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Backup focus in 2020: Data at the edge and in containers

Storage and backup industry analysts say as data grows at the edge and inside containers, those areas will require more attention from backup products in 2020.

Experts predict backup will push further into two new frontiers in 2020: containers and edge deployments.

Before companies can adequately protect data at the edge and in containers, however, they will have to wade through confusing information and perhaps even outright deception about the terms.

Drivers for new backup tools in 2020 include the growth of autonomous vehicles and other IoT technology initiatives, greater adoption of Kubernetes, and the enactment of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Expert said new products and technologies will be designed to meet those challenges. Other technologies expected to be popular in 2020 include better analytics tools to classify, search and delete data, and more improvements for old problems such as ransomware and IT infrastructure complexity.

AI and data at the edge

Industry analysts point out that IT terms have become muddled. Not all agree on what exactly AI, edge and data management encompass, resulting in jargon that causes a disconnect between what customers need and vendors actually offer. IT pros will benefit in 2020 if those terms become better defined, experts said.

Steven Hill, senior analyst at 451 Research, said IoT devices generate zettabytes of unstructured data. The sheer volume of data challenges customers trying to figure out where to store it, how to migrate it and how to protect it. He predicted vendors will offer more products to handle data at the edge over the next year.

Steven Hill, senior analyst at 451 ResearchSteven Hill

"We're at a problem stage right now with managing unstructured data," Hill said.

Hill said AI is a large driving factor for the need to manage data at the edge. He pointed to autonomous vehicles, industrial equipment and traffic cameras that read license plates as examples of IoT devices with applications that need to make decisions by themselves. However, he said vendors often misidentify what AI is, using it to describe anything that expands on a decision tree. He said "true AI" refers to applications that adapt to what they encounter. And it's this true AI that will drive data management at the edge.

Naveen Chhabra, senior analyst at Forrester ResearchNaveen Chhabra

The edge itself is an ambiguous term, according to Naveen Chhabra, senior analyst at Forrester Research. He said many backup vendors refer to any location that isn't a company's core data center, such as branch and remote offices, as the edge. These offices have different needs than IoT devices and using the same term can confuse customers looking at vendors' products or services.

Chhabra said the term is so broad because long-established backup vendors are looking for ways to stay relevant as the core data center shrinks due to cloud adoption. These vendors want the edge to apply to their on-premises products, and this is to the detriment of customers.

"I see almost all the backup vendors falling into the trap of marketing jargon, but it doesn't mean anything for customers," Chhabra said. "There is no new business outcome their clients can achieve."

Chhabra predicts some backup vendors will focus on the core data center rather than release products for backing up data at the edge. One of the ways he expects backup vendors to remain relevant will be to make use of analytics to deliver realistic, achievable service-level agreements (SLAs). Chhabra stressed that this doesn't need to delve into AI -- simple formulas and models based on historical metadata is enough to offer guidance and recommendations to backup administrators.

Data protection for containers

As container adoption grows, so does the need to protect the data within persistent, stateful containers. Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, said containers will undoubtedly grow to a point where they will start to displace VMs and hypervisors. However, a complete replacement is not likely.

"I see this as something that will mature," Staimer said, as customers work out exactly what their needs are for managing and protecting containers.

Chhabra said 2020 could be the year that a vendor will emerge that does for containers what Veeam did for virtualized environments. Chhabra said Veeam's rise came about during a time when customers didn't have or know they needed a platform to manage and protect their virtual environments. He said a similar opportunity exists with containers, and he thinks backup vendors will rise to this challenge.

Hill said the backup market always follows wherever critical applications live. Because many businesses are developing applications in containers, he expects many vendors are going to address this need.

Hill and Chhabra each independently called out Kasten as a company worth following. Both analysts expect this Kubernetes data management vendor to become more relevant in 2020.

CCPA and intelligent data management

The new CCPA requires companies to take extra care about what data they restore from their backup. Private information or personally identifiable information (PII) that was deleted by request could get brought back to life, putting a company out of compliance.

Vendors such as Aparavi and Igneous Systems are already bringing the ability to classify, search and remove data to the world of backup. Hill predicted that trend will continue in 2020. However, the problem won't be the availability of the technology, but its adoption.

Hill said most companies won't be ready for CCPA and are holding vast stores of unstructured data with no means to identify and specifically delete any of it. He predicts many companies won't take any preventative measures to ensure their backups are clean until after they've suffered a penalty for their noncompliance.

"Most of the time, action never occurs until it hurts," Hill said.

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy GroupChristophe Bertrand

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), said the need for CCPA and GDPR compliance is going to feed another trend in the backup space: the reuse of secondary data for nonbackup purposes. Recent ESG research found about 20% of enterprises polled in the U.S. plan on replacing backup with a system geared toward reusing data for all kinds of business outcomes. One-third of the organizations in Bertrand's study said they classify all their data.

"People now realize they have to map the bottom of the ocean," Bertrand said, adding that this is a logical evolution of backup, as it is a system that touches all of the data.

Bertrand said compliance is an area where the public cloud is a hindrance. Classifying data -- which is necessary for both compliance and any sort of data reuse -- is much more complex when the data is spread across multiple silos. He predicted there will be a push to make data classification more pervasive, as it addresses key use cases customers want products for: compliance, risk management and data governance.

 Bertrand noted that many backup vendors conflate data reuse with data management. This confuses customers when they assess vendors' capabilities. He said a more accurate term for data reuse would be "intelligent data management."

"People use the data management term way too loosely," Bertrand said.

Continuing trends

Vendors can also improve their backup products without adopting brand-new technologies. Staimer said customers still demand simplicity, so he expects backup vendors to try to make their products easier to use. Bertrand said people continue to invest in tape, so there's no reason to think 2020 is the year the medium finally dies. In fact, he said it's being bolstered by another trend that won't die -- ransomware.

Staimer said cybercriminals will continue to develop and invest in improving ransomware. Good backups should be the last line of defense against a ransomware attack, but criminals have already worked out ways to compromise backups. Not only is ransomware here to stay, but he expects the threat to evolve and make more headlines.

"Ransomware will continue to become more insidious," Staimer said.

Staimer predicted anti-ransomware technology will evolve from detecting and notifying of attacks that have already occurred to identifying malicious code before it detonates. They can also make backup copies and snapshots immutable so they cannot be deleted. Staimer also expects vendors to shore up their ability to detect ransomware hiding in backups and stop reinfection.

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