Data protection in 2021

Every year, corporate pundits foretell massive disruptions — invariably led by their products. Once in a generation, one of them is right, and technologies like server virtualization or cloud computing explode into the mainstream. Then, in the following years, the mega-trends trigger smaller disruptions in adjacent markets.

In 2021, we will feel the aftershocks of the 2020 pandemic and the cloud. After treading water in 2020, organizations will begin to move forward, and the cloud will be their prime destination. This will be a year of more applications running in more places, but also a year of increased cyber attacks from more vectors. Despite the additional complexity and threats, backup will continue to be absorbed into broader roles. Therefore, in 2021, the priority for backup will be simplicity

In a recent blog, we explored the top trends to arise in 2020. As a follow-up, in this blog we explore those trends which are just out of reach, and those we expect to make headlines in 2021.

Trends that are not yet ready 

Kubernetes, video Internet of Things (IoT), and AI/ML will dominate the headlines in 2021, but they are still more than a year from mainstream adoption. Each of these could someday become a generational disruption, so the trends are worth watching, but companies should not overreact.

Kubernetes is the future of virtualization, but it is still maturing. VMware, AWS, Google, and RedHat have invested in Kubernetes services and distributions, but it will take time for development and operations teams to learn how to build and run containerized applications. 

Companies already deploy billions of IoT sensors, but video will drive IoT’s next wave of growth. Still, organizations will need more edge computing capacity and management tools before video IoT becomes mainstream.

Despite the marketing claims, AI/ML is still finding its way into most organizations. While the cloud makes AI/ML tools accessible, most companies lack the data and expertise to use them. Companies will continue to move forward with statistical analysis in 2021, laying the groundwork for an eventual adoption of AI/ML. 

Application sprawl

We live in an application-centric world, and as the cloud commoditizes physical infrastructure, applications are only going to become more important.

With the freedom from physical infrastructure, businesses will run more applications in more places. For a decade, developers built applications with a limited toolkit of Oracle, SQL Server, Apache, and VMware. Recently, however, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) gave developers access to a diverse set of tools. In 2021, software-as-a-service (SaaS) will become the new platform-as-a-service (PaaS) because developers will build custom business-critical applications on top of Microsoft 365 and Salesforce.

In many organizations, the freedom to innovate will unleash the anarchy of application sprawl. Business-critical applications will now run in the data center, multiple clouds, and SaaS platforms. Furthermore, the applications will be more complex, including hundreds of microservices, dozens of types of databases, and multiple storage repositories. 

Cyber attacks escalate

The onslaught of ransomware attacks will accelerate in 2021 because it is easier and more profitable than ever to be a cyber criminal.

Ransomware attacks will become more devastating. More attackers will exfiltrate data before encrypting it, so they can threaten to expose an organization’s data on the Internet. They will also take over an organization’s email and phone services, preventing their victims from receiving external notification or help. 

Ransomware attacks will also become more frequent. Like any other “business,” cyber criminals have learned that the cloud makes their jobs easier. They no longer need a data center to launch attacks, and with ransomware-as-a-service, many will not even understand how the attacks actually work! Anybody, anywhere can become a cyber criminal.

Unfortunately, the democratization of ransomware attacks means that every organization will be a target in 2021. Hospitals, schools, and small businesses will be prime targets because their IT infrastructure cannot compete with sophisticated ransomware attacks powered by the cloud. While shifting workloads to SaaS providers and the cloud will create a better balance of power, organizations need to prepare for cyber attacks.

Fewer backup administrators, more work

Each year, there are fewer backup administrators. Still, while the role is disappearing, the business requirements are not. As companies hire system architects, DevOps, CloudOps, and Site Reliability Engineers (SRE) instead of IT specialists, somebody needs to keep the data safe, and backup becomes part of a larger job. 

Existing backup administrators will expand their scope to remain relevant. Some will move into data management, including disaster recovery and data security; others will become infrastructure generalists; still others will shift to application-centric roles. 

Administrators who “pick up” backup responsibilities will learn why it is so important. Even without a full-time backup administrator, the business will expect to recover from user errors, internal bad actors, external attacks, and natural disasters, while also meeting regulations around the world. 

Regardless of where they start, the future is in the cloud, and IT professionals will need to understand how to protect and secure applications and data in the cloud. Those who do will become the future IT leaders.

Response: Backup must simplify

To help businesses cope with the challenges of 2021, backup has only one job. Simplify.

To simplify daily management, backup will become zero-touch. There will soon be no dedicated backup administrators to tune schedules, configure hardware, or upgrade software. There will be no experts to script complex backup jobs. There will be no team to troubleshoot failed backups. The future is backup-as-a-service: no configuration management, no upgrades, and no hardware. Organizations will set protection policies, confident that the mechanics just work.

To simplify protection, backup will become more cyber-resilient. Today, organizations are retrofitting cyber protection to their backup environment — air-gapped backups, protection of backup infrastructure, and writing scripts to detect anomalous patterns. With the advancements in cyber attacks, backup resiliency will need to innovate, automate, and integrate into the security ecosystem, including offsite backups to separate accounts, auto-alerting security tools about unusual data patterns, and streamlining the recovery from cyber attacks.

To simplify recovery, backup will become application-centric. Since applications can run anywhere, a centralized backup solution must be able to connect with all of them where they run — data center, the cloud, and SaaS. The backups will have to include the application context, so organizations can recover what matters to them — their applications.

Data protection vendors will add features, functions, and promises, but in 2021 and beyond, the most important requirement will be — “Data protection should just work.”

Key takeaways

We enter this year full of cautious hope and optimism, but organizations and individuals need to plan for both the challenges and risks of this new year. There will be more applications, more cyber attacks, and fewer people to do more work. 

IT organizations will continue to feel the aftershocks of the disruption caused by the cloud. Without the data center as a point of control, many IT teams are struggling to remain relevant. Successful teams will use data protection to connect with the business because even if applications do not need the data center, they still need to be protected, secured, and made compliant. If IT can keep the business safe, it will have a role in 2021 and the future. 

Let’s start 2021 by protecting you and your business. With Druva, organizations can better manage and simplify data protection, while increasing cyber resiliency and maintaining compliance. Our cloud-based data protection — ranging from backup and recovery to providing cyber resilience — delivers all-inclusive services with no need to manage hardware, software, or associated cost and complexity. We invite you to explore our product portfolio and register for a live product demo to see for yourself.