More and more of the companies who have been in the business of data protection are now in the business of data management. Is it still relevant to develop, market and sell data protection solutions when all the hype seems to be around data management?
Data Protection: the Foundation Stone of Data Management
Data Protection is the starting point in the data awareness journey taken by organizations.
As stupid and obvious as it may sound, data protection is the realization that an organization’s data has value and needs to be protected.
As an interesting observation, we often talk about data protection in the context of avoiding data loss, but very hardly in the context of data theft. Probably because the market has somehow defined data protection as the discipline relevant to backup/restore and disaster recovery. But back to data protection in the context of data loss. We’ve been doing backups for ages. At some point, we even figured out that doing backups is fine, but that surely it would also make sense to test those backups from time to time to ensure the data is still readable.
That is the case with certain storage media (such as tape) but it’s not just a matter of media: data corruption can happen at different levels. The data integrity itself is important, and even if the bits & bytes are perfectly readable on the backup media doesn’t means that the data itself is readable. Our computers sometimes surprise us with all sorts of shenanigans, and more than one engineer has been confronted with restoring unreadable gibberish from their backups. Then, not only did we realize that being able to read the backed up data is great, but perhaps we also need to take into account not only the data loss, but also an entire location loss. Thus comes Disaster Recovery, an integral part of a data protection strategy.
With the rise of the Business Continuity discipline, organizations became more and more aware of the value of their data and that of their people, processes and infrastructure. Now it was possible to structure what a loss of service or a loss of data would cost. Not that it would be perfectly easy to put a price tag on the data itself, but business could at least understand what a business interruption would mean to them from a financial perspective.
This short reminder of what data protection is serves us to introduce our next topic, which is data management.
Data Management is a Journey
Data Protection brought an awareness of how data is valuable to us, just like our ancient ancestors were critically aware that controlling fire was critical to our species. There is a theory stating that the control of fire brought humans to start cooking their food, and that the cooked food had different characteristics which ultimately contributed – among other factors – to the evolution of our species. There are parallels that can be drawn with data management. We are just at the beginning of understanding what can be done with the data. Or rather, we have an understanding of what could be done, but we don’t necessarily have the tools & skillsets to make it happen.
And yet data management can be a perilous journey. Embracing data management without a clear understanding of what are the expected outcomes is an easy path to failure. We have not yet reached this point where applications and systems are fully aware of data and its context. Machine learning / neural networks can eventually help us attain this goal, but frankly it could be still some time before we get there, because they need a model to be trained upon. Someone needs to define that model, and it’s for us humans to figure out.
The key to this is that the data context is unique to each organization. Data that is not relevant for my organization may be vital for another business. And we also talk about data as an abstract an amorphous construct in this article. Data has many faces. It could be text files, pictures, medical data (x-rays, analysis results), it could be financial data points in an Excel file, a set of databases, never ending log files… it’s really a world of its own to be explored.
When embarking on a long journey, it makes sense to plan it and to account for multiple stages. One of them could be understanding what data is generated. Another one is to understand what of the generated data is relevant for business use cases. Yet another one is about identifying if that generated data can be further used to find more insights / trends on the business itself. Copies of the data can be used to apply different processing models, to perform all sorts of tests and perhaps even to improve services & processes.
The Case of IBM Spectrum Protect Plus
With that said, should we diss data protection solutions and products? I wouldn’t do so: every organization will be at a different step of their data management journey. Also, it would be quite a success if all of the organizations & companies in the world adopted the main tenets of data protection – there’s still plenty of room before this happens. Remember, there are many companies who aren’t running any backups, or others who use VMware snapshots as the basis of their backup strategy, so there is always room for improvement.
Talking about the beginning of the journey, this makes an interesting plug to talk about IBM Spectrum Protect Plus, a product that was presented at Storage Field Day 18. Spectrum Protect Plus (SPP) is a relatively new data protection solution for virtual environments, databases (either physical or virtual) and applications. It was introduced at VMworld 2017; according to IBM the product is targeted at enterprise customers who are looking not only at data protection, but also at primary data reuse cases.
SPP shouldn’t be confused with IBM Spectrum Protect (SP) which is just a fancy name for the legacy Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM). Thankfully for SPP (and for customers), IBM decided to leave the weight of legacy behind and designed this product with a white board approach.
SPP proposes a modern data protection approach that is radically simplified if compared with its TSM ancestor. The most interesting aspects that I found in the product are the integration with public cloud providers, which allows data to be offloaded to cheaper storage tiers, and the policy-based data protection. One could argue however that such features are now commonplace among data protection products.
Overall, I find the approach to start from scratch laudable: a lot of effort was put into building a product that shakes off the image of IBM as a legacy data protection solution provider, while delivering modern data protection capabilities. The main challenge however is the feature set. This initial release of IBM Spectrum Protect lacks the features to make it shine in an enterprise environment.
If IBM intends SPP to be their next-generation data protection flagship product, no doubts that their development teams will be doubling down to extend features and catch up with the competition. I concur with some of my Storage Field Day 18 peers in stating that currently SPP will work best for customers who already have a relationship with IBM and are looking at an alternative to TSM.
The best way to find out the value proposition of IBM Spectrum Protect Plus is to watch the following Storage Field Day videos:
I’ve also linked below (Additional Resources section) to some of the blog articles written by friends & fellow Storage Field Day delegates.
Just like our far away ancestors gradually learned to master fire, we’re just at the beginning of our journey to master data. The software industry has demonstrated that data not only needs to be protected, but that it is also valuable. It remains to be seen however what will be the pace of adoption of data management in organizations, if data management even becomes a need for them.
IBM Spectrum Protect Plus is undoubtedly a great demonstration of effort from IBM: they produced a new, polished product which doesn’t carries over the burden of legacy code.
The IBM Spectrum Protect Plus session has been challenging from a strategy perspective. IBM Spectrum Protect Plus is undoubtedly a great demonstration of effort from IBM: they produced a new, polished product which doesn’t carries over the burden of legacy code. A lot of thought has been put on delivering value and providing attractive features. At this stage of the product development, my personal feeling is that the product will fit best for SMB use and departmental use cases. I wouldn’t call this product as enterprise-grade yet because it lacks support for a broad variety of use cases, since currently only hypervisors and three database platforms (Microsoft SQL, IBM DB2 and Oracle) are supported (albeit physical and virtual).
From a broader perspective, IBM is at a crossroads. While data protection is crucial in today’s world where data is ubiquitous, data protection alone is no longer enough in 2019.
Selling on features isn’t cutting the deal anymore when most competitors offer the same feature set in the overcrowded market of data protection. To differentiate, vendors need to sell on value. Value is found when the solution allows the customer not only to achieve their goals, but also to go above and beyond what was first envisioned. This in turn is a driver for innovation and for differentiation, providing more features. At this stage, differentiation is no longer happening in the data protection field but there is still ample room for it in the data management field, so this is where innovation and features must be built.
The market is moving from the well understood world of data protection into the uncharted waters of data management. There are already several products on the data protection market with SMB-grade features, and some astute vendors who started in the SMB market (and reshaped it) are now moving their messaging (if not their features) into the world of data management.
Vendors with a clear data management vision / strategy and the ability to execute against this vision will be those who lead the pack, with all of the others ending up as followers, whether they sell data protection directly, or data protection disguised as data management. Will IBM embrace data management? Time will say, hopefully!
My fellow Storage Field Day 18 delegates wrote on IBM Spectrum Protect Plus:
- Dan Frith – IBM Spectrum Protect Plus – There’s More Than Meets The Eye
- Enrico Signoretti – How IBM is rethinking its data protection line-up
- Chin-Fah Heoh – Catch up (fast) – IBM Spectrum Protect Plus
This post is a part of my Storage Field Day 18 post series. I am invited to the event by Gestalt IT. Gestalt IT will cover expenses related to the events travel, accommodation and food during the event duration. I will not receive any compensation for participation in this event, and I am also not obliged to blog or produce any kind of content. Any tweets, blog articles or any other form of content I may produce are the exclusive product of my interest in technology and my will to share information with my peers. I will commit to share only my own point of view and analysis of the products and technologies I will be seeing/listening about during this event.