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Where does accelerating data fit with business risk?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/alexskopje)

If you compare the world’s top five companies by capitalisation from 10 years ago, the majority are businesses in the traditional sense of “growing, digging or manufacturing” products; solid companies with physical assets which constitutes to their wealth. If we move forward to today those “traditional” companies have been displaced by those whom are focused around data. Be this the control, exploitation or analytics they are all about the data – data driven 

With automation, Big Data and Artificial intelligence (AI) the value of data has never been more so. If fact many organisations have to come to the uncomfortable realisation that to the organisation, the data they hold or can mine is fast becoming more a more valuable asset then the traditional valued asset - personnel. 

If we take one example: Shazam. According to the Wall Street Journal, Shazam which is now valued at $1bn thanks to the data it is able mine - yet it’s a mere start-up! With its ability to “Identify the media playing around you, explore the music you love. Discover song lyrics from your favourite artists.” Shazam’s business model at a high level is very simple and highly effective. It is taking those requests from the consumer for information about a piece of music and whilst providing information back to the consumer, it gather live, up to date  intelligence in what is happening in the market place and selling this on the music industry. Who needs music charts or opinion polls when you have data from over 100 million users such as this to base your business decisions upon? It is interesting that Shazam are now taking this model out into cinemas, television and advertising. 

However, with any data driven organisation there are some key fundamentals, first you need to be able to capture this data and analyse it and these volumes can be colossal which brings its own problems. With Shazam and its excess of 100 million users, they have the ability to create a huge data achieve that can be combined with AI to use to predict the trends in consumer choice for music. This becomes valuable intelligence to the musical industry allowing them to focus their advertising and promotional dollars to best effect.

With many Western economies based upon service, financial and knowledge industries, data starts to transform from somewhat a burden to organisation having to store the ever increasing amount of data to one where it becomes a valuable asset. And like any asset, it’s important that this now highly valuable data is protected in the same manner as would any other asset would be and for those data driven organisations, even more so.

 Raising questions

The sheer value of this data raises questions such as: “Do we look after the data well?”  It also means that organisations which rely on data to make their sales revenues need to ask themselves more seriously and more frequently about how they secure that data. Indeed, as part of their due diligence, they should ask themselves a number of searching questions in order to prepare themselves for either a man-made or natural disasters. If organisations think about that possibility now and test their assumptions on a regular basis, they will be more prepared to prevent and minimise the effect a disaster will have the company’s ability to continue business should one occur. Prevention or business continuity as it is often called, is the foremost priority because it is far less expensive than having to find a cure after disaster has struck. 

Yet this doesn’t mean that organisations can be complacent; they should still invest in disaster recovery, and they shouldn’t place their datacentres within the same circles of disruption. To place datacentres and disasters recovery sites within them is just asking for trouble. So to avoid putting their businesses at risk, they should be regularly reviewing their current situation and testing themselves against a number of scenarios, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) and hacking attacks. They also need to test how well they can respond to one of their datacentres going offline and how that would affect their on-going business operations. If they have the right data back-up and restore solutions in place, then they should be able to continue to operate. That is so long as it is monitored and managed just like any insurance policy. 

Understanding value

In the short-term, the idea is to augment and to automate. As the usage of AI grows, it will take over certain tasks by analysing data and reacting accordingly. With experience, it can improve and predict. For example, with regards to Shazam, the number one hits. That’s great, but what are the business risks of a company like that, and how will they change over the next year? To maintain a viable digital business, firms need to back-up and secure their data enabling them to do real-time analysis so as to ensure that the correct predictions are made and the right decisions are made too.  

Companies are extremely data-driven today, but do they realise by how much and the importance of it? To all appearances, they acknowledge that they are data-driven and they certainly use the data constantly, but when it comes to protecting that data, they aren’t so driven. The problem is cost versus business risk.   The value of data seems to be overtaking the value of people. But actually, both are critical for success.  Data may be like gold but gold is hard to mine and transport and data should be easy to transport. But the value of data is as key as the value of people. 

There is a balance in the workplace between employees, automation and data, but data is a key asset that needs to be insured and protected at all times. Nevertheless, if you don’t have the right people to carry out the functions, can’t hire the right people – especially in the cloud world, then you have a problem. You need the right skills to secure your data. The companies that have the right people and the right data strategies are therefore more likely to succeed. 

Following Uber

The great thing about Uber is that they do a great job of data-mining and that opens up the possibility of creating new services.  For their data to grow, they have to house it somewhere. They are capturing data all the time. Lots of companies are trying to follow the Uber model, leveraging data but they don’t know how to get there. In other industries, health for example, in order to monetise the data, they have  to sanitise it and all those huge volumes of MRI, CT SCANs, X-rays have got to be moved, analysed, stored, protected while being accessible anywhere, any time. 

Data nursery

So do enterprises look after their data well?  Maybe, but do they really?  Many enterprises are compromising their data.  Protecting and storage of data as well as the ability to restore it are absolutely key. There are technologies out there like Zerto for disaster and Rubrik for archiving. We have back-up companies like Asigra. They are newish companies looking to change the way we handle our data. However, companies are still not looking at the way they are moving that data. They continue to do the same thing they’ve done for the last 10 years, but the world is moving on—and fast.

These are the challenges for CIOs: uncompressible data such as video images, rich media we have not handled at this volume before, not to mention large data sets, growing demand to move encrypted data for security purposes. In comparison to 10 years ago, we have much larger bandwidth. So the challenge for companies is completely different to a decade ago. They should therefore be looking at the issues of today rather than the issues of yesterday. More to the point, as Gartner says, while companies have DR plans they don’t test them sufficiently. So whilst companies may have a plan, they need to test it on a regular basis. 

With regards to Shazam and Uber, for example, their success is based on their data. If they don’t protect their data, their business model falls over. If somebody is dependent on data for their business, then it’s even more critical for them to insure it and protect it while having ready access to it whatever disaster might happen. They need to be back online quickly should anything happen; the public is fickle and they expect things to happen when they expect them to happen—and that means NOW!  

Shazam’s data is an integral part of its business model and success. Yet Shazam is looking at other business models. According to The Telegraph, the company has achieved 1 billion downloads of its mobile application while achieving profitability for the first time since it was launched 15 years ago. “[We were] growing a business in a collapsing market,” the company’s co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee told The Guardian in December 2016. He added: “The internet bubble burst in 2000 [and] there were start-ups going bust everywhere.”

Recovery objectives

The importance of data means that all companies need to analyse regularly their business risk profiles. They need to look at their recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point (RPO) objectives to understand which data truly needs to be real-time or near real-time. This isn’t about trading data that is required in the nano-second. This is about every other type of data that is near real-time and asynchronous, and with the RTO and RPO objectives in mind, organisations need to be sure how quickly they can recover. 

Yet different companies will have different RTOs and RPOs as some data functions are more critical than others. So they need to analyse which data is critical and needs to be backed up with no delay and which data is non critical and can be restored at a slightly more leisurely pace. There are costs associated with speed, but given the right acceleration technology such as PORTrockIT, you may find that it could be cheaper than you think and such a solution may be your best insurance policy because it can enable an organisation to reduce the time needed to back-up and restore data. 

A back-up is only complete when you have the last byte of data. The quicker you can back it up across a network, the quicker you minimise the risks. Increasing the number of back-ups you can do in a day will also minimise the risk. Imagine you are only able to back up or replicate your data once a day and something happens---maybe an electrical issue or a hack. You lose your data and you are in severe trouble. But if you back up 4 times a day, you can get back up and running very quickly, so the speed with which you restore your data minimises your business risk. 

So if companies use technologies to back up 4 times a day as opposed to once a day they are reducing their business risk. It wasn’t really possible before, but now it is, because occasionally a technology comes along that turns things on its head, changing the game. When such a technology arrives, customers wonder how they survived without it when they find they are reaping its rewards. This is where data acceleration fits with business risk. Without it, you could be putting your data-driven business at risk at a time when so-called WAN optimisation simply isn’t the answer. After all, WAN optimisation doesn’t accelerate anything—it just condenses the amount of data to be sent. And you can’t encrypt it either! Now that’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?

Jamie Eykyn, Chairman, Bridgeworks
Image source: Shutterstock/alexskopje

Jamie Eykyn
Jamie Eykyn is the Chairman of the data acceleration company, Bridgeworks. Jamie is an investor in Bridgeworks, which uses machine intelligence to accelerate transfer speeds, and reduce packet loss, when moving large volumes of data across the WAN.