Drake Pruitt, CEO at Bocada, looks at how people, above products, are the key to effective data protection management.

In the rush to manage growing data volumes, service new business requirements such as compliance, and to reduce the cost of data protection, many companies have incorrectly overvalued the role of technology, while undervaluing the roles played by their critical IT staff.

The IT department has, until recently, primarily been concerned with an organisation's back office operations rather than being integral to its business goals. 

However, new regulatory mandates such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II have pushed IT issues to the top of the boardroom agenda at the same time as bringing increased demands on data protection efforts. 

There are many new business challenges which are making it more difficult for the IT professional to successfully meet corporate objectives, personal objectives and compliance mandates: 

  • Massive and growing volumes of data under management 
  • New business demands, including compliance, mandated service level agreements (SLAs) and corporate governance directives increasing the already substantial burden on IT professionals
  • Increasing complexity as applications, servers and networks continue to grow and new technology, tiers and professionals are added
  • Pressure to reduce the cost of IT services, including the cost per terabyte of data under management while still ensuring 100 per cent recoverability.

Companies responding to the new regulations have tended to make quick and considerable investments in storage and data management solutions for the IT department to implement. 

In the rush to maximise the new market opportunity, most technology vendors have added to this disconnect through excessive focus on speeds and feeds-selling hardware and software technologies without a focus on the means to integrate, operate, troubleshoot and optimise those technologies.

A recent survey commissioned by Bocada of more than 150 IT personnel showed that only 55 per cent believe their storage vendors understand their business objectives, and only 45 per cent believe that storage vendors provide any meaningful level of decision support. Because storage, as a key element of data management, has become inexorably linked with business objectives, these figures are clearly not adequate.

Data managers need systems and support to address the challenges the role now presents, and achieve the following objectives, which will ensure best practice:

  1. They must first ensure that their existing backup infrastructure is performing to spec, which means understanding the total system throughput, consumption of resources during the backup window, and remedying any performance degrading bottlenecks. 
  2. Next, they need to ensure full utilisation of existing system assets to avoid overbuying capacity when planning for growth. 
  3. Last, they must improve the total volume and value of work done by operations personnel in the course of managing their backup systems.

Where once they were regarded simply as support staff, data managers are now fundamental to enabling the business to achieve its goals. The IT department is now being run more as a service business with internal clients. 

This means delivering and demonstrating compliance with SLAs to internal customers, as well as supporting the SLAs promised by the company to its external customers. 

If IT fails to meet and communicate SLA delivery requirements, it dramatically impacts the company's ability to stay aligned with business goals. And failure to comply with the growing roster of regulatory requirements exposes corporations to financial penalties, costly litigation, or both. 

Hence, data management has a higher level of visibility within the organisation. Data managers have consequently had to raise their game, communicating on a business level with the board. 

Data management employees need to help other employees across the organisation understand their obligations with regards to data management, pinpointing and resolving backup failure areas and implementing company-wide communication. 

The need for effective communication is all important: IT staff must inform data owners, management, operations, and sometimes external auditors of the level of service and success. 

Communication by itself is not the answer: What is needed is a way to ensure the delivery of the right information to the right party in the right context at the right time. In other words, while communication is vital to IT/business alignment, it is really communication effectiveness that matters. 

Moreover, it has been proven that successful IT services delivery requires people, focused on operational and strategic tasks, and equipped with the tools to do their jobs.  
With the additional skills required of today's data manager, it seems clear that what is needed is a shift in mindset by buyers and sellers alike to people before products - a focus on ways to enable IT services personnel to achieve the business and individual objectives that define services excellence in their company. 

Critical to this shift is the adoption of tools and other information delivery platforms for decision support; basic products that establish the management information layer necessary for the planning, adoption, integration and operation of new technologies and platforms.

Virgin Atlantic is a good example of how a people before products approach, combined with the right technology solution, can result in a far more rewarding and productive job for the data manager as well as providing the business with an effective back-up system. 

Prior to working with Bocada, Virgin Atlantic had a full-time employee devoted solely to monitoring back-up performance across the company's various divisions. 

With data houses stored at remote offices around the world, much of his time was spent fire fighting. The company was using a disparate combination of software and hardware products to protect data which added to the difficulties of tracking backups.

Virgin Atlantic's IT team needed visibility on backup performance and an understanding of how well they were using their current data protection products. With a backup report installed, the data manager was able to see almost instantly the failures and success of backups throughout the company, as well as how much hardware was actually being utilised. 

It became apparent that in certain regions, backups were not happening for months on end. Also, several servers were not being used at all.

This knowledge enabled the team to plan for data growth and implement key changes to improve backup success rates. The data manager is now able to spend his time projecting for future growth and has produced invaluable data for infrastructure planning. 

The head of the data systems management group no longer has to be involved in backup all the time. As a team, they've been able to concentrate more on an infrastructure project, planning for the future and seeing that the right hardware is in place. They can work on other systems and are not slaves to the backups day in day out.
Although regulatory change has brought challenges, it has also created new opportunities for the data manager to develop a more strategic role within the business. This increases the potential value of the job as well as the contribution of the individual to the organisation. 

The data manager's job can feel like a never-ending fire fight, but the possible rewards in terms of the scope of the role, recognition within the company and job satisfaction are far greater than ever before.