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How to build a data athlete

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

After a year where Covid put a stop to sporting events around the globe, we’re now enjoying an international sporting renaissance with athletics, soccer, tennis, and many other fixtures bringing the world’s premier sportspeople back into competition. For these athletes, a year away from the stadia hasn’t been a year off. Rather, it’s been months of planning, training and recovery to ready themselves for the moment when it’s vital they perform at the highest level. Many enterprises will face similar pressures when it comes to their data.  Whether that’s inventory systems coping with the demands of seasonal shopping peaks, or billing systems running quarter-end invoicing, most enterprises will experience moments where they need medal-winning performance from their data. So, what can we learn from the athletes and the routines they follow to prepare for major events?

It all starts with assessing the situation and building a plan 

Since Dave Brailsford first introduced the concept of marginal gains, the principle of making a plan, measuring performance, making improvements and planning again – so that even tiny advantages can be won – has become instilled into sporting life. You can be sure that no world-class athlete woke up this morning and wondered what sort of exercise they might do later. Everyone has a plan.

Moreover, that plan will be based on an absolutely thorough understanding of the situation that the athlete finds themselves in. Their weight, height, age, diet, heart rate, previous performance, and probably even the shoes they’re wearing will have been factored in. They, and their coach, will have a complete understanding of what their strengths are and the areas where they need to improve.

Enterprises need that same level of understanding in order to be able to deliver world-class performance for their data. What’s their data footprint? How fast can they move their data? How old is their data? Without this sort of information, it’s impossible to start to build a really effective plan for how to get their data into great shape. Sadly, too few organizations have this level of understanding. Veritas research shows that more than half of all data that enterprises are storing is deemed ‘dark’, which means that they don’t really know what it is.

Step One for businesses that want to be able to get their systems restored fast when the pressure is on is to carry out a full assessment of the data that they have.  Only once they have this can they build a plan for what data needs to be protected, where it needs to be stored and how it needs to be handled.

Train, test, train again 

Once an athlete’s training plan has been created, they get to work and train hard! But they don’t just follow the plan blindly day after day until the big event.  Throughout the training, performance will be tested again and again, with adjustments and tweaks made along the way to ensure constant improvements.

For enterprises, the process should be the same. The average business has now fallen victim to 1.87 ransomware attacks so, for most companies, ransomware is inevitable. With that in mind, they should be training for it. Running regular tests to rehearse the data restoration process that they would follow in the event of being attacked will highlight those processes that are delivering the performance they need, and those that need further work.

Most businesses are shocked when they rehearse a new recovery plan by how much data is missing. Just as athletes will tweak their training to close the gaps in their performance, tweaking data management rules will allow business to do the same. Shockingly though, 40 percent of enterprises haven’t tested their data protection plans for more than three months. It seems like a big chunk of companies have trained data laggards rather than data athletes in this respect.

Additionally, tests should be holistic and able to surface unexpected issues. A tweak to an athlete’s regime that appears to drive a benefit in one place, might unwittingly be causing an adverse reaction somewhere else: something good for strength might limit speed; something good for speed might limit endurance, and so on. The only way to know is to keep monitoring everything for the slightest change. With data, the same monitoring is critical. Being able to spot changes in your data in real-time is the best early warning system that something is wrong. Ransomware attacks, for example, will trigger a process of encryption, changing a businesses’ data. The faster this can be detected, the sooner the business can respond to minimize the impact of the attack.

This process of test, tweak and test again should ultimately deliver the optimum efficiencies for the athlete. The right amount of power, delivered to the right starting foot, wearing the right shoe, delivers the optimum performance. If there’s anything that’s slowing the athlete down, that needs to be fixed, whether that’s excess weight in the frame of a bike or drag created in the swimming pool by not shaving. The same balance needs to be found for data: the right data, on the right platform, with the right policies in place will give businesses the optimum performance for their data. This means offloading the weight of dark data and archive data from the network and ensuring speed with the use of high-performance appliances and storage, where needed.

Recovery is critical 

Whilst some athletes look like they’re invincible, most professional sportspeople regularly fall foul of injury. In fact, for every 100 occasions on which an athlete competes, they should expect to injure themselves 1.38 times. It’s almost an inevitability that they will find themselves needing to recover at some point, and that recovery is built into their program.

Critically, athletes need to understand the severity of their injuries, the different options open to them and the window they have for recovery. Does a damaged knee require immediate surgery ending their participation in this tournament or would physio see them through to the end of the season, before its operated on?

For businesses, data injuries are just as inevitable: it’s not a case of ‘if’ ransomware will hit them but ‘when’.  So, organizations need to think about their own recovery plans. For many years, businesses have talked about backup as the key to surviving attacks on their data.  And, indeed, a backup plan is absolutely critical.  But having a recovery plan is just as important.

Just as with the athletes, organizations need to understand the severity of the situation, the different options available to them and the window they have for recovery. How much data has been stolen in the ransomware attack?  What needs to be recovered first to get critical business functions up and running? How long do they have to get this done before the damage to the company is irretrievable?

Understanding what data has been stolen isn’t always easy. Data today spans multiple locations, devices, virtual machines, clouds and even containers, all operating on different systems with different permissions and regulations to follow. Prioritizing what to restore isn’t always obvious either. Interdependencies between different data sets and systems can be easily missed but, even if everything else has been restored perfectly, if just one part of an ordering system is missing, no one will be able to buy anything. So, it’s vital that nothing is overlooked.

Unifying data management into a single strategy to protect and restore information can simplify this process. With one pane of glass from which to monitor all a business’s data, it’s possible to accurately assess which data sets are affected and to bring them back in an orchestrated way. A recovery plan that centers on a single platform that can cover all data, wherever it is from edge to core to cloud, simplifies restoration and puts control back in the hands of the IT team.

Businesses deserve a medal 

It’s not easy defending against the pressures on modern data infrastructures.  Multi-cloud networks, containerized applications, compliance pressures – not to mention the ongoing and ever-growing threat of ransomware – continue to make the challenge harder. But we have some great examples in our sportspeople around the world for how to rise to challenges, so let’s let them teach us some of their lessons so that we too can deliver medal-winning performance. 

Mark Nutt is Senior Vice President for International Sales,Veritas Technologies (opens in new tab)

Mark Nutt is the Senior Vice President for International Sales at Veritas. In this role, he is responsible for the sales organisation and the functional leadership of the business across the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. With more than 30 years in the IT industry, Mark is recognised as a strong leader with a track record for building high-performance teams and a reputation for innovation, transformation and delivering results. Mark’s focus on both the growth of the business and the development of his team has seen him restructure Veritas’ field operations across the International region to drive increased sales and success.