4 Digital Workplace Moves after COVID-19

[ Note: This article was published on LinkedIn on March 24, 2020. Here is the link to the original article ]

We live in unprecedented times. Malaysia has been in Movement Control Order (MCO) Day 7, which is basically a controlled lockdown of movements and activities. In many cases, businesses have grounded to a halt, and the landscape has changed forever. The “office” will not always be a premise anymore, and the “meetings” will not be a physical face-to-face conversation to build relationships and trust.

Trust is vital. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote 關係 (Guan Xi), and having to re-invent Trust in a Digital World.

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The impact on organizations and businesses is deep and powerful and so, as we move forward when the COVID-19 pandemic dies down, organizations’ plans in their Digital Transformation strategy will change as well.

Here are 4 technology areas which I think must take precedence for the Digital Workplace in the Digital Transformation strategy.

Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

Physically connections have been disrupted. Digital connections are on the rise to supplant “networking” in our physical business world, and the pandemic situation just tipped the scale.

Many small medium businesses (SMBs) rely on home broadband, which may be good enough for some. Medium to large organizations have broadband for business. Larger organizations which have deeper pockets might already have MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) or leased line in place. A large portion might have VPN (virtual private network) set up too.

In time, SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) services should be considered more profoundly. SD-WAN is a more prudent approach that inculcates digital workplace policies such as quality of service (QOS) for critical data connections, allocating network attributes to different data workloads and network traffic, VPN features and most come with enhanced security addendum as well. .

In addition to performance, security and capacity control, SD-WAN implementation helps shape employees’ digital workplace practices but most importantly, redefine the organization’s processes and conditioning employees’ mindsets in the Digital Transformation journey.

 

Video Meetings & Conferencing

The Video Meetings and Conferencing solutions have become the poster child in the present pandemic situation. Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Skype (it is going away), GoToMeetings and more are dominating the new norm of work. Work from home (WFH) has a totally new meaning now, especially for employees who have been conditioned to work in an “office”.

I had more than 15 Zoom meetings (the free version) last week when the Malaysian MCO started, and Zoom has become a critical part of my business now, and thus, it is time to consider paid solutions like Zoom or Webex as part of an organization’s Digital Workplace plans. These will create the right digital culture for the new Digital Workplace.

Personally I like Uberconference because of their on-hold song. It is sang by their CEO, Alex Cornell. Check out this SoundCloud recording.

File Sharing

Beneath the hallowed halls of video meetings and conferencing, collaboration happens with data shared in files. We have been with file and folders from our C: drives or NAS Home Directories or File Server’s shared drives that these processes are almost second nature to us.

In the face of this COVID-19 pandemic, files and information sharing has become cumbersome. The shared drive is no longer in our network, because we are not in the organization’s LAN and intranet anymore. We are working at home, away from the gigabit network, protected by the organization’s firewall, and was once slaved … err … I mean supported by our IT admins.

The obvious reaction (since you can’t pass thumb drives anymore at present) is to resort to Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and others, and hoping you won’t max out your free capacity. Or email attachments in emails going back and forth, and hoping the mail server will not reject files larger than 10MB.

The fortunate ones have VPN client on their laptops but the network backhaul traffic to the VPN server at the central VPN server, and overloading it to the max. Pretty soon, network connections are dropped, and the performance of file sharing sucks! Big time!

What if your organization is a bank? Or an Oil & Gas company where data protection and data sovereignty dictate the order of the day? All the very-public enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) like Dropbox or OneDrive or Google Drive totally violate the laws of the land, and your organization may be crippled by the inability to do work. After all, files and folders are like the peanut-butter-jelly or the nasi lemak-teh tarik (coconut rice & pulled tea Malaysian breakfast) combo of work. You can’t live without files and folders.

The thoughts of having a PRIVATE on-premises EFSS solution in your organization’s Digital Transformation strategy should be moved from the KIV (keep in view) tray to a defined project in the Digital Transformation programme.

At Katana Logic, we work with Easishare, and it is worth having a serious plan about building your own private file share and sync solution as part of the Digital Workplace.

Security

In such unprecedented times, where our attention is diverted, cybersecurity threats are at its highest. Financial institutions in Malaysia have already been summoned by Malaysia Bank Negara central bank to build the industry’s expectations and confidence through the RMiT framework. Conversations with some end users and IT suppliers to Malaysian banks and other financial institutions unfortunately, revealed the typical lackadaisical attitude to fortify cyber resiliency practices within these organizations. I would presume the importance of cybersecurity and cyber resiliency practices would take a even further back seat with small medium businesses.

On a pessimistic note, ransomware and DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) have been on the rise, and taking advantage of this pandemic situation. NAS, the network attached storage that serves the organization shared files and folders has become ransomware’s favourite target as I have wrote in my blog.

But it does not have to be expensive affair with cybersecurity. Applying a consistent periodical password change, educating employees about phishing emails, using a simple but free port scanners to look at open TCP/UDP ports can be invaluable for small medium businesses. Subscribing to penetration testing (pentest) services at a regular frequency is immensely helpful as well.

In larger organizations, cyber resiliency is more holistic. Putting in layers for defense in depth, CIA (confidentiality, integrity, availability) triad, AAA (authentication, authorization, audit) pro-active measures are all part of the cybersecurity framework. These holistic practices must effect change in people and the processes of how data and things are shared, used, protected and recovered in the whole scheme of things.

Thus organizations must be vigilant and do their due diligence. We must never bat any eye to fortify cyber security and cyber resiliency in the Digital Workplace.

Parting thoughts

We are at our most vulnerable stage of our lifetime but it is almost the best time to understand what is critical to our business. This pandemic is helping to identify the right priorities for Work.

At any level, regardless, organizations have to use the advantage of this COVID-19 situation to assess how it has impacted business. It must look at what worked and what did not in their digital transformation journey so far, and change the parts that were not effective.

I look at the 4 areas of technology that I felt it could make a difference and I am sure there are many more areas to address. So, use this pessimistic times and turn it into an optimistic one when we are back to normalcy. The Digital Workplace has changed forever, and for the better too.

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Rebooting Infrascale

[ Disclosure: I was invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Storage Field Day 19 event from Jan 22-24, 2020 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote the vendors’ technologies to be presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views ]

Infrascale™ was relatively unknown for the Storage Field Day 19 delegates when they presented a few weeks ago in San Jose. Between 2015-2017, they have received several awards and accolades, including being in the Leaders quadrant for the 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for DR-as-a-Service.

I have known of Infrascale since 2016 as the BC and DR landscape was taking off back then, gravitating towards the cloud as a secondary platform for recovery.

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Tiger Bridge extending NTFS to the cloud

[Disclosure: I was invited by GestaltIT as a delegate to their Storage Field Day 19 event from Jan 22-24, 2020 in the Silicon Valley USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by GestaltIT, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote the vendors’ technologies to be presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

The NTFS File System has been around for more than 3 decades. It has been the most important piece of the Microsoft Windows universe, although Microsoft is already replacing it with ReFS (Resilient File System) since Windows Server 2012. Despite best efforts from Microsoft, issues with ReFS remain and thus, NTFS is still the most reliable and go-to file system in Windows.

First reaction to Tiger Technology

When Tiger Technology was first announced as a sponsor to Storage Field Day 19, I was excited of the company with such a cool name. Soon after, I realized that I have encountered the name before in the media and entertainment space.


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NAS is the next Ransomware goldmine

I get an email like this almost every day:

It is from one of my FreeNAS customers daily security run logs, emailed to our support@katanalogic.com alias. It is attempting a brute force attack trying to crack the authentication barrier via the exposed SSH port.

Just days after the installation was completed months ago, a bot has been doing IP port scans on our system, and found the SSH port open. (We used it for remote support). It has been trying every since, and we have been observing the source IP addresses.

The new Ransomware attack vector

This is not surprising to me. Ransomware has become more sophisticated and more damaging than ever because the monetary returns from the ransomware are far more effective and lucrative than other cybersecurity threats so far. And the easiest preys are the weakest link in the People, Process and Technology chain. Phishing breaches through social engineering, emails are the most common attack vectors, but there are vhishing (via voicemail) and smshing (via SMS) out there too. Of course, we do not discount other attack vectors such as mal-advertising sites, or exploits and so on. Anything to deliver the ransomware payload.

The new attack vector via NAS (Network Attached Storage) and it is easy to understand why.

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Green Storage? Meh!

Something triggered my thoughts a few days ago. A few of us got together talking about climate change and a friend asked how green was the datacenter in IT. With cloud computing booming, I would say that green computing isn’t really the hottest thing at present. That in turn, leads us to one of the most voracious energy beasts in the datacenter, storage. Where is green storage in the equation?

What is green?

Over the past decade, several storage related technologies were touted as more energy efficient. These include

  • Tape – when tapes are offline, they do not consume power and do not require cooling
  • Virtualization – Virtualization reduces the number of servers and desktops, and of course storage too
  • MAID (Massive Array of Independent Disks) – the arrays spin down the HDDs if idle for a period of time
  • SSD (Solid State Drives) – Compared to HDDs, SSDs consume much less power, and overall reduce the cooling needs
  • Data Footprint Reduction – Deduplication, compression and other technologies to reduce copies of data
  • SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) Drives – Higher areal density means less drives but limited by physics.

The largest gorilla in storage technology

HDDs still dominate the market and they are the biggest producers of heat and vibration in a storage array, along with the redundant power supplies and fans. Until and unless SSDs dominate, we have to live with the fact that storage disk drives are not green. The statistics from Statistica below forecasts that in 2021, the shipment of SSDs will surpass HDDs.

Today the areal density of HDDs have increased. With SMR (shingled magnetic recording), the areal density jumped about 25% more than the 1Tb/inch (Terabit per inch) in the CMR (conventional magnetic recording) drives. The largest SMR in the market today is 16TB from Seagate with 18TB SMR in the horizon. That capacity is going to grow significantly when EAMR (energy assisted magnetic recording) – which counts heat assisted and microwave assisted – drives enter the market next year. The areal density will grow to 1.6Tb/inch with a roadmap to 4.0Tb/inch. Continue reading

ZFS Replication and Recovery with FreeNAS

We get requests to recover data from a secondary platform all the time. RPO (recovery point objective) of 30 minutes can be challenging to small to medium sized companies, especially if there is an SLA (service level agreement) to meet.

This week, my team and I took some time to create a FreeNAS replication demo for a potential client. I thought I document the whole thing about ZFS replication, the key steps to set it up and show how recovery is done.

ZFS Snapshots

ZFS replication relies on periodic ZFS snapshots. ZFS snapshot is an inherent feature from the ZFS file system, and often used as a point-in-time copy of the existing ZFS file system tree in memory. Once a snapshot has been triggered, either manually or on schedule (periodic), the file system tree and its metadata in the memory are committed to disk to ensure an updated and consistent state of the file system at all times.

To start, a running snapshot policy on a schedule must be in place. This snapshot policy can be on a specific dataset or zvol, or even the entire zpool. Yeah, I am using quite a few ZFS terminology here – zpool, zvol, dataset. You can read more about each of the structures and more here.

Once the ZFS replication task has been setup, every snapshot occurred in the snapshot policy is automatically duplicated and copied to the target ZFS dataset. Usually, the target ZFS dataset is on a secondary FreeNAS storage server, serving as a disaster recovery platform. Sending and receiving data in the snapshots rely on SSH service.

This is the network diagram explaining the FreeNAS ZFS replication setup.

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Veaam to boost Cloud Data Management

Cloud Data Management is a tricky word. Often vague, ambigious, how exactly would you define “Cloud Data Management“?

Fresh off the boat from Commvault GO 2019 in Denver, Colorado last week, I was invited to sample Veeam a few days ago at their Solution Day and soak into their rocketing sales in Asia Pacific, and strong market growth too. They reported their Q3 numbers this week, impressing many including yours truly.

I went to the seminar early in the morning, quite in awe of their vibrant partners and resellers activities and ecosystem compared to the tepid Commvault efforts in Malaysia over the past decade. Veeam’s presence in Malaysia is shorter than Commvault’s but they are able to garner a stronger following with partners and customers alike.

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Brainy Commvault

[Disclosure: I was invited by Commvault as a Media person and Social Ambassador to their Commvault GO 2019 Conference and also a Tech Field Day eXtra delegate from Oct 13-17, 2019 in the Denver CO, USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Commvault, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

The waltz across the Commvault-Hedvig mine field will not be easy. Commvault will have a lot of open discussions about their acquisition of Hedvig and how Hedvig “primary storage platform” will fit into a “secondary storage framework” of Commvault. The outcome of this consummation is yet to appear as a structured form. The storyline will eventually form as Commvault’s diligence to define their strategy moving forward.

Day 1

Day 1 was my open day at Commvault GO. I was absorbing the first impressions of Commvault again even though this was my third Commvault GO, after Washington DC and Nashville in 2017 and 2018 respectively. There was certainly a “startup” feeling again in Commvault since the appointment of Sanjay Mirchandani as CEO 9 months ago.

A lot of excitement and buzz were generated around the metallic, the Commvault venture into Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The SaaS solution is targeted at the mid-market for organizations with 500-2500 staff count. Its simplicity and pricing were the 2 things which gave me a good feeling all over. There is even a 45-day trial for metallic.

Getting Brainy

My Day 2 itinerary was more specific because my agenda for this trip was to seek answers to the realization of Commvault-Hedvig.

Commvault took the distinction of using the vision of a DataBrain (#databrain) to define their strategy. From the picture below, the left and right hemisphere of the DataBrain forms the Storage Management piece on the left and Data Management on the right.

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Commvault coming all together

[Disclosure: I was invited by Commvault as a Media person and Social Ambassador to their Commvault GO 2019 Conference and also a Tech Field Day eXtra delegate from Oct 13-17, 2019 in the Denver CO, USA. My expenses, travel, accommodation and conference fees were covered by Commvault, the organizer and I was not obligated to blog or promote their technologies presented at this event. The content of this blog is of my own opinions and views]

This trip to the Commvault GO conference was pretty much a mission to find answers to their Hedvig acquisition just a month ago. It was an unprecedented move for Commvault and I, as an industry observer and pundit, took the news positively. I wrote in my blog about Commvault’s big bet and I liked their boldness in their approach.

But the news did not bode well back here in Malaysia. The local technology news portal, Data Storage Asean picked up the news in a rather unconvinced way. 2 long time Commvault partners I spoke to were obviously unhappy because the acquisition made little sense to them on the back of closing of the Commvault Malaysia office just weeks before this with more unsettling rumours of the Commvault team in Asia Pacific. The broken trust and the fear of what the future held for the Commvault customers in Malaysia and in the region were riding along with me on this trip.

But I have seen the beginning of the Commvault transformation from the Commvault GO conferences I have attended since 2017. This is my 3rd Commvault GO and I ended Day 1 with good vibes.

Here were some of my highlights in the first day. Continue reading