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In for the long haul – Keeping data safe in the Covid-19’s remote working world

(Image credit: Image Credit: RawPixel / Pexels)

With lockdown in place for more than two months, most firms have adapted to home working. Having coped with the initial pressure to deliver the wave of change needed to support this new normal, IT teams should now be turning their attention to those ‘health and hygiene’ factors that were given a back seat while business’s immediate response to the lockdown took priority. Backup is a significant one of those factors.

From ramping up provisioning of end user kit, to greater freedom around BYOD, to the rapid adoption or scale-up of collaboration technologies such as Teams, G Suite, Zoom and Slack, to the networking and security required to hook it all together safely, organisations have had to rapidly implement a range of steps to get all of their workers online. And beyond this, the needs of a wholly remote workforce have fundamentally impacted the support function for many businesses.

The new data challenge

In an ideal world, users would store all their files on a shared network or in their collaboration applications. But as all IT managers know, it is never just that simple. The jump in reliance on devices outside the corporate network inevitably means more data at the edge, which – quite apart from the increased security risk – translates into a greater chance of data loss. According to Acronis, 39 per cent of personal users “rarely” or “never” back up their devices, and only 12 per cent do so daily – compared to 41 per cent of professional users.

A second issue is data in Software as a Service applications. The leading services’ default data retention provisions vary widely. And, as 2019 research showed, a surprisingly high proportion of enterprises wrongly believe that data is kept far longer than is actually the case. Just one third claimed to know their cloud service providers’ backup and recovery processes in detail, whilst almost half of Microsoft Office 365 users believed that email backups were being retained for longer than the standard 14 days.

For many firms, data that was once found only in the datacentre – where corporate retention policies could be enforced using traditional backup solutions – has been moving to the edge and into the cloud for a great deal longer than the current crisis. The Covid-19 lockdown has accelerated that process and brought the new backup challenge into greater focus.

What are the options?

If it hasn’t been already, backing up company laptops and BYOD needs to be considered. Of course, rolling backup out to BYOD is no easy feat. To begin with, the organisation needs a clear inventory of what’s out there – meaning carrying out a thorough BYOD audit. The next hurdle is choosing a technology that can integrate with a potentially huge variety of end user devices.

There are plenty of specialist backup vendors that might be a good tactical option for this. But a further consideration for businesses is whether adding another technology to their infrastructure stack is the right strategic decision. In the 2019 research, 61 per cent of firms said they were already struggling with a complex backup environment, and 66 per cent said that a lack of skills has made backup more difficult. An ideal approach would be a solution that covers all bases, but there are few technologies that are capable of this.

Looking to SaaS

Turning to SaaS, some of the leading providers offer an element of data retention by default. However, there are significant variations between offerings – and even between products in the same suite. Further, some services don’t prevent data from being permanently deleted regardless of the retention settings; which may be a critical consideration for organisations.

In this situation, the first step to take is getting clarity on what the retention policy should be – usually by referring to the policy for on-premises data. If products offer the required configuration options, one approach is to adapt each accordingly. However, there are a number of challenges here; notably that keeping control of corporate data retention settings across multiple offerings is a headache that’s only likely to worsen over time.

Preferably, a backup solution or service should integrate with all products, whether on-premises, cloud or SaaS – enabling corporate standards to be applied consistently across the environment rather than configured piecemeal. Unfortunately there are very few completely capable options here. It’s also important to remember that because SaaS offerings in particular are enhanced so often, backup software vendors are often held back in developing the required integration by unavailability of relevant APIs. Complete coverage for every component of every SaaS product in use may therefore be impossible.

Where to store the data?

If on-premises backup systems are not capable of dealing with data from end user devices or SaaS, the cloud is a strong alternative storage candidate – being quick to spin up and less complex than on-premises provisioning. In most cases, moving data into the cloud from edge devices and SaaS is either free or very low cost. Whilst getting this data back out will not be as cheap, typical day-to-day restore needs won’t break the bank.

Public cloud tiered storage offers substantial savings for data that is pushed down from more available tiers to archive tiers. The leading technologies make use of auto-tiering (‘lifecycle policies’ or ‘lifecycle management’) and offer broad configuration options so that the organisation can meet its own preference in the trade-off between cost and availability.

Fit for the future?

We can’t yet predict when the current crisis will end, or the shape of IT in the aftermath. However, ensuring your backup is future-proofed and can cope with this and any other changes makes sound business sense, whatever the outcome.

Barnaby Mote, CEO, 4sl

Before founding 4sl in 2007, Barnaby worked at Symantec. Prior to this he acted as a business manager and financial controller at institutions such as RBS, Deutsche Bank and UBS.