Dec 302017
 

With just a few more days of 2017 left, I thought it opportune making the last post of the year to summarise some of what we’ve seen in the field of data protection in 2017.

2017 Summary

It’s been a big year, in a lot of ways, particularly at DellEMC.

Towards the end of 2016, but definitely leading into 2017, NetWorker 9.1 was released. That meant 2017 started with a bang, courtesy of the new NetWorker Virtual Proxy (NVP, or vProxy) backup system. This replaced VBA, allowing substantial performance improvements, and some architectural simplification as well. I was able to generate some great stats right out of the gate with NVP under NetWorker 9.1, and that applied not just to Windows virtual machines but also to Linux ones, too. NetWorker 9.1 with NVP allows you to recover tens of thousands or more files from image level backup in just a few minutes.

In March I released the NetWorker 2016 usage survey report – the survey ran from December 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017. That reminds me – the 2017 Usage Survey is still running, so you’ve still got time to provide data to the report. I’ve been compiling these reports now for 7 years, so there’s a lot of really useful trends building up. (The 2016 report itself was a little delayed in 2017; I normally aim for it to be available in February, and I’ll do my best to ensure the 2017 report is out in February 2018.)

Ransomware and data destruction made some big headlines in 2017 – repeatedly. Gitlab hit 2017 running with a massive data loss in January, which they consequently blamed on a backup failure, when in actual fact it was a staggering process and people failure. It reminds one of the old manager #101 credo, “If you ASSuME, you make an ASS out of U and ME”. Gitlab’s issue may have at a very small level been a ‘backup failure’, but only in so much that everyone in the house thinking it was someone else’s turn to fill the tank of the car, and running out of petrol, is a ‘car failure’.

But it wasn’t just Gitlab. Next generation database users around the world – specifically, MongoDB – learnt the hard way that security isn’t properly, automatically enabled out of the box. Large numbers of MongoDB administrators around the world found their databases encrypted or lost as default security configurations were exploited on databases left accessible in the wild.

In fact, Ransomware became such a common headache in 2017 that it fell prey to IT’s biggest meme – the infographic. Do a quick Google search for “Ransomware Timeline” for instance, and you’ll find a plethora of options around infographics about Ransomware. (And who said Ransomware couldn’t get any worse?)

Appearing in February 2017 was Data Protection: Ensuring Data Availability. Yes, that’s right, I’m calling the release of my second book on data protection as a big event in the realm of data storage protection in 2017. Why? This is a topic which is insanely critical to business success. If you don’t have a good data protection process and strategy within your business, you could literally lose everything that defines the operational existence of your business. There’s three defining aspects I see in data protection considerations now:

  • Data is still growing
  • Product capability is still expanding to meet that growth
  • Too many businesses see data protection as a series of silos, unconnected – storage, virtualisation, databases, backup, cloud, etc. (Hint: They’re all connected.)

So on that basis, I do think a new book whose focus is to give a complete picture of the data storage protection landscape is important to anyone working in infrastructure.

And on the topic of stripping the silos away from data protection, 2017 well and truly saw DellEMC cement its lead in what I refer to as convergent data protection. That’s the notion of combining data protection techniques from across the continuum to provide new methods of ensuring SLAs are met, impact is eliminated, and data hops are minimised. ProtectPoint was first introduced to the world in 2015, and has evolved considerably since then. ProtectPoint allows primary storage arrays to integrate with data protection storage (e.g., VMAX3 to Data Domain) so that those really huge databases (think 10TB as a typical starting point) can have instantaneous, incremental-forever backups performed – all application integrated, but no impact on the database server itself. ProtectPoint though was just the starting position. In 2017 we saw the release of Hypervisor Direct, which draws a line in the sand on what Convergent Data Protection should be and do. Hypervisor direct is there for your big, virtualised systems with big databases, eliminating any risk of VM-stun during a backup (an architectural constraint of VMware itself) by integrating RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines with Data Domain Boost, all while still being fully application integrated. (Mark my words – hypervisor direct is a game changer.)

Ironically, in a world where target-based deduplication should be a “last resort”, we saw tech journalists get irrationally excited about a company heavy on marketing but light on functionality promote their exclusively target-deduplication data protection technology as somehow novel or innovative. Apparently, combining target based deduplication and needing to scale to potentially hundreds of 10Gbit ethernet ports is both! (In the same way that releasing a 3-wheeled Toyota Corolla for use by the trucking industry would be both ‘novel’ and ‘innovative’.)

Between VMworld and DellEMC World, there were some huge new releases by DellEMC this year though, by comparison. The Integrated Data Protection Appliance (IDPA) was announced at DellEMC world. IDPA is a hyperconverged backup environment – you get delivered to your datacentre a combined unit with data protection storage, control, reporting, monitoring, search and analytics that can be stood up and ready to start protecting your workloads in just a few hours. As part of the support programme you don’t have to worry about upgrades – it’s done as an atomic function of the system. And there’s no need to worry about software licensing vs hardware capacity: it’s all handled as a single, atomic function, too. For sure, you can still build your own backup systems, and many people will – but for businesses who want to hit the ground running in a new office or datacentre, or maybe replace some legacy three-tier backup architecture that’s limping along and costing hundreds of thousands a year just in servicing media servers (AKA “data funnel$”), IDPA is an ideal fit.

At DellEMC World, VMware running in AWS was announced – imagine that, just seamlessly moving virtual machines from your on-premises environment out to the world’s biggest public cloud as a simple operation, and managing the two seamlessly. That became a reality later in the year, and NetWorker and Avamar were the first products to support actual hypervisor level backup of VMware virtual machines running in a public cloud.

Thinking about public cloud, Data Domain Virtual Edition (DDVE) became available in both the Azure and AWS marketplaces for easy deployment. Just spin up a machine and get started with your protection. That being said, if you’re wanting to deploy backup in public cloud, make sure you check out my two-part article on why Architecture Matters: Part 1, and Part 2.

And still thinking about cloud – this time specifically about cloud object storage, you’ll want to remember the difference between Cloud Boost and Cloud Tier. Both can deliver exceptional capabilities to your backup environment, but they have different use cases. That’s something I covered off in this article.

There were some great announcements at re:Invent, AWS’s yearly conference, as well. Cloud Snapshot Manager was released, providing enterprise grade control over AWS snapshot policies. (Check out what I had to say about CSM here.) Also released in 2017 was DellEMC’s Data Domain Cloud Disaster Recovery, something I need to blog about ASAP in 2018 – that’s where you can actually have your on-premises virtual machine backups replicated out into a public cloud and instantiate them as a DR copy with minimal resources running in the cloud (e.g., no in-Cloud DDVE required).

2017 also saw the release of Enterprise Copy Data Analytics – imagine having a single portal that tracks your Data Domain fleet world wide, and provides predictive analysis to you about system health, capacity trending and insights into how your business is going with data protection. That’s what eCDA is.

NetWorker 9.2 and 9.2.1 came out as well during 2017 – that saw functionality such as integration with Data Domain Retention Lock, database integrated virtual machine image level backups, enhancements to the REST API, and a raft of other updates. Tighter integration with vRealize Automation, support for VMware image level backup in AWS, optimised object storage functionality and improved directives – the list goes on and on.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a little bit of politics before I wrap up. Australia got marriage equality – I, myself, am finally now blessed with the challenge of working out how to plan a wedding (my boyfriend and I are intending to marry on our 22nd anniversary in late 2018 – assuming we can agree on wedding rings, of course), and more broadly, politics again around the world managed to remind us of the truth to that saying by the French Philosopher, Albert Camus: “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” (OK, I might be having a pointed glance at Donald Trump over in America when I say that, but it’s still a pertinent thing to keep in mind across the political and geographic spectrums.)

2017 wasn’t just about introducing converged data protection appliances and convergent data protection, but it was also a year where more businesses started to look at hyperconverged administration teams as well. That’s a topic that will only get bigger in 2018.

The DellEMC data protection family got a lot of updates across the board that I haven’t had time to cover this year – Avamar 7.5, Boost for Enterprise Applications 4.5, Enterprise Copy Data Management (eCDM) 2, and DDOS 6.1! Now that I sit back and think about it, my January could be very busy just catching up on things I haven’t had a chance to blog about this year.

I saw some great success stories with NetWorker in 2017, something I hope to cover in more detail into 2018 and beyond. You can see some examples of great success stories here.

I also started my next pet project – reviewing ethical considerations in technology. It’s certainly not going to be just about backup. You’ll see the start of the project over at Fools Rush In.

And that’s where I’m going to leave 2017. It’s been a big year and I hope, for all of you, a successful year. 2018, I believe, will be even bigger again.

Talking about Ransomware

 Architecture, Backup theory, General thoughts, Recovery, Security  Comments Off on Talking about Ransomware
Sep 062017
 

The “Wannacry” Ransomware strike saw a particularly large number of systems infected and garnered a great deal of media attention.

Ransomware Image

As you’d expect, many companies discussed ransomware and their solutions for it. There was also backlash from many quarters suggesting people were using a ransomware attack to unethically spruik their solutions. It almost seems to be the IT equivalent of calling lawyers “ambulance chasers”.

We are (albeit briefly, I am sure), between major ransomware outbreaks. So, logically that’ll mean it’s OK to talk about ransomware.

Now, there’s a few things to note about ransomware and defending against it. It’s not as simplistic as “I only have to do X and I’ll solve the problem”. It’s a multi-layered issue requiring user education, appropriate systems patching, appropriate security, appropriate data protection, and so on.

Focusing even on data protection, that’s a multi-layered approach as well. In order to have a data protection environment that can assuredly protect you from ransomware, you need to do the basics, such as operating system level protection for backup servers, storage nodes, etc. That’s just the beginning. The next step is making sure your backup environment itself follows appropriate security protocols. That’s something I’ve been banging on about for several years now. That’s not the full picture though. Once you’ve got operating systems and backup systems secured via best practices, you need to then look at hardening your backup environment. There’s a difference between standard security processes and hardened security processes, and if you’re worried about ransomware this is something you should be thinking about doing. Then, of course, if you really want to ensure you can recover your most critical data from a serious hactivism and ransomware (or outright data destruction) breach, you need to look at IRS as well.

But let’s step back, because I think it’s important to make a point here about when we can talk about ransomware.

I’ve worked in data protection my entire professional career. (Even when I was a system administrator for the first four years of it, I was the primary backup administrator as well. It’s always been a focus.)

If there’s one thing I’ve observed in my career in data protection is that having a “head in the sand” approach to data loss risk is a lamentably common thing. Even in 2017 I’m still hearing things like “We can’t back this environment up because the project which spun it up didn’t budget for backup”, and “We’ll worry about backup later”. Not to mention the old chestnut, “it’s out of warranty so we’ll do an Icarus support contract“.

Now the flipside of the above paragraph is this: if things go wrong in any of those situations, suddenly there’s a very real interest in talking about options to prevent a future issue.

It may be a career limiting move to say this, but I’m not in sales to make sales. I’m in sales to positively change things for my customers. I want to help customers resolve problems, and deliver better outcomes to their users. I’ve been doing data protection for over 20 years. The only reason someone stays in data protection that long is because they’re passionate about it, and the reason we’re passionate about it is because we are fundamentally averse to data loss.

So why do we want to talk about defending against or recovering from ransomware during a ransomware outbreak? It’s simple. At the point of a ransomware outbreak, there’s a few things we can be sure of:

  • Business attention is focused on ransomware
  • People are talking about ransomware
  • People are being directly impacted by ransomware

This isn’t ambulance chasing. This is about making the best of a bad situation – I don’t want businesses to lose data, or have it encrypted and see them have to pay a ransom to get it back – but if they are in that situation, I want them to know there are techniques and options to prevent it from striking them again. And at that point in time – during a ransomware attack – people are interested in understanding how to stop it from happening again.

Now, we have to still be considerate in how we discuss such situations. That’s a given. But it doesn’t mean the discussion can’t be had.

To me this is also an ethical consideration. Too often the focus on ethics in professional IT is around the basics: don’t break the law (note: law ≠ ethics), don’t be sexist, don’t be discriminatory, etc. That’s not really a focus on ethics, but a focus on professional conduct. Focusing on professional conduct is good, but there must also be a focus on the ethical obligations of protecting data. It’s my belief that if we fail to make the best of a bad situation to get an important message of data protection across, we’re failing our ethical obligations as data protection professionals.

Of course, in an ideal world, we’d never need to discuss how to mitigate or recover from a ransomware outbreak during said outbreak, because everyone would already be protected. But harking back to an earlier point, I’m still being told production systems were installed without consideration for data protection, so I think we’re a long way from that point.

So I’ll keep talking about protecting data from all sorts of loss situations, including ransomware, and I’ll keep having those discussions before, during and after ransomware outbreaks. That’s my job, and that’s my passion: data protection. It’s not gloating, it’s not ambulance chasing, it’s let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again.


On another note, sales are really great for my book, Data Protection: Ensuring Data Availability, released earlier this year. I have to admit, I may have squealed a little when I got my first royalty statement. So, if you’ve already purchased my book: you have my sincere thanks. If you’ve not, that means you’re missing out on an epic story of protecting data in the face of amazing odds. So check it out, it’s in eBook or Paperback format on Amazon (prior link), or if you’d prefer to, you can buy direct from the publisher. And thanks again for being such an awesome reader.

Ransomware is a fact of life

 Data loss, Security  Comments Off on Ransomware is a fact of life
Feb 012017
 

The NetWorker usage survey for 2016 has just finished. One of the questions I asked in this most recent survey was as follows:

Has your business been struck by ransomware or other data destructive attacks in the past year?

(_) Yes

(_) No

(_) Don’t know

(_) Prefer not to say

With the survey closed, I wanted to take a sneak peek at the answer to this question.

Ransomware, as many of you would know, is the term coined for viruses and other attacks that lead data erased or encrypted, with prompts to pay a ‘ransom’ in order to get the money back. Some businesses may choose to pay the ransom, others choose not to. If you’ve got a good data protection scheme you can save yourself from a lot of ransomware situations, but the looming threat – which is something that has already occurred in some instances – is ransomware combined with systems penetration, resulting in backup servers being deliberately compromised and data-destructive attacks happening on primary data. I gave an example of EMC’s solution to that sort of devastating 1-2 punch attack last November.

Ransomware is not going away. We recently saw massive numbers of MongoDB databases being attacked, and law enforcement agencies are considering it a growing threat and a billion dollar a year or more industry for the attackers.

So what’s the story then with NetWorker users and ransomware? There were 159 respondents to the 2016 NetWorker usage survey, and the answer breakdown was as follows:

  • No – 48.43%
  • Don’t know – 11.32%
  • Prefer not to say – 9.43%
  • Yes – 30.82%

An August 2016 article in the Guardian suggested that up to 40% of businesses had been hit by ransomware, and by the end of 2016 other polls were suggesting the number was edging towards 50%.

Ransomware Percentages

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that at least 50% of respondents who answered “Prefer not to say” were probably saying it because it’s happened and they don’t want to mention it. (It’s understandable, and very common.) I’ll also go out on a limb and suggest that at least a third of respondents who answered “Don’t know” probably had been but it might have been resolved through primary storage or other recovery options that left individual respondents unaware.

At the very base numbers though, almost 31% of respondents knew they definitely had been hit by ransomware or other data-destructive attacks, and with those extrapolations above we might be forgiven for believing that the number was closer to 38.9%.

The Guardian article was based on a survey of Fortune 500 senior IT executives, and ransomware at its most efficacious is targeted and combined with other social engineering techniques such as spear phishing, so it’s no wonder the “big” companies report high numbers of incidents – they’re getting targeted more deliberately. The respondents on the NetWorker survey however came from all geographies and all sizes, ranging from a few clients to thousands or more.

Bear in mind that being hit by ransomware is not a case of “lightning never strikes twice”. At a briefing I went to in the USA last year, we were told that one business alone had been hit by 270+ cases of ransomware since the start of the year. Anecdotally, those customers of mine even who mention having been hit by ransomware talk about it in terms of multiple situations, not just a single one.

Now as much as ever before, we need robust data protection, and air-gapped data protection for sensitive data – the Isolated Recovery Site (IRS) is something you’ll hear more of as ransomware gets more prevalent.

NetWorker users have spoken – ransomware is a real and tangible threat to businesses around the world.

I’ll be aiming to have the full report published by mid-February, and I’ll contact the winner of the prize at that time too.

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