Data mobility -- why it's a must and how to achieve it [Q&A]
Data is still essential for enterprises, but the rise of hybrid working and the adoption of multi-cloud environments has made data mobility and migration a hot topic.
We spoke to Mark Greenlaw, VP of product strategy for Cirrus Data, to discuss data mobility, what's driving it and how organizations need to adapt.
BN: Why is data migration top of mind for 2023, and how is the cloud driving this need?
MG: Digital transformation is continuing to grow across industries. The phrase has become a catch-all for the initiatives companies are taking to drive change throughout their organizations with the use of technology. The events from 2020 only accelerated the urgency for many businesses to look for new ways to reach their customers and engage internally. One of the big emerging themes is the need for applications to be agile and an infrastructure elastic. As a result, there are more organizations around the world reaching for cloud technologies as a way to accelerate their transformation.
When we have databases and applications moving between storage platforms the role of data mobility and data migration solutions become even more essential. Security, flexibility, automation, and speed are required as moving large applications or databases from one location to another can take months without a strategic plan. For a digital transformation to be successful the enterprise can't be stuck waiting for downtime windows or never-ending manual processes.
Another factor in data migration importance is the rise of public cloud and hybrid cloud options for enterprise-class applications. Cloud adoption begins with companies moving their files to the cloud. As technology has advanced, enterprises are now exploring the cloud for their applications and even multi-cloud to access best-in-class performance and cost.
One CIO recently told me, "If you aren't talking about your future in the cloud, you aren't paying attention."
BN: How has the hybrid workforce impacted data access for end users?
MG: It's clear that remote work is here to stay: 26 percent of US employees are currently working remotely, and a staggering 36.2 million Americans will work remotely by 2025. And data from Microsoft recently revealed that 30 percent of its employees choose to work at night. Gone are the days when systems could be offline for data migration during 'non-working hours.'
Remote work demands continuous data access so employees can stay productive and work at their convenience. Naturally, this huge influx of remote (and hybrid) workers has necessitated changes in IT infrastructure. Hybrid work has changed how people work, engage with their corporate databases and applications, and what they expect from their corporate technology infrastructure.
In the past, companies migrated their data every four or five years when they refreshed their storage infrastructure. But, as the amount of data continues to grow and the way we utilize data is changing, CIOs and storage experts are now thinking differently about how data centers are built and optimized. An important question all companies should consider are: Does it make sense to build out storage capacity ahead of the need which has changed drastically due to hybrid work?
BN: Why is there a shift to a more flexible storage architecture?
MG: For years enterprises have built out their data center storage capacity much more than what was needed for their current operations. On-premises data centers are generally 'compute behemoths' that drain resources with their power, cooling, and physical space requirements. Additionally, enterprises were stuck in complex, lengthy, and expensive storage upgrade cycles. Every five years or so, companies would need to replace legacy storage technology with the latest innovations. These monster projects require a huge capital investment and can drag on for months.
One of the benefits from the cloud is its flexibility. Companies can now buy the storage capacity they require for today and expand it as their business grows. Enterprises can decide if they prefer their storage on-premises, in the cloud, or even in a hybrid cloud model. The flexibility to make those decisions provides the ability to pick the performance they need and save costs when appropriate. In fact, with today’s data mobility solutions companies can move their applications and databases between clouds, to a hybrid cloud, or even back on-premises without trying to find a new tool for each vendor. The flexibility in block-level data storage is changing a lot of traditional thinking about storage.
Organizations will also need to determine how they will move their database and applications to the new environment. If this step isn't addressed during the strategy stage, it can become an afterthought and create problems down the road.
BN: Data movement takes time, however, how does this affect the process and when to decide to move data?
MG: A single, one-time migration involves moving the data from its current location to a new location and stepping away until the next migration. Data mobility, however, is ideal when data needs to move back and forth, requiring data mobility solutions (e.g., moving from on-premises to a multi-cloud environment).
During this step, organizations must ask the following questions and plan accordingly to minimize any negative impact: How long will this migration take? How secure is the data in transit from source to destination? How disruptive will the transition be to end users? What will the impact on the organization be? How much manual effort is required?
Sometimes moving data can make applications sluggish, affecting productivity and resulting in workers overloading the help desk with inquiries about what's happening. Data migration tools can help organizations tackle deployment efficiently, securely, and without disruption to end users (again, continuous data access is vital).
The technology landscape is constantly changing, and so are storage vendors' offerings. Companies need solid data mobility to pivot at a moment's notice to take advantage of newer, better, and more cost-effective capabilities. Data mobility gives companies the flexibility they need to stay competitive, and the correct data migration allows continuous data access to keep workers productive.
BN: Once moved, are there steps IT must take to ensure the migrated data is safe?
MG: After the data has arrived at its new destination, it's time for the cutover process (i.e., running the application in its new location and removing the old storage). Cutover is when problems can arise if everything isn't mapped correctly. Organizations need protections in place to ensure there is no risk to their operations should something go awry during the process. Additionally, minimizing the impact of this transition for end users is vital, so organizations should also be doing whatever they can to reduce downtime.
Companies can consider leveraging a data mobility tool that can synchronize in the background without impacting users. So, while users are still working on the old site, new infrastructure can be updated simultaneously, requiring just seconds to minutes of cutover. This time can be planned for off hours so that it's minimally disruptive and doesn't require notifying employees.