A prep boarding school that needed to protect student data found the answer through a combination of cloud storage and hyper-converged infrastructure software.
Wasabi Technologies' cloud storage, alongside software by HYCU and Nutanix, enabled the IT team at the Hotchkiss School, based in Lakeville, Conn., to back up and protect important educational data at a lower cost than cloud hyperscalers.
The 600-student preparatory school for grades nine through 12 supports a diverse student population from around the world, with dormitories spread across hundreds of acres. The distance the school's intranet needs to cover, the threats it needs to protect against, and the amount of data students and staff generate requires a mishmash of products focused on keeping costs down and data secure.
Many of these problems are solved through a combination of cloud products from Wasabi Technologies, Nutanix and HYCU, according to Kevin Warenda, director of IT services at the Hotchkiss School.
The setup is supported by a small IT team and an equally small budget, he said. "[Our setup] is predictable for budget purposes. It's very much like local storage in terms of performance."
Backups on a budget
Educational facilities face unique IT challenges in that many struggle with smaller budgets and older hardware, said Scott Sinclair, practice director at TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group.
Many cloud products encourage looser hands on the budget, especially with data ingress and egress fees, or require up-to-date hardware, he said. Tools such as Wasabi can stabilize fluctuating costs and bring costs under control.
"[Schools] are not at the forefront of cloud products," Sinclair said. "They're very much a distributed edge environment."
Warenda said keeping costs low is a priority for the administration, but cost savings shouldn't supersede ease of use or data safety.
"We have to set a budget in advance, and then we have to stick to that budget," Warenda said. "When looking at major cloud providers, where a lot of the costs could be variable ... that's where the challenge really comes in."
The IT department's data management stack uses Nutanix's hyper-converged infrastructure to create and manage VMs while using HYCU to protect data on Nutanix. Backups and snapshots are then stored in Wasabi's object storage, further protecting the data with features such as immutability, which prevents changes to snapshots should anyone gain access to them.
"Wasabi is low cost, [based] solely on how much storage you're using, with no other fees for accessing or restoring ... which makes it predictable for budget purposes," Warenda said.
Most of these policies and controls for backups are made possible through HYCU, but setting up interoperability among the three software packages wasn't completely straightforward. Configuration changes still require manual input and can't be handled from just one piece of software.
"It's not truly a single pane of glass, but it does function automatically," he said.
Backups bolster security
Despite the protection from immutability and storing data in the cloud, Warenda said he doesn't want his team or his bosses to feel a sense of security against ransomware attacks.
"I don't tell my boss or trustees we're immune," he said. "If someone really wants to get in, they'll find a way in."
Keeping backups and using the encryption and immutability features of Wasabi ensures working backups are available even in a worst-case scenario, Warenda said.
"The ability to recover is certainly important, but what we're seeing now with these threat actors, they want their ransom money," he said. "We do the next best thing, which is to mitigate that risk by ensuring that we have multiple ways of backup ... we have some that can't be touched even if we wanted to. So as a last resort, we can restore those and get back to business."
Although new technology can enable better recovery times and even more complex backup protocols, Warenda suggests IT teams stick to the basics of what works for their needs.
"The more complexity, the harder it is to manage," he said. "We have all these vendors pitching these multilevel, multilayer [technologies]. The simpler it is, the more likely it is to be secure."
Warenda expects to use new tools by Wasabi, such as the Wasabi Cloud Sync Manager, to further drive down storage costs. Wasabi Cloud Sync Manager, generally available as of November, enables customers to move data from major cloud providers to Wasabi without triggering egress fees or application downtime. The service uses private network connections to move AWS S3-compatible data from hyperscalers into Wasabi as well as enable replication of S3 buckets across Wasabi storage regions.
"This will really allow us to reduce the amount of on-prem storage we keep," Warenda said. "A lot of that will be transparent to end users ... This will effectively create an unlimited bucket of storage."
Cloud providers have begun to target file storage workloads in recent years. AWS expanded service trials and free storage offerings to tempt customers into its massive cloud, alongside managed service cloud versions of popular on-premises storage software, such as FSx for NetApp OnTap.
Smaller cloud storage vendors have also increased competition. Backblaze, which sells cloud storage and migration services, has attempted to grow its data center presence worldwide and filed an IPO last year.
Wasabi, for its part, completed a series D funding round earlier this December, collecting $15 million from funding partners such as Azura, SiS Cloud Global Tech Fund 8 and Prosperity7 Ventures, among others. Wasabi collected $125 million in equity earlier this fall.
Tim McCarthy is a journalist living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.