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Thursday, 24 September 2020 20:07

In Conversation with: Chris Drieberg, Hitachi Vantara ANZ Featured

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Is 'collaboration' the key to surviving the pandemic? Perhaps it's the key to corporate life with or without the virus.

iTWire recently took the opportunity to chat with Chris Drieberg, Director Pre-Sales / CTO at Hitachi Vantara ANZ about the interesting time IT teams are having in this wildly distributed work-from-home virus-infested life we're all leading.

iTWire: Hi Chris, thanks for your time. Perhaps you could start by telling readers a little about your role at Hitachi Vantara and how the organisation operates in Australia.

Drieberg: What I'm really excited about is that the operational and collaborative approach that our local team has been driving is spreading throughout the global business and throughout our ecosystem, globally. Hitachi Vantara has got best-in-class solutions and we continue to improve upon them, and what we're focused on now is aligning with our ecosystem of partners and solutions and technologies to make things easier for our channel partners and, ultimately, our customers.

Hitachi Vantara is simplifying how our solutions integrate. We're collaborating with other vendors that our customers consistently rely on to deliver solutions that can be pre-integrated, pre-configured for their needs. In fact, some really productive solution collaborations with the likes of Cisco, VMware and Commvault started with the ANZ teams from each organisation.

This makes sense to address the real-world problems of companies and public sector agencies with multi-vendor environments. We're making our storage, hyperconverged infrastructure, IoT, data management and analytics solutions flexible and scalable so customers don't have to make large over-arching changes to start to see the benefits.

Small-step, rapid changes have been very important for our customers dealing with the impacts of this pandemic, but - and this is critical - we're focused on ensuring that the solutions not only support their pivot strategies but can be built upon and adaptive to what comes next.

It's a real outcome view. We're making sure we're easy to work with, for the benefit of our customers. We're using what is in our tool box and working with alliance partners to develop solution sets that will achieve the customer outcome.

iTWire: OK, thanks for that - something of an 'essay,' but great background nonetheless. Now, the reason we came together was to discuss the modern 'disaster' of ubiquitous data storage and access, particularly in these testing work-from-home days.

Drieberg: This question is about data management, focused on where to store it and how to protect it, yet make it accessible. Let's be real. If you're an organisation that suddenly has most - if not all - of your staff working remotely, you've got data everywhere right now.

Once the impacts of Covid19 hit, any medium to large organisation that used to have a handful of physical offices to manage, from an IT and storage and data management perspective, suddenly had hundreds or thousands of offices to manage.

iTWire: …and suddenly, that relatively comfortable IT shop was a mile away from anything they knew about!

Drieberg: Collaboration is different. The tools that are being used are different, and many that are being used right now are not considered enterprise grade. But companies and employees have just had to make it work and deal with that. Cameras, video software, collaboration tools, all creating data that is stored somewhere. Unless 100% of your remote staff are accessing / sharing / storing company data and approved applications via a VPN 100% of the time, with no workarounds and no usage of personally preferred apps etc., you've got data stored on unapproved applications, home computers, personal clouds, public cloud services and more.

iTWire: That sounds like a recipe for disaster. Is anything under control, do you think?

Drieberg: From a compliance, governance and security perspective, for many organisations, control is an illusion at the moment. So how to get control?

Embrace the idea of federated collaboration. Organisations need to collaborate differently than before, and that means recognising that their people are using a wider variety of solutions and tools than might have been accepted before, and / or tools that might not have been used as extensively before. And it means supporting this by creating processes to help guide, manage and govern the use of the tools and the data they create. Including processes for what data is saved where, and why.

iTWire: Sure, we can probably pin the processes and technology down relatively well. Crassly, it's simply a massive scaling up of existing systems that a small number of employees have used either while travelling or at home for one reason or another. However, there are some major attitudinal changes to overcome.

Drieberg: The people and culture side of this cannot be ignored. Employees need to accept that things might not work the same way they used to, and in some cases the user experience will be different. Not necessarily bad or worse than before, but different. People are resistant to change, so business leaders have to lead through that resistance to a change in culture.

That change in culture is necessary to support the change in process and behaviour required to gain control of data management and data protection.

iTWire: Managers and Leaders can drive and support this change, of course. But so much of it still falls back to the IT team.

Drieberg: Absolutely. You need to ensure you have the capacity to support end to end resiliency. If you're talking about access to data, and providing the right access to the right people at the right time, in real time, then you have to consider the current challenge of shifting from a typically siloed approach to one where resiliency is provided from end to end. It's a challenge because now there are so many edges to factor in.

iTWire: And of course, it's the users who are out there, living on thee edge, as it were, in more ways than one. Can we still control what they do, day-to-day?

Drieberg: Data governance is different now too, and compliance became suddenly a lot more difficult. Those tools that used to be used sporadically by people working from the office, and within controls and governance to ensure compliance, are now being used more extensively and often outside of the usual firewalls and protections that used to ensure compliance.

Enabling the new normal includes - for many organisations - investment in internal service desk and end user support capabilities, to support all end users with virtual and remote support. That includes support for virtual environments, desktops, applications, a greater use of VPN connectivity, a whole different bunch of collaboration tools etc.

The IT and support teams need more than the ability to provide this support … they need the tools to allow for easy and efficient management of all this. It's not just about where the data is and where it should go, but how does your team easily manage it and move it?

iTWire: I can hear you hinting that there's more than a technology solution required here…

Drieberg: Organisations need to implement policies and cultural change that will support cybersecurity. Organisations have data in the datacentre, on-demand data such as that stored on BYO devices, data in people's personal clouds and stored within various cloud applications and services. They are dealing with an increase in entry points that are not protected with enterprise-level security, such as home routers.

iTWire: Enter the bad guys!

Drieberg: There's an obvious and exponential increase in the possibility of attacks on their environments. With DDOS attacks now happening at the edge, and so many more edges to protect, maintaining visibility of it all is a challenge.

When building a framework to stop the bad guys, organisations must address the people, process and tech pieces all at the same time.

Not only do they have to figure out how to keep patching up to date, but they have to ensure it is maintained at all the edges. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Virtual Private Networks are nothing new. What is new is that companies have a LOT more people connecting remotely than before and most are not used to complying with the process of connecting to the office on VPN on a consistent basis. Increasing capacity around VPN and embedding a policy of consistent VPN connection will be necessary to make sure devices' OS are updated and that the currency of infrastructure solutions, security measures including encryption keys and certificates, and the latest versions of collaboration tools are maintained.

iTWire: So, resilience is key. Roll with the punches, as it were.

Drieberg: Ensure long-term retention of a single version of the truth. Building that reliable repository is a must-do. You need a single version of the truth every day. Plus, if you find yourself in a situation where there is a threat to your data, or you have experienced data corruption, you need to be able to roll back to that true data.

That doesn't mean you have to have a copy of everything on premises. Organisations need to build a framework that includes data written to the public cloud too. In terms of data disbursement, we'll continue to see more data at the edge, less in the core and more in the cloud. You can have that source of truth in the core, along with your core mechanisms to force out things like upgrades and patching. But again, you have to have taken care of that culture and policy piece where you have people consistently connecting to the VPN, in order to gain control.

iTWire: We've covered the topic rather broadly, do you have any specific suggestions that can be used by the readers?

Drieberg: I think there are a couple of Key Takeaways for Organisations.

  • Leadership around the change in policies and culture will be as important as the technology change. Business leaders must accept this responsibility because the reality is the business, its employees and its customers have to behave differently (eg. more buying online, more digital engagement) due to circumstances we cannot control.
  • You have to take steps to support the increase in Edge, end points and devices, from an enablement, resilience, security and data management perspective.
  • Change has happened quickly and in response to a crisis. Your data is everywhere. To get control, to assert data management and data protection, there will not be one single policy or process or solution that will help you deal with this. Rather there will be a multi-faceted strategy.
  • In today's multi-vendor, hybrid or multi cloud environments, it will require a joint effort between your organisation and its various technology partners and vendors to build a strategy and an environment that will support your data management, protection and accessibility needs in the longer term. Vendors need to work together and end users need to insist that their vendors work together. It's going to take collaboration.

iTWire: Collaboration. That seems to be your key message. And with that, I thank you for your time.

Drieberg: Thank you.


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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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