Barely a week goes by without web outages stemming from technical issues for content delivery networks like Akamai, or increasing ransomware exploits which are reckoned to have grown by 62% globally since 2019. Ransomware attacks now appear to be increasingly targeting public sector and infrastructure organisations, such as Ireland’s Health Service Executive and Northern Trains in England. In these circumstances, organisations, large and small, need new and more dynamic business continuity planning and recovery testing for their established or emerging hybrid working models.
While the last 18 months have been consumed by disruption brought by the pandemic as well as underlying factors such as the long-term rise in cloud computing and federated business models. We have also seen the increasing sophistication of malicious attacks, were already forcing companies to rethink their defences and disaster recovery plans and simplify storage capacity planning, to help protect their critical data assets.
Remote: here to stay
The enforced shift to hybrid working during the pandemic has cemented business’ reliance on remote working and cloud-based resources. Most UK firms are planning for employees to work from home to some extent for the foreseeable future – the Institute of Directors (IOD) June 2021 data indicate that four in five (81%) plan to explore more flexible options – and survey data seems to indicate that employees want flexible working as part of their job arrangements going forward too.
In this world of hybrid work and cloud-based applications, companies’ data assets are under growing threat. Pre-pandemic research indicated that one in three firms were reporting data loss from external attacks. Meanwhile, given the surge in malicious attacks, the UK government updated its 10 cyber security rules for business in May this year.
Data and storage professionals are having to mitigate the security risks and recovery costs, despite their companies now operating with rejigged supply chains and remote workforces. Recent research suggests that data breaches are 4.5 times more likely to happen at end-user endpoints than back-end servers.
Incident response: on-premises and cloud native infrastructures
Businesses’ ability to enact disaster recovery plans and safeguard their data, however, varies considerably. IT teams with on-premises file sharing infrastructures remain rooted to system failovers with duplicates of their key locations or a co-located DR facility. In addition, on-premises storage infrastructures are likely to have become more complex with the
supplementary or wider use of cloud applications to help businesses survive and enable remote work.
On-premises–focused organisations’ scope for local DR testing and improvement of recovery plans has been held back by the pandemic-related upheaval while recovery of data on compromised servers and devices can take days, sometimes even weeks. In a revealing example, Ireland’s Health Service Executive acknowledged a ransomware attack on May 14, but was still working on its recovery in late July and has stated that the clear-up could cost €600 million.
Risks in a post-pandemic economy
In a post-Covid economy that is demanding considerable flexibility from adapted supply chains and new work models, cloud-native file storage’s fast recovery capabilities could give companies greater resilience and the operational flexibility they need.
In contrast to on-premises IT infrastructures, cloud-native storage strategies that save multiple versions ensure data is protected in the cloud, while the file systems affected by outages or attacks can be reconstituted with uncorrupted data for each virtual appliance. Because data and storage teams can easily roll operations back to the point of any incident or attack, they can efficiently recover data in a matter of minutes.
The UK economy adapted well to reworked supply chains and hybrid working since 2020 but the relentless stream of web outages and ransomware attacks shows the risks that firms with multiple cloud applications on federated workforces will have to address. Cloud-native file storage strategies give companies simplicity of use, easier DR testing, and fast recovery times; they are turning file restoration from being the ‘Achilles Heel’ for IT teams into a straightforward task within more effective and dynamic cloud-enabled incident response strategies. This is especially true in an age of such regular outages and increasing hacking activity.
Cloud-native file storage also makes it simpler to add file space for new or existing offices – without I/O teams having to carry out required storage calculations and maintenance cost projections associated with on-premises storage set-ups. As a result, the cloud storage option is an important factor in companies being able to respond more flexibly to customer needs in a fast-changing economy.
Many firms have previously been resistant to using cloud for storage, largely due to performance concerns, such as latency and data fragmentation across devices that undermined read/write performance, but these questions have been resolved. Leading cloud-native platforms have met these challenges through a successful record of being implemented across hybrid, multi-cloud and multi-region environments and delivering consistent storage experience across many different infrastructures.
Cloud native’s built-in backup and disaster recovery saves critical data.
A storage administrator at a large enterprise was working on one of their virtualisation platforms and made a potentially catastrophic mistake.
In this case, the administrator was removing unused machines that had been used in prior testing and then removing underlying data stores. In the physical world, it’s much more difficult to make a mistake of this type since it involves moving hardware, changing cables and jumping between major interfaces. But in the virtual world, however, it is possible to delete large amounts of data and whole machines with a single click. While one of virtualisation’s great advantages is the ability to create new machines on demand, over time this flexibility can leave teams with “virtual machine bloat.”
In this case, the administrator thought the data store on his virtualisation platform was no longer in use and right-clicked on the data store and chose “delete.”
Like all good applications it popped up a warning asking him if he was sure. In this case there was no extra pop-up and he clicked “yes, I’m sure” and the data store was deleted permanently. After realizing his mistake, he recalled the vendor’s disaster recovery capabilities. The product still had its default setting to take a snapshot to the cloud every hour, so the administrator could do a DR and get back to within the last hours’ worth of work.
He shut down the broken filer and downloaded a fresh copy of the filer software. He then created a new data store to host it and began the installation/disaster recovery process. This takes about 15 minutes and he was back up and running quickly with all of his data up to his last hourly snapshot available to his users. The cache performed its function and made it appear as if all the data was available to the users immediately.
His users noticed an outage from the period from the data store deletion until the completed recovery: less than one hour, but otherwise they had no idea what happened. A few colleagues complained of missing files that were not there at the time of the last snapshot, but the file loss was greatly reduced.
Cloud-native storage – coming of age
Amid continuing Covid disruption and changing company workloads, effective DR and restoration plans are critical to the successful management of data assets. Cloud-native storage has come of age, not only because of its rapid incident response capabilities, but also its long-term benefits - simplifying organisations’ file storage capacity planning, business continuity testing, and cutting storage infrastructure maintenance costs.