Multi-cloud doesn’t have to mean multi problems for data protection

Dell aims to take the pain out of backup and recovery for the cloud

Sponsored Feature The enterprise multi-cloud migration is in full swing. As businesses continue to simultaneously host more of their applications and workloads with different providers spanning various on- and off-prem environments, it can create problems.

How do organizations make sure that cyber security and backup/recovery processes keep up with the evolution to multi-cloud? In addition, how do they ensure that the data which is being stored, accessed, and transferred between multiple clouds and on-premises data center locations meets increasingly stringent data protection and regulatory requirements?

The challenge is to provide consistent data management (protection, compliance, etc...) wherever data lives. This is necessary not only for traditional workloads like VMs, Oracle, SQL, Exchange and NAS, but also new cloud-native applications such as Kubernetes containers, SaaS and NoSQL databases.

Research suggests that IT staff are painfully aware of the predicament.

According to the Dell Technologies Global Data Protection Index (GDPI) 2021 snapshot research, data management complexity and security increasingly preoccupies global IT decision makers. Over two fifths (82%) of the 1,000 polled reported that their current data protection systems were not able to meet future business challenges. In addition, 63% believed the emergence of cloud native applications, Kubernetes containers and SaaS workloads posed a risk to data protection, primarily because they lacked adequate tools to manage data protection in so many different environments.

Security architecture only as strong as its weakest link

An area of even greater concern for organizations is the ability to fend off persistent cyber-attacks. Perhaps ironically, what might make IT decision makers feel better is a change of perspective. One that proceeds on the assumption that there is nothing an organization can do to stop itself from falling victim to a cyber attack. A fresh perspective instead focuses on making sure they can quickly recover after any incident to minimize the fallout.

Colm Keegan, Senior Consultant at Dell Technologies, explains that any protective architecture is only as strong as its weakest link. One successful phishing incident, for example, can undo all the investments made in perimeter security. Likewise, a rogue employee can launch a devastating attack from inside the network, completely circumventing all permitter countermeasures.

"Consequently analyst firms like Gartner, emphasize the need for organizations to become more cyber resilient. This means investing in solutions that are designed to help you recover your most critical applications and data rapidly in the wake of a cyber attack," he says.

A good way to start down this path is to ask, "How long will it take to recover my environment from a malicious attack? Are you relying exclusively on backup data for recovery and how vulnerable is your backup data to a cyber-attack?" he adds.

More advice comes from Sheltered Harbor, a not-for-profit, industry-led initiative created to engender confidence in the ability of the financial institutions to recover from cyber-attacks. It recommends that organizations back up critical customer account data each night, either managing their own data vault or using a participating service provider to do it on their behalf. In both cases, the data vault must be encrypted, immutable and completely isolated from the institution's infrastructure (including all backups).

Dell's PowerProtect Cyber Recovery for example adheres to Sheltered Harbor standards by enabling organizations to securely replicate data to an air-gapped recovery vault that is isolated from production. The vault can be stored either on-prem or in the cloud.

Detecting suspicious activity with Cyber Sense

PowerProtect Cyber Recovery also uses Cyber Sense machine learning (ML) algorithms to scan backup data to validate its integrity. The software sends alerts to the Cyber Recovery dashboard when suspicious behaviour such as mass deletions, unauthorised encryption or changes to user files, databases and Active Directory or DNS settings, indicate a ransomware attack might be underway. It additionally compiles post attack forensics and lists last known good backup data sets to support rapid recovery and minimize downtime.

"By running analytics against these vaulted copies to ensure they are clean from ransomware or malware, PowerProtect Cyber Recovery can ensure data can be recovered in the event of a cyber attack," explains Keegan. "In addition, there are operational workflows in Cyber Recovery which help simplify and automate the recovery process."

San Felipe Del Rio School District in Texas provides a powerful example of why organizations may want to consider deploying an isolated, air-gapped digital vault to protect their critical data. In the wake of a disruptive ransomware attack, the School District chose to invest in PowerProtect Cyber Recovery.

While deploying its digital vault, the district was struck by another ransomware attack. However, this time instead of taking weeks to recover their servers, it was able to recover its systems in only four hours thanks to the protection and rapid recovery delivered by the PowerProtect Cyber Recovery solution.

Protection for modern workloads

In addition to increasing cyber resiliency, Keegan also feels that businesses need to ensure that staff are given the tools they need to properly address the protection needs of modern workloads like containers, SaaS and cloud infrastructure resources like IaaS and PaaS. That means data protection software which is flexible enough to span hybrid multi-cloud environments.

Keegan believes that should not rely on simply adding point solutions which try to address data protection issues one problem at a time however. Dell's approach is to centralize all aspects of data protection under a single unified platform, PowerProtect Data Manager.

PowerProtect Data Manager is optimised for physical, virtual, and containerized workloads hosted on multiple on-prem and cloud platforms, providing long-term data retention and disaster recovery policies. The solution discovers the entire multi-cloud and hybrid cloud estate, everything from databases, Kubernetes containers, VMs and conventional file system storage.

PowerProtect Data Manager has the ability to protect and recover Kubernetes workloads, including all metadata and persistent storage, across namespaces, and with application consistency for many next-gen, cloud native databases like Cassandra, MongoDB, PostgreSQL, and MySQL. 

Automation drives DevOps acceleration

As the term "infrastructure" continues to evolve, now covering edge, core and cloud, another critical capability for data protection is automation. Automation is critical to securing workloads like virtual machines and Kubernetes containers distributed across multiple, on-prem, single and multi-cloud environments, precisely because these can be really hard for IT departments and security professionals to track and monitor.

PowerProtect Data Manager provides embedded self-service capabilities and APIs via an intuitive GUI which helps DevOps teams package data protection resources within the development, test and production workloads across multi-cloud environments – allowing them "to treat data protection infrastructure as code" adds Keegan.

"Developers can assign tags to their Kubernetes workloads such that as they are deployed, the right data protection policy automatically gets configured as the container cluster is spun up, eliminating the need for manual configuration," he explained.

Keegan believes that automation has now become an essential part of data protection. Without it, organizations introducing new tools to manage the workload will find themselves relying on hands-on manual skills, which are always going to be costly and in short supply. By merging cyber security and data protection functions into a single platform, businesses can consolidate their operations and enhance the ability of their IT departments to meet internal and customer SLAs, he added.

"This is the only sustainable way practitioners are going to be able to manage data in the long run. The proliferation of data and workloads across multi-cloud is not something humans can keep up with," he said.

Customer prizes backup protection, dedupe and data vaults

A growing number of organizations are already using PowerProtect Data Manager to protect their information. One is Mississippi-headquartered Trustmark National Bank, which chose the Dell solution to safeguard the systems and data in an extensive IT environment consisting of approximately 1,000 virtual machines running on VMware vSphere. Data protection is understandably a top priority for Trustmark, which has more than 2,800 associates in 180 locations and needs to store sensitive financial information pertaining to its customers in five states.

The bank also needed to meet recovery time objectives (RTOs) for Tier 1 systems and data which demand close to real time recovery, with 24-hour RTOs required for secondary Tier 2 datasets. What's more, the deduplication features within PowerProtect Data Manager helped Trustmark reduce the footprint of a 250TB backup down to 1TB.

Having put PowerProtect Data Manager in place, Trustmark is now considering how PowerProtect Cyber Recovery can help it further safeguard customer data and meet its regulatory obligations.

Organizations of all sizes are grappling with the challenges of protecting and securing their data and workloads. Persistent cyber threats, increasing data volumes and newer workload types are making cyber security and data protection management increasingly difficult.

This can directly impede the ability for organizations to move forward more aggressively with their digital transformation objectives.

Cyber resilient multi-cloud data protection solutions from Dell can deliver the simplicity, automation and scalable performance IT teams need to protect any workload across edge, core and multi-cloud; giving organizations the confidence they need to advance their digital transformation initiatives knowing their most critical data assets are secure, protected and available.

Sponsored by Dell.

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