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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Data center services help agencies prepare for the worst

The past year has seen a ‘perfect storm’ of disasters, delivering wave after wave of disruption to critical data access and impeding the regular operations of organizations and government agencies. Coordinated ransomware attacks on government systems are often in the headlines. Among the most audacious was in Baltimore, where the RobbinHood strain of ransomware compromised servers. Hackers demanded around $75,000 to restore access and threatened to wipe all data if payment was not forthcoming within 10 days.

But IT system failures can occur without any cybercriminal activity. British Airways, for example, suffered a catastrophic systems outage -- grounding flights and causing severe disruption to long-haul passengers. Then there are natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods and earthquakes. 2019 was the fifth consecutive year in which 10 or more billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events have impacted the country.

As we head into 2020, the issue of how to best protect data, systems and infrastructure against any of these occurrences remains top of mind for organizations and government agencies alike.

Although the threats are diverse, there is one constant – all organization should be prepared. Preparation will help safeguard data and allow for faster recovery, should the worst happen. No agency wants to be the next ransomware headline or suffer a barrage of anger and criticism on social media. This unwanted attention almost always damages reputations and often results in the loss of customers and revenue.   

Agencies that do their due diligence, assess the risks to the organization and create a robust backup and recovery plan will be better equipped to cope with a disaster. But planning, preparation and implementation aren’t always straightforward. Those responsible for maintaining data availability and overall IT system health can be overwhelmed when launching a data protection plan, and stretched IT teams with limited resources can find it challenging to maintain best practices and procedures once they are in place. Even seasoned IT pros who know what they should be doing  may not have time to do it.

For all these reasons, we’re predicting that in 2020 more organizations than ever will turn to data center services providers for advice and assistance with data protection and security. The best data center services providers have already started to expand their portfolios, making alliances with trusted technology partners where appropriate.

Many now offer initial technology assessments that can pinpoint weaknesses in an agency's current data protection and information security policies. This kind of assessment provides an opportunity to address concerns before they become critical issues and to minimize the impact of cyberattacks, IT outages or natural disasters, should they occur. At this point, agencies can choose to implement the changes themselves or outsource the responsibility.

Agencies that opt for taking the outsourcing route can tap an increasing number of data center services providers to help them strengthen data security and integrity with a range of managed data protection, security and IT services. These could include everything from snapshot backups, network monitoring and automated security software updates to offsite mirroring and replication.

Managed network monitoring and solutions can proactively identify and close down potential IT systems issues and cyber threats before they become serious problems. But if malware does find its way onto agency servers, a managed network monitoring and management solution can quarantine infected machines and remove network visibility and connectivity. The network and its data could then be rebuilt using snapshots taken as part of a managed backup and recovery service -- effectively allowing agencies to travel back in time to a point before the malware was present and perform a full system recovery.

Data center services providers can also provide the off-site redundancy that’s necessary in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Agencies located in areas prone to wildfires or hurricanes should be sure their data is backed up to a safe off-site location -- perhaps out of state. With that in mind, IT managers should investigate the location of the data center services provider’s sites -- how far are they away from headquarters? Are they on separate power grids?

Agencies should make a New Year’s resolution to talk with their current data center services provider to ensure they're getting the full benefit of their partner's services and experience. The provider's investment in security, availability and redundancy should ensure agencies' IT systems are operational no matter what happens.

About the Author

Trevor Bidle is VP, information security and compliance officer, with US Signal.

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