August 12, 2020
Rethinking Data Protection with Air-Gapped, Consistent Backups in the Cloud
I was excited 5 years ago when I was asked to register for my first technology conference. During this process, the silly automated form wanted to know what type of company CloudWave was, from a preset list of options; I could only choose one.
Were we a healthcare company or an IT company?
I know CloudWave is an IT company, but I didn’t think that category did us justice. I thought about 2am phone calls where our engineers worked out creative solutions to issues to keep systems running instead of having the hospital take downtime. I thought about our 24x7x365 support organization and the lengths we go to so we can sustain a high engineer to customer ratio because we know when that phone rings, a hospital is on the other end. That’s important to us.
Ultimately, I selected “IT Company” because while we impact patient care, we aren’t the ones treating patients. We know servers and backups and network packets, and how they need to run to support the people who provide healthcare. But when my family needs treatment, I want you at the hospital, not me.
But now I’d like to flip that question. What kind of company are you? What kind of business do you want to be in? I know, I know: you’re a hospital; of course, you’re a healthcare company, right? I then have to ask: why are you doing so much IT?
I think COVID-19 highlights the importance of this consideration. When things are running smoothly, it’s perhaps easy to accept the wide variety of non-healthcare things you do every day. When the worst comes to pass, though, and you and your team are in the trenches of a crisis, do you really want to be tending to a server farm, replacing a failed drive; do you really want to be troubleshooting backups?
Off-loading IT services can provide generous increases to your hospital’s data security, availability, and compliance – all while letting you get back to your focus: healthcare. But where do you start?
You want to look for a workload that consumes a lot of time for you and your staff, but if it’s the first foray into cloud services, you probably also want a workload that isn’t end-user production. That sort of thing is doable but it’s harder and requires more organizational buy-in. So, what can save you money and time while posing a very low risk?
I think backups are the perfect place to start. They are an incredibly fickle workload, always breaking. It’s easy to see why; backups have three qualities which make them so fragile. You’re backing up so much more data and that growth isn’t slowing, but your backup programs and platform architectures aren’t evolving as fast. The wide variety of applications you need to protect all have specific and unique requirements. Maybe an agent is required, maybe the app need to be quiesced first, and maybe the whole process must be done within a 6-second I/O quiescence window.
Lastly, backups must touch every production system; they are all producing data that must be protected. So, it is easy to see how a seemingly small inconsequential change in an application or storage device or network switch could break a backup.
These are also the reasons they are so difficult to troubleshoot; it is not a matter of checking the log file and correcting something in the backup program; it almost always means a thorough understanding of the full application stack.
Having someone manage your backups can save you and your team a great deal of time. If you are interested in getting out of the backup business so you can focus on your users and their patients, here are some things to look for in a managed backup solution.
- The solution should bring its own software. It might save you a little money short term if you find a solution that uses yours but the managed provider will bring software they are responsible to keep up to date, so this decision could be the last time you have to make that decision; you’ll be future proof.
- The solution should bring its own storage. You should not have to buy or manage the storage required to save and restore all your save sets. This is a necessary and inexorable aspect of your data protection schema; it should not be overlooked for an end-to-end solution. This will also let you forbear even more costs
- Your backups should be saved in remote, air-gapped locations. In the age of omnipresent malware threats, this is non-negotiable. Backups are the best line of defense against ransomware and network accessible backups invalidate all that value.
- You should always have access to your data. A backup solution should manage the daily operations and troubleshooting of your backups, but the data is still yours. You should have constant access to view all the save sets and restore them at will. This will establish peace of mind for you and accountability for your provider.
Since all of this is available, I return to my original question in the hope you might think about it slightly differently now. What kind of business do you want to be in? Do you want to be in the backup business?
Cloud Product Manager, CloudWave