Secure Storage in the Age of Edge Computing and the Cloud

Secure Storage in the Age of Edge Computing and the Cloud

Companies need to rethink how they approach storage

Enterprise data storage is not what it used to be. Back when IT was dominated by on-premises data centers, storage options were fairly straightforward and securing storage resources was relatively simple compared with today’s far more complex storage landscape.

The rise of the cloud and the emergence of edge computing are changing the way organizations need to approach and manage their storage resources. There is no one-size-fits-all scenario. Requirements will vary within enterprises, and even within divisions and departments of those enterprises.

How can companies know that they are making the right choices with regard to deploying secure storage resources? The following are some practices to help ensure that enterprise storage strategies are successful.

Know What You Are Creating

When creating a storage strategy, it is vital that organizations know what they want to achieve with data storage and design the storage architecture to support the expected use cases.

While some use cases might appear more important than others, storage planning cannot take place in isolation. Supporting one use case at the expense of others in the organization leads to inefficiency. For example, at a healthcare provider such as a hospital, one use case could be storing data related to X-rays over a certain number of years; unique images which would rarely be accessed but persist for a long time.

A certain storage solution might be ideal for that purpose, and the radiology department will be set for data storage for years to come. What about other departments and their storage needs? The same solution might not be suitable for applications such as security video recordings, patient telemetry, or virtual desktop infrastructure—a technology which requires extremely high IO, constant access, and efficient deduplication in stark contrast to the X-ray images.

When developing a cost justification for storage, an organization needs to look at more than one use case. Organizations need to consider a broad spectrum of potential storage use-cases and how those use cases drive changing requirements change over time. Having insight into storage needs and goals early can help a wide organization to innovate and evolve and also keep storage costs down in the long run.

It is advisable to share a common storage architecture framework across the company, and look for opportunities to collaborate on storage management and collocation between various departments to drive efficiency. The organization as a whole is responsible for its data, or its customers’ data, rather than leaving this to individual suborganizations.

Understand Storage Capabilities and Requirements

Technology is never static; storage managers need to understand technologies available today and what is coming down the road in the future—both in terms of secure storage platforms and tools as well as security threats and compliance challenges.

One of the biggest trends underway today is the move toward automation. Companies are looking—or should be looking—to automate every process whenever possible. That includes storage management and ensuring the security of storage resources.

The cloud, artificial intelligence, and edge-based processing systems are introducing more flexible options than were available in the past. Identify where it makes sense to leverage private and public cloud services to meet storage needs, how to utilize edge storage and analytics platforms, and when to invest in new and bleeding-edge technology to gain an edge.

When developing a secure storage framework, keep in mind the exponential growth of data and the rise in the number of sources of data. Who would have imagined even a few years ago the impact the Internet of Things (IoT) would have on storage requirements? It is difficult to imagine what the storage scenario will be like in a few years, but it pays to make accurate predictions.

Not All Data Is Equal

Grasp the idea that when it comes to security, not all data is equal. When building and implementing a storage strategy that incorporates the cloud and the edge, always keep in mind that some data is far more sensitive than others, and that users may not understand the difference.

For instance, you cannot equate publicly available product data that can be readily found on a web site with customers’ financial information or individuals’ medical records. The latter two are far more sensitive and need the highest levels of data protection.

Organizations need to efficiently classify their data and have an understanding of what it is, where it lives, and who can access it. Failing to place greater protections around the most sensitive data can expose enterprises to regulatory compliance issues and possibly result in significant fines. The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that went into effect in the European Union in May 2018, for example, is designed to protect the data of EU citizens. The penalties for non-compliance are steep.

When managing data storage, focus on the most sensitive data first and shore up the weakest areas. Many of the data breaches of recent years have resulted from rudimentary mistakes that companies have made, such as not encrypting sensitive data or having poor access rights management.

It is import to understand what tools are available in the form of security analytics, logging, and so on are available and take advantage of these capabilities. These security tools need visibility. Make sure the security operations center is plugged into cloud initiatives as they are defined and developed.

Choosing the Right Storage Type

Data storage options abound today, whether it is cloud-based solutions or on-premises systems. Organizations need to assess which of these options is best and most secure for particular use cases. For example, they need to know when it makes sense to use data lakes, or when they need global scale read activity or high velocity multi-party updates.

With the growth of edge processing and analytics, they also need to know when to use storage at the edge of the network, as close to the original source of the data as possible. As more data is generated by IoT devices, storage at the edge—and securing those storage resources— will become increasing important considerations.

A significant portion of storage strategy is forecasting current and future costs. Companies can leverage analytics to look at storage costs and to help determine the most cost-effective ways to store data and to move data around as needed.

Vitally important also are integration efforts which can bolster security. Companies need to integrate between platforms wherever possible, so they can leverage capabilities such as unified authentication and unified visibility.

Make every attempt to centralize permissions and control through cloud access security brokers (CASBs) or other integrations. As with everything else in IT, integrate storage into operational processes and policies to avoid siloes and fractures in operational flows.

Invest in People

Address the “people” issues related to secure storage.

Creating a secure storage infrastructure is not just about having the right products and processes in place. Companies need to make sure that personnel have the skills in place to succeed.

Data storage in 2018 means having people on the team who understand the latest on-premise storage technologies, cloud computing services and containers, edge computing, storage integration, software- defined storage, data backup, data architecture, IoT, regulatory considerations, and of course cyber security.

Organizations may broadly benefit from expanding their capabilities to encompass more advanced skills such as artificial intelligence/ machine learning, data engineering, and data visualization.

Acquiring many of these skill sets can be among the most significant challenges organizations face when creating and deploying a secure storage strategy. It is important for technology and business leaders to work together to train current professionals or hire new ones who can build the storage infrastructure that will support the organization for years to come. Companies have to be willing to invest in the people who can help make the new storage environment a reality and avoid the IT staff turnover that can paralyze an entire organization.

There is another important people-related challenge: easing the concerns of existing staffers about the coming changes in data storage requirements. At many organizations, especially larger ones, there are bound to be technicians who are experts in on-premise storage who may resist a move to cloud-based storage.

Again, it is up to senior managers in IT and elsewhere to train or retrain people in these emerging areas. That way they will not feel as if they are being phased out and at the same time companies will acquire some needed new skills.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Security Today.

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