Sep 22 2021

CDW Tech Talk: Preserving Outcomes by Protecting Infrastructure

The sudden circumstances of the pandemic changed business goals for many companies and altered the threat landscape, requiring adjustments in security strategies.

When the pandemic forced organizations into remote work arrangements last year, many of them had to make quick IT decisions to keep their employees connected in order to work. Those choices resulted in an accelerated move to the cloud, as well as a proliferation of distributed endpoints.

The digital transformation brought on by the pandemic was accompanied by a shift in priorities as businesses adjusted their desired business outcomes to reflect the changing needs of their employees and customers. The sudden increase in remote workers introduced new vulnerabilities, requiring careful consideration of an organization’s security posture.

Tom DeCoster, vice president of hybrid infrastructure at CDW, joined CDW’s Tech Talk webcast to discuss some of the common changes he’s seen among customers who have revised their business outcomes in response to the pandemic.

Organizations Are Focused on Five Common Business Outcomes

DeCoster began by explaining that CDW customers are typically trying to achieve one of five business outcomes: innovation, cost, agility, risk and customer experience. He explained that each of these outcomes translates to a specific question that organizations are asking themselves.

“When it comes to innovation, for example, they’re really asking the question, ‘How do we go about delivering breakthrough experiences for our customers?’” he said. “In the hybrid infrastructure world, this really translates into, ‘How do we modernize our applications? How do we take advantage of the cloud-native capabilities?’”

DeCoster explained that most organizations are looking to reduce costs. “But they’re also asking, ‘Hey, how do we optimize it? Are we costed correctly?’ In the hybrid infrastructure world, this is really about how we should go about consolidating our data center, and then automating and offloading day-to-day operations, so our customers can focus on the most strategic IT projects.”

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With regard to agility, companies are wondering how they can adapt quickly to changing customer demands. DeCoster said they’re asking, “How do I harness all of the customer data that’s out there? How do I quickly translate that into new application features so that I can respond to the customer needs immediately?”

Risk is a major concern for many organizations right now, and DeCoster said they’re considering how to secure the perimeter, especially when it’s being redefined in an increasingly distributed world.

Finally, companies are concerned about their customers and the experience they’re being provided. “How do we engage our customers digitally, and how do we make sure that we impress them at every digital touchpoint?” DeCoster said.

Innovative Tech Choices Can Provide a Competitive Edge

DeCoster pointed out that “COVID has really changed what it means to be present: present at the workplace, present in the classroom, presence with customers. All of that is different now.”

“This really relates to how customers go about modernizing their applications, and specifically how they go from having a monolithic application architecture to one that is microservices-based, or container-based, or services-based,” DeCoster said. “Because then, with that modernized approach, they are able to start taking advantage of all the cloud-native capabilities, things like analytics and AI, ML, and data visualization, and the data pipeline.”

Companies that had already invested in innovative technologies have been at an advantage throughout the pandemic, DeCoster said. “They are absolutely taking share from other competitors during COVID because they know exactly how the customer is going to behave online. They know what they’re going to buy, what they’re not going to buy, and they can take those analytics and channel that right back into their application to create this better customer experience.”

Innovative Tools Also Raise Questions Around Security and Infrastructure

DeCoster acknowledged that implementing new technologies can also raise security concerns. The first step is building a solid infrastructure.

He said the ideal infrastructure is one that allows an organization to rapidly scale, enable continuous integration and delivery of their applications, leverage all the data at their disposal, and secure it at the same time.

“Customers have some fundamental questions to answer about their infrastructure,” DeCoster said. They must decide in financial terms how they want to consume infrastructure, and they must decide on a platform for managing it. “Where are they on their platform journey? Are they cloud-first? What are they going to do with their existing infrastructure in their data center or in their hosting facility? Is the application suite that they have container-based? In a sense, infrastructure doesn’t matter, and they can seamlessly move data and applications from one part of infrastructure to another.”

Finally, DeCoster said, organizations must decide what their corporate initiatives are. “Are they digital-first? Are they zero-trust security? Whether the infrastructure ends up being on-premises, hybrid cloud, multicloud, public cloud — that's great, as long as it can rapidly scale, support continuous integration and continuous delivery for the applications, and can leverage and secure their customer data,” he said.

Ransomware Continues to Threaten the Security of Data  

Druva CTO Stephen Manley joined the conversation to discuss the importance of data protection for organizations going through digital transformation.

“Think of all the places you have your data. You’ve got data, obviously, in your data center. You’ve got data sitting in the cloud. You’ve got data, as we were just talking about, in Microsoft 365, whether it’s Teams or SharePoint Online, you’ve got data in Salesforce … There are more and more things in endpoints, laptops, desktops, everything like that. So, in that environment, data is sprawled everywhere.”

With data being created, stored and moved among so many locations, it becomes increasingly vulnerable, leaving it open to threats such as ransomware attacks. “The numbers are scary,” Manley said. “The numbers say things like, there’ll be about $20 billion worth in reported damages this year, there’ll be multiple attacks per minute across the United States. The threat is real.”

Manley acknowledged that it can feel like the risk posed by ransomware is overhyped, noting that many attacks aren’t publicized. “The reality is most attacks are not big, high-profile organizations. Most attacks right now, the key vectors, the ones that are paying out on a constant basis, are hospitals, school districts, small and medium businesses. Because the cybercriminals, maybe they make their name with the big attack, but they get the easy recurring revenue with the small attacks. Everybody's got to be worried.”

WATCH: Learn how data protection can build business continuity.

Backing Up Data Can Help Minimize Damage After Attack

“Your backups are your best defense,” Manley said. “it's a matter of when, not if, your organization is going to get hit with a ransomware attack. More than likely, you will get penetrated to some degree, you will have some damage done inside your organization.”

“If you have secure backups that are undetectable by the attackers — ideally offsite, managed in a totally separate account, on immutable storage so that they can't be modified and that are tested so you know you can recover — that's your first line of defense.”

Manley said that, in the event of a ransomware attack a secure, offsite backup allows an organization to recover quickly. “You don’t have to pay the ransom, because you can say, ‘We’re going to clear out our environment, and we’re just simply going to restore the data and get ourselves back up and running.’”

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