Within the havoc precipitated by the global pandemic, leaders are faced with either completely reviving the ‘old normal’ of getting things done or putting into action alternative strategies to create an optimal path to recovery.
This growing realisation of a hybrid approach is permeating much critical strategic thinking, especially with securing data, according to Singapore based Sheena Chin, managing director of ASEAN, Cohesity.
In this in-depth interview with Disruptive.Asia, she says: “Despite the challenges created by the pandemic for businesses, Cohesity experienced exceptional momentum and growth, as shown in our recent financial performance release where we announced a new valuation of US$ 3.7 billion, which is 1.2 billion higher than its valuation less than 12 months ago. Our ARR [annual recurring revenue] is up nearly 90% YoY 2023, and our net expansion rate is around 130%.”
Additionally, new customer acquisition is over 50%, which she attributes to all the success of the company’s subscription-based software model and the trajectory the company is on.
Today, organisations are prioritising a ‘data first’ approach to compete and win. Aligned with this, Sheena points to Cohesity’s partnering with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to address a growing customer need for a data management service that is flexible, available, scalable, and reliable.
Putting data first may be one of the disruptions engendered by the pandemic, she explains. “The pandemic forced organisations to realise that traditional analytics techniques that rely heavily on large amounts of historical data are no longer relevant. The need is to identify critically important data which will help business leaders better identify the challenges they face and refine their strategies to meet them.”
Cohesity has had discussions with customers on whether they should take risks and invest in new technology or slow down and stick with the status quo. “Standing still can be dangerous during a crisis,” she commented.
“We see that there are two schools of thought among businesses in terms of how they should react to the pandemic,” Sheena elaborates. “Some are choosing the status quo and only reacting when needed, whereas others are looking for ways to improve efficiency, increase TCO, enhance their cyber threat defences and so on.”
“They are asking themselves – are we prepared for ransomware attacks – do we have secure copies of all our data? How resilient is our business? Do we need multiple layers of security, or can we protect ourselves with a single platform? It is important for them to realise that even if they do nothing, their existing systems still need servicing and maintenance.”
Cyber threats constantly evolve and grow, connectivity has become more of an issue with the move to WFH [working from home] – and IT departments could see their budgets shrinking if they take no action. “Disruption can push businesses into taking action to stay relevant, and to identify the opportunities that emerge during a crisis.”
She had noticed similarities among sectors across the region. The public sector, for example, tends to be decisive, with a more structured and systematic approach to procurement. The finance sector’s motivation is data security as well as cost control.
“Healthcare operations want to streamline – they need adequate and effective storage systems for their massive data and search volumes. Budget is also critical – they need smart systems but not at any cost,” she adds.
Multiple media reports of cybersecurity breaches during the pandemic have heightened the importance of data security.
“[For example] ransomware is vast in its scale and impact, but in essence, it is just a new form of data loss,” Sheena said. “The best defence is to get prepared. Get yourself guaranteed clean copies of files (and objects and databases) that can be restored quickly – and document this.”
Ransomware, in particular, is a growing threat to organisations of every size. Attacks are increasing in frequency and intensity, potentially crippling for businesses. They can mainly be attributed to a combination of unresolved software vulnerabilities and internal human actions or errors.
Cybercriminals are also becoming more sophisticated, using numerous techniques that allow them to go undetected. No organisation is immune to ransomware attacks, and the consequences — loss of revenue and increased time to market due to cybersecurity incidents, data corruption, and operational disruptions — are significant concerns.
Commenting on this, Sheena believes that: “The greatest challenge that prevents business leaders from being forward-thinking is that they do not have accessible, manageable tools to work with unstructured data, able to derive valuable insights for those additional nuggets of understanding that can make the difference between sales and growth. However, this is difficult to achieve if the C-suite is unable to get their hands on top quality, clean, reliable data.”
On the face of it, data silos are a bad idea, she agreed. “Enterprise data tends to get siloed into multiple storage products, which store the data as multiple copies, replicated and uncompressed. These redundancies, referred to as copy data, can easily be 10-20 times more than the actual capacity needed.”
Companies find that delivering that amount of storage requires significant investments – not just on the storage side, but in the overall IT infrastructure, such as networking, archival, cloud bandwidth, manageability, and so forth.
Reducing data footprint could lead to significant cost advantages. Her advice is also not to needlessly invest in technology.
“Business and digital/IT teams should do their research on the challenges faced with their current IT systems. New technologies should be able to offer more solutions and processes than their current IT systems do,” she continued. “Our advice to CIOs would be to ensure their current backup and recovery provider provides at a minimum: file immutability, anomaly detection, and the ability to instantly restore data and applications en-masse so that recovery is ensured and this never becomes a question they have to face.”
“From our recent conversations, many business leaders are realising that they do not have the necessary skills or staff to maintain existing legacy approaches to managing their data,” Sheena revealed.
“Instead, they are now looking to embrace a modern approach to data management that is easy to use, less skillset dependent, agile across different infrastructures, and has a level of Machine Learning (ML) built in to help with menial tasks and adjustments.”
The company found that IT teams were unable to filter the most significant data from among the mass of data copies amassed, needed to help their leaders identify loopholes and challenges in the business.
“As part of their recovery journey, many organisations want to simplify IT operations, be more cost-effective, and have the option to do more with data,” Sheena continued. “We are seeing that businesses have shifted their focus on to increasing security, protection, and availability of collaborative data for their remote workforces.”
Because of the need for speed for connectivity and collaboration across teams, data becomes mission-critical, and unstructured data prevent business leaders from making the right decisions quickly.
“It has become a necessity for risk management to address the lack of visibility and control over all forms of data as it now spans across security, privacy, and compliance with local laws and regulations,” she said. “Data breaches, cyberattacks, data loss, and compliance violations can literally cost a business everything from monetary losses to poor reputation and, ultimately, even its ability to operate.”
Sheena explained that her second point was that businesses need to understand their data and manage it properly.
“Many of them struggle to protect, secure and integrate data, some of which is on the cloud and some on-premise,” she commented. “Even though having a hybrid option opens opportunities for businesses, IT teams need to be aware of the complexity this involves and the need to minimise duplicated data. This issue is especially common in businesses that lack the right policies in data management.”
The third challenge is that businesses often see ransomware protection as a liability, just a cost without immediate benefit.
She explains that many businesses failed to identify the attack surface and recognise what data the organisation has and where it is located.
This exploding data growth and mass data fragmentation — the growing proliferation of backup data across different sprawling silos — have combined to widen the organisation’s attack surface. As a result, backup data has become more accessible to cybercriminals, making it easier to launch ransomware attacks.
Regardless of how business leaders react to the pandemic, the bare minimum IT professionals must do is keep a healthy baseline, she advised. “This frees up space and time for leaders to think about where they can invest in and grow the business in the long run. With product lifecycles becoming ever shorter, CIOs and CTOs want to invest in solutions that will take them into the future.”
Gauging the value of data
Companies that are starting their data management journey should keep these three steps in mind, she said. These are:
Firstly, the need to solve mass data fragmentation requires modern, software-defined data management solutions that bring data and infrastructure silos together. Having this data on a single, easy-to-use dashboard places organisations in the driving seat with their data.
Secondly, businesses should consider investing in cloud-native integrations. This helps businesses to back up data easily and quickly to the cloud and allows them to recover data anywhere. Remote employees can make use of data whenever and wherever needed. Moreover, once IT teams to implement the right processes to protect original copies of data, businesses can gain more visibility of the data stored.
Thirdly, businesses need to implement security postures that are updated regularly. These solutions can play a crucial role in helping customers defend against ransomware attacks with an immutable platform and machine learning-based early detection.
“We can’t emphasise enough that business leaders need an IT strategy that can help speed up processes to deliver results back to the business faster and more accurately. They also need to be pragmatic about the solutions they want to adopt. By having open conversations with different teams, these strategies can be more fine-tuned and help speed up time to market.”
Move forward with essentials
Moving forward, Sheena believes that businesses will eliminate duplicated data as part of their streamlining efforts.
Deduplication is one of the critical storage technologies that deliver optimal storage efficiency and reduced infrastructure costs.
She said that deduplication eschews the need to store multiple copies of identical files, which reduces the required storage capacity.
Deduplication is acknowledged as a space efficiency feature found in many enterprise storage products.
Sheena, however, points out that due to a lack of standards, the effectiveness of data reduction ratios and cost savings are difficult to quantify when comparing different vendors. “There is simply not always an apples-to-apples comparison.”
In addition, Sheena said that CIOs and CISOs should focus beyond just preventing ransomware threats enabling swift response processes to mitigate attacks.
“By having teams with the right skills to analyse data, enterprises would see significantly improved efficiencies,” she explained. “For example, they would get much better at predicting future requirements, detect anomalies—including ransomware attacks – on the IT production environment. IT teams would also be able to avoid downtime and draw extensive insights from previously untapped data, all while reducing their cost.”
“Resilience is important for all industries,” Sheena said in her concluding remarks. “It is understandable that many organisations are still paranoid about security and adopt multiple layers of protection. Others are cooler, trusting to systems that can be hacked only up to a point, without the risk of the hackers accessing critical data. It is time for businesses to re-enter the game and start managing their data better again.” “After all, data management and protection is a never-ending game, as businesses need to constantly eliminate silos as data continues to grow exponentially.”