increased risk of loss.

Alongside this, it can be even more difficult to train those non-IT staff to recover data from traditional backup methods like tape. Recovery will require specialised personnel and this only increases downtime as someone will need to be sent to the site to carry this out.

Additionally, there will be some time required to diagnose the real issue for data loss, such as whether the server itself was damaged, data was accidentally deleted, or some form of data corruption took place.

>See also: The era of increased data protection rules

Some companies may look at how to automate data protection processes to work around these issues, but this has its own challenges too. For example, what works centrally can often be hampered by network and computing limitations as well as that lack of trained IT staff.

These problems are compounded by regional data privacy restrictions, regulatory compliance and legal challenges. According to the Norton Rose Fulbright 2015 Annual Litigation Trends Survey, 37% of large organisations reported having 20 or more pending lawsuits, and 42% of companies overall reported more than 6 lawsuits filed within the last 12 months, with cases exceeding $20 million reported by 26% of those surveyed.

For any company going through legal issues, the lack of visibility and manageability into ROBO IT increases the risk that data may be inadvertently be lost or mishandled. Similarly, a company with branch offices in multiple legal jurisdictions may have to follow different rules on data protection in each location.

Underneath all these challenges is the issue of cost around data protection, which often does not get factored into decisions around IT strategy over time. Some companies may move to decentralised IT models as a way to reduce the cost for managing IT centrally.

>See also: Cloud data management: data protection 

Others may get decentralised IT thrust upon due to acquisition of other businesses or the setting-up of new business units. However, the cost for IT infrastructure, services and management increases with each ROBO location. Without proper planning, companies often under provision remote sites, leaving them poorly equipped to meet their individual data protection needs.

How can you prevent those issues?

Typically, data protection strategies will rely on tape, disk-based replication or Cloud. While there are a wide range of different technologies and approaches available, there are strengths and weaknesses to each. In the case of cloud, it is important to differentiate between traditional products that use Cloud to store data and more comprehensive or “as a Service” data backup products too.

Disk: Disk is still the predominant media type for storing secondary and tertiary data. Disk-based systems support faster writes of data, so recovery time objectives can be shorter. Recovery can also be faster than tape as long as the required secondary systems are available and operational.

However, disk is an extremely expensive medium for storage at the required scale, leaving many organisations unable to afford the redundant infrastructure necessary to ensure data integrity and resiliency across so many locations. While approaches like virtualisation can make it easier to reduce the volume of hardware involved, it still requires dedicated skills.

Tape: Tape is a well-established technology and great for long-term data storage. When used properly, it can also be a cheap and effective data protection medium as it does not need power to store data like disk does.

>See also: Wall Street increasing focus on data protection

Where tape is impractical is due to the combination of lack of skills and modern approaches to saving data. From a skills perspective, tape-based systems can require specific steps to be completed each and every time in order to be useful. Recovery can also be a lengthy process. On top of this, many companies are adopting long-term retention policies and a wildly impractical “hold-everything-just-in-case” mindset, leading to them often managing thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of aged tapes in offsite locations.

Cloud: Cloud-based data protection solutions aim to bridge some of the gaps that exist in traditional products regardless of where sets of data are located. Using cloud, organisations can connect up both their corporate and ROBO sites into a unified and centrally managed whole. However, it’s important to know that not all cloud solutions are created equal.

Rather than looking at traditional disk-based solutions that treat Cloud as a back-end for data storage, it’s worth knowing more about how cloud services can work with data more efficiently.

For example, legacy cloud approaches can have serious limitations such as proprietary cloud infrastructures that are expensive to scale out, offer no global deduplication and provides few locations for data to reside.

In contrast, a well-designed and scalable cloud with multiple points of presence across the globe is an efficient way of buying and scaling computing resources. Making use of public cloud services such as AWS or Microsoft Azure can offer better scalability at lower cost than using private cloud, too.

By understanding how many locations and how much data needs to be protected, it’s possible to make a more informed decision on how best to protect data across multiple sites. By looking at how your data protection strategy can make best use of technologies like Cloud, you can design your ROBO data strategy to take advantage of the processes that best fit your organisation’s requirement.

>See also: The data protection breakthrough

How can you protect data more efficiently?

Server backup, especially at companies managing multiple sites, can be an inefficient and expensive process prone to errors. Effectively protecting the growing amount of remote and branch office data requires a dramatic shift in protection strategy.

This shift starts with a truly cloud-native approach —not just consuming code dumped into the cloud. A truly cloud-native solution will scale along with the business and has the ability to transform your ROBO data protection process.

Data backup and archiving are no longer options for today’s enterprise – these data management approaches are essential. The exponential growth of mission-critical business data and the corresponding legal requirements for its retention mean that every company has to have a robust plan in place for the safe storage of server data. The proliferation of remote and branch offices only makes this need more acute.


Sourced by Jaspreet Singh, CEO at Druva


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...