Thanks for the interview to Michael Todt (Head of Business Line – Business Continuity at SVA System Vertrieb Alexander GmbH, Germany)
Recently I caught up with Michael from SVA System Vertrieb – one of Germany’s largest systems integrators – to talk about the Channel partner perspective of implementing Data protection.
Michael heads up the business responsible for all backup and business continuity solutions for SVA in Germany. He has deep-rooted knowledge of the industry, having worked in this business for many years. Since he has focused on backup solutions for the last two decades, he knows the market very well.
Thanks for spending the time to talk to us, Michael! We want to kick off by asking you what your customers are currently asking you for?
We work with mid-sized and enterprise businesses in all industries across Germany. When it comes to data protection projects – we get asked to support the broadest possible range of customer requirements, from protecting databases, file systems, specific applications, to entire physical or virtualized systems.
But interestingly, no two customers have the same requirements. In terms of recommending a solution, sometimes it’s a case of not seeing the wood for the trees – the customer needs to take a step back and look at their landscape as a whole.
Of course, today’s data protection systems need to ensure that all these different areas are protected – making the task challenging but also very interesting at the same time.
What trends are you currently seeing in this field?
We are increasingly hearing from customers who have all their systems running in cloud infrastructures (spanning from public, private to hybrid cloud), or those who intend to migrate to the cloud and want to ensure they are effectively protected. In Germany, this trend is often driven by the fact that many businesses already use Microsoft 365 based on Azure, so it’s easy to extend further into the cloud from there.
We’re also seeing a high level of virtualization and automation in today’s data centers – with the increasing deployment of DevOps, containers, and VMware. Consequently, many customers are looking for solutions that fit into this highly automated infrastructure. Essentially, today’s backup administrators want to configure the backup policy and schedule backup process manually, but all other stuff should be done automatically from the backup software.
That means if they roll out a new virtual server, they expect that it is automatically identified by the system and integrated into the existing, predefined policy, which then implements a backup in the background, and reports results – all without the admins needing to do anything.
This move towards virtualization is also accelerating change. 10 to 15 years ago, things moved at a slower pace – both in terms of the challenges we face and the solutions available to us. I believe that the growing level of cloud adoption among businesses of all sizes will cause further acceleration.
What characteristics do you look for in a technology partner or vendor?
When we look for a vendor, we are looking for the ability to deliver solutions that can handle our customers’ current needs and the challenges they will face in the near future.
Some vendor portfolios are what we would describe as ‘legacy portfolios’ – that is, they are just not a good fit for today’s projects. We need modern architectures and the latest generation of backup solutions that resemble hyper-converged infrastructure solutions and accommodate future technologies and customer requirements.
But ultimately, the most critical element is whether the vendors’ solutions successfully keep customer data safe. At the end of the day, we want to ensure that, in the event of, for example, a ransomware or cyber-attack, our customers have a process that has allowed them to restore data quickly.
The Fujitsu data protection solutions are ideal for this scenario as they are flexible, scalable, and create a textbook air gap.
How well aware are your customers of the risk of a cyberattack?
It depends. Some customers are acutely aware of the risks and are doing everything they can to minimize them. With others, we have to work a little harder to convince them to make changes to ensure they can survive this sort of attack.
I wish more businesses had a better understanding of the actual risks involved. The fact is that companies of all sizes are vulnerable.
We’ve seen quite a few high-profile attacks, such as the one that prevented me from tracking my cycle rides via Garmin for several days recently. Still, the large size of many of the companies involved gives many smaller businesses a false sense of security. But we’ve seen companies of all sizes affected.
And of course, it’s very complicated to recover if your business has to find out the hard way. We often start the conversation with them by doing a role play – essentially getting them to imagine what they would do if attacked. That’s usually an effective ice breaker for conversations as it quickly reveals shortfalls in their systems.
If the fear of cyberattack isn’t the key driver behind customers’ desire to update data protection systems, then what is?
The typical starting point for our conversations with customers is the incredible data growth that all businesses are experiencing. They all have backup solutions – but increasingly, those who have not revisited this area recently are finding that their backup and restore processes are starting to take far too long.
Where do you start with identifying a solution?
You’d think that the answer would be to install more hardware – but that’s not the case as modern systems use space far more efficiently by using features such as snapshots or incremental updates.
Our first step involves taking a deep dive into their businesses to understand where the data is and what it is. We send in what we call our ‘architects’ who have an excellent breadth of knowledge relating to data management. They analyze the customer site and hold in-depth conversations with the customer to identify pain points etc.
Then we deploy a team of specialists to design a new backup solution that brings all the right components together.
These conversations are crucial to identify the best possible solution as they help us understand the actual lie of the land. For example, it’s quite common to see customers with multiple copies of a single file, each of which is backed up three times and most likely archived even more times. This is, of course, a waste of resources.
When we plan an intelligent data management solution, we make sure that they keep just what is needed, rather than backing up and archiving hundreds of unnecessary copies.
We also have quite a few conversations with customers who want to integrate the cloud into their disaster recovery plan. That sounds like a pretty straightforward task, but in fact, it generally takes a significant amount of consultancy and preparation before you can implement it effectively.
In addition to being effective – how important is it that data protection solutions are easy to run?
Well, nobody is asking for manual solutions anymore! Customers now want hyper-converged solutions that connect easily to their hypervisor and that are ready to start immediately. They also expect solutions that can integrate with all existing automation and processes.
Many customers now use containers, Kubernetes, Openshift in addition to Rest APIs and a plethora of scripts and tools. Any new backup solution needs to fit into this environment.
Another driver for automation and ease of use has been the ongoing pandemic protocols, which means that most IT managers or data protection specialists can’t access their data centers directly to change and move tapes etc. Systems today have to be highly automated and able to support remote management and monitoring.
This demand for simplicity means that we sell and implement a lot of Fujitsu backup appliances. These represent an essential solution for us as they are effortless to install and manage. They are essentially based on a kind of hyper-converged infrastructure which customers now expect.
That means you don’t need to buy separate storage and server hardware and integrate and configure it. The ease of installing these appliances also means that we can focus more time on consultancy and ensuring that we are devising the right solution for each customer – an important factor as their infrastructures grow increasingly complex.
With everything changing so fast, how do you ensure that you keep your team up to date
We pride ourselves on focusing on ensuring that each system engineer has the highest available level of expertise. And working with vendors means that we aim to meet the highest education and certification level.
For example, with Fujitsu, we have SELECT Expert status in any existing category and are among the chosen partners with SELECT Circle Membership, which can only be granted by Fujitsu. We also invest a great deal of time in ongoing education.
For example, if a new product or software release is issued, we make sure that everyone is trained, so they can bring this latest functionality to our customers. We use a combination of Fujitsu Academy combined with hands-on in-house training to make sure the whole team is best placed to support customers. Ultimately, it’s a significant time investment, but it’s absolutely worthwhile.
What do you wish more customers understood at the outset?
Firstly, I wish more businesses understood that a backup is not an archive and an archive is not a backup! Many companies think that if they simply keep a backup for a long time, they have an archive.
Like so many aspects of data protection, it’s not quite as easy as that. For example, if I backup my SAP environment today and want to archive it, I need to make sure that I’ll still be able to read it ten- or 15 years from now.
But if I back up a binary file, it won’t actually be readable ten years from now. I also need to figure out how to keep all the file meta information intact over time.
Another thing that too few businesses understand is that it is one thing to back up data effectively, but it is another thing entirely to be adequately prepared for when disaster strikes. Being prepared for the worst-case scenario – which might be a successful ransomware attack – isn’t just about the equipment you have.
It’s more about having the right processes and training in place - and unfortunately, this aspect is often overlooked. Today’s solutions make it easy to backup data - but businesses should also undertake regular restore drills to ensure that it works as they expect. Companies just need to do this. I wish this were more of a priority.
How would you describe your relationship with Fujitsu?
At SVA, we have an excellent, long-term relationship with Fujitsu – ultimately, we do a lot of business together – particularly relating to Fujitsu’s server, storage market, and backup products.
The combination of Fujitsu’s hardware portfolio and our installation expertise has been extremely effective for us over the years. Being recognized as “EMEIA Best Digital Infrastructure Partner 2016 – 2018“ as well as “DC-Partner 2016-2018“ further underlines the partnership and joint effort to provide solutions to our customers. We look forward to continuing this successful collaboration.