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Cohesity backup users share cloud data protection stories

Cohesity backup customers told tales both good and bad while offering advice about their journey to cloud-based data protection during a panel at VMworld 2019.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The journey to the cloud can be a rocky experience for some.

Cohesity backup customers at a VMworld 2019 panel presented the challenges they faced and some of the missteps they took when modernizing to a hybrid IT environment.

Don Murawski, manager of server and storage/messaging at The Wendy's Company; Mike Graff, senior manager of IT architecture at audio technology company Dolby Laboratories, Inc.; and Bill Schlough, senior vice president and CIO of the San Francisco Giants baseball team; spoke about switching backup vendors and moving their workloads to the cloud. They also offered advice and tips for businesses thinking of making a similar transition.

All three customers shared similar reasons for moving their backups to the cloud, which centered on lowering costs and simplifying their infrastructure. They all wanted to shrink their data center footprints by moving as many of their workloads as they could to the cloud and keeping only mission-critical ones on-premises.

"It's inevitable. I think we'll ultimately migrate most things to the cloud," Schlough said.

It's inevitable. I think we'll ultimately migrate most things to the cloud.
Bill SchloughSenior vice president and CIO, San Francisco Giants

Backup was the easiest candidate for cloud migration -- it's non-critical, infrequently accessed and takes up a lot of storage space. For Schlough and Graff, the choice was even easier because they were using tape for backup. Graff saw Dolby's tape backup as an inefficient, aging system that led to extra work; the data had to be manually sorted through and reset every weekend.

"I worked really hard to get rid of [tape]," Graff said. "Don't underestimate the value of getting off of tape."

Schlough swore off tape after a close call that nearly cost him all his tape backups. He and a co-worker would take turns taking the tapes home as a way to keep the backups off-site. During one of these exchanges, Schlough accidentally left the tapes on public transportation, though he was luckily able to retrieve them. Combined with the cost to maintain the Giants' Dell EMC Data Domain system compared to cloud-based backup, Schlough was adamant about moving the team's roughly 7 TB of backup data off of tape.

Don't rush cloud migration

Having each gone through the transition to the cloud, the three Cohesity backup customers offered advice on how to make that go as smoothly as possible.

All three stressed the importance of not rushing the proof-of-concept or deployment processes, especially with smaller vendors. Schlough did comparison shopping with Rubrik and Cohesity and started with single-site deployments before committing. Graff, who was similarly on Dell EMC Avamar and Data Domain for backup, chose Barracuda before Cohesity, and ran the systems in parallel during the transition. Murawski tested extensively and worked closely with Cohesity to make sure his backups were recoverable.

Photo of Cohesity customer panel at VMworld 2019
Left to right: Michael Letschin, director of technical advocacy and principal technologist, Cohesity; Bill Schlough, senior vice president and CIO, San Francisco Giants; Mike Graff, senior manager, IT architecture, Dolby Laboratories, Inc.; and Don Murawski, manager of server and storage/messaging, The Wendy's Company, discuss data protection at VMworld 2019.

"Pick a partner that treats you like you're their only customer," Murawski advised.

Graff added that when transitioning off of a backup vendor, ensure you are given access to its cloud for as long as necessary to move your data off of it. He ran into a problem with Barracuda not providing the tools for pulling his data out as he was cutting ties with them. Graff also advised holding on to the previous backup system for at least as long as the retention period of the data.

The Cohesity backup customers also recommended understanding the limits of native backup capabilities in SaaS applications. They unanimously agreed that Office 365, the most popular SaaS application, lacks sufficient backup. It is difficult or impossible to recover accidentally deleted emails or folders or restore them to a previous state.

Graff said SaaS providers are often only responsible for providing uptime and functionality of their core service product, but not for individual files of their users. He urged customers using Office 365, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Box or any other SaaS applications to know what their service contracts protect and find ways to fill in any gaps.

"The native protection provided by Office 365 is pretty much inadequate," Graff said. "If you don't have backup in place, you're going to be out of luck."

Between human error and malicious attacks like ransomware, data loss is probable. Good backup is important because it is often the only means for an organization to recover from a data loss event. Schlough said the Giants are vulnerable to data loss because their stadium is a physical target and, citing the infamous incident when the St. Louis Cardinals hacked the internal database of the Houston Astros, their data is a juicy virtual target for rival baseball franchises. Graff said he's more worried about his employees getting their machines infected and bringing that to the business's network.

When shopping for backup, Schlough said there's only one question an organization needs to focus on: "If the worst-case scenario happened, how quickly can I recover?"

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