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When it comes to technology, securing your future means securing your present

Sponsored Feature Most economies and business sectors are dealing with extreme volatility and economic uncertainty. Even as the dislocation caused by the pandemic three years ago looked to be settling down, business leaders have had to contend with geopolitical concerns, rising interest rates, and surging inflation.

But tech leaders face additional challenges. They must also deal with an ever more hostile cyber security environment, exacerbated by the fraught geopolitical situation. They also have to reckon with the inevitable knock-on effect of those macro financial concerns within their own organizations’ budgeting processes.

This is all happening as technology itself offers ever more benefits – AI-powered insight and rapid development workflows thanks to cloud native technology for example – while keeping up remains a constant challenge.

Security, AI and cloud top investment priorities

According to researchers at ESG, cybersecurity is the most common driver of IT spending for 2023, with organizations recognizing they can’t skimp on their investments here, even in the face of an economic downturn.

The next key area is artificial intelligence, says ESG, which underpins a host of initiatives, such as developing new “data-centric” products and services and improved customer experience.

Rounding out the top three tech drivers is cloud computing, with 59 percent of respondents polled in the ESG 2023 Technology Spending Intentions Survey planning to increase spending on public cloud apps, and 56 percent targeting public cloud infrastructure. Almost three quarters of organizations reported they are investing in cloud native applications.

But how do tech leaders balance the pressure to innovate versus the compulsion to cut costs? Some may choose, or be forced, to reduce or at least “flatten” IT spending as they try to shore up their balance sheets and navigate a “steady as she goes” path through any economic downturn. Others will choose to double down on IT spending to accelerate their digital modernization efforts.

In fact, ESG’s figures suggest that 52 percent of organizations surveyed expect to increase their spending on IT products and services this year. And those most likely to take the second path are those most likely to already be more digitally mature and innovative.

While 91 percent claim to have digital transformation projects in progress for example, amongst those with “mature” initiatives, more than two thirds say they will increase IT investment. The result is that a pre-existing tech gap between tech innovators and their more sluggish rivals is set to widen.

Colm Keegan, senior consultant for data protection solutions at Dell Technologies’, has written a blog on precisely this subject. He reiterates, “This all points to the distinct possibility that there will be a significant separation between those companies that modernize faster and are able to capitalize on digital transformation advantages, versus those that are falling behind on their digital modernization initiatives.”

Being on the wrong side of that gap may be an existential issue. For those companies already behind or hitting the pause button, catching up with their more proactive rivals could become increasingly difficult. Moreover, those organizations who are standing still or cutting budgets are likely to be more vulnerable to cyber threats, and less resilient overall.

The path less secure

That said, those organizations pressing on with digital transformation can face issues around security and resilience too. As we’ve already seen, digital transformation is not just a “nice to have”. Consumers have become used to smooth, integrated experiences, backed by agile workflows, often based on scalable, cloud native stacks. This is increasingly being recreated in the B2B world.

The very complexity of Kubernetes, public and hybrid cloud and other new technologies such as AI/ML, and their associated workloads, can be a brake on progressing those projects in general, Keegan says.

Even if companies are confident in their ability to embrace and deploy these workloads, they still face the challenge of securing and protecting them and ensuring their new infrastructure is resilient. Their existing protection solutions may simply not be up to the job.

“I think it’s safe to say that if organizations lack the confidence that they can protect and secure newer workloads, be it containers or re-factored applications that are deployed into the cloud, they will delay their projects.” says Keegan.

Separate Dell Global Data Protection Index research referenced by Keegan and conducted by Vanson Bourne indicates that 56 percent of organizations are not confident that they are able to meet their backup and recovery service level objectives for example, while over two thirds are concerned that their existing data protection measures are sufficient to cope with malware and ransomware threats.

Meanwhile, half of firms say that protecting new workloads such as containers, SaaS and cloud native apps, is a barrier to digital transformation efforts.

This is partly a result of “multi-cloud data sprawl”, says Keegan. “The increased distribution of data across multiple locations also increases the attack surface for cyber-criminals, increasing the likelihood of such attacks.”

But it’s also down to operational complexity, as companies grapple with those new workloads and massive data growth, while using multiple data management tools which require multiple skill sets amongst employees.

It is not always going to be possible to wave a magic wand and make the inherent complexity in hybrid architectures disappear. Kubernetes is, by its nature, complex to manage and deploy. AI and machine learning, by definition, will involve large amounts of data which must be properly managed and protected.

Automate complexity out

But there is an opportunity for customers to rethink how they approach other elements of the stack, such as managing cyber resilience and data protection, and strive for simplification. A key aspect of this is for organizations to implement more automation, thereby freeing up staff time and budget to focus on more high-value, innovative work.

They could also take a long, hard look at the number of suppliers they’re using. Keegan points to the key findings of the Dell Global Data Protection Index 2022 report: “Those using a single data protection vendor had far fewer incidents of data loss than those using multiple vendors. Likewise, the cost of data loss incidents resulting from a cyberattack was approximately 34 per cent higher for those organizations working with multiple data protection vendors than those using a single vendor.”

The research suggests there may be a “pressing need” for organizations to simplify and modernize how they manage, protect, and secure critical workloads and data.

“With IT skill sets in short supply, data continuing its inexorable growth and myriad cyber threats cascading across the digital landscape, IT planners need innovative solutions that deliver the simplicity, automation and flexibility to keep up with business demands as they change over time.”

But what does a simplified approach look like in a hybrid cloud environment?

Dell’s approach, says Keegan, is to implement a common set of tools which can be deployed across cloud integrated hardware solutions, software-defined appliances, and software-as-a-service offerings, “to deliver a consistent data protection experience anywhere data and workloads reside.”

By using open APIs, self-service capabilities and AI/ML, the company aims to deliver increased automation freeing up time for innovation.

In practice, that means Dell’s resilient, multi-cloud data protection solutions – which include PowerProtect and Apex data protection technology and services – can be deployed on integrated appliances or as a software-defined platform. That means the same technology can be deployed on-prem, at the edge, or in the cloud to deliver automated backup and disaster recovery for VM, Kubernetes and Cloud Native, and SaaS workloads.

Both solutions are also available via cloud providers’ marketplaces, and offer the only cyber recovery solutions that meet the Sheltered Harbor Standards for protecting critical data from cyber threats. They offer options including isolated digital vaults on-prem, at a secondary site, or in the cloud.

Organizations have always faced tough choices when it comes to investing in transformation and innovation whilst simultaneously driving costs down as they try to negotiate economic headwinds.

In the current volatile environment, cutting necessary spend on security and data protection is not an option. But if tech leaders can address complexity and put automation to work, they will be not just leaving themselves more secure. They will be better placed to drive broader digital transformation initiatives when budget constraints are removed.

The alternative is to resign themselves to joining the ranks of the digital have nots. Not only will they then be more vulnerable to external attackers, and internal incompetence, but the likelihood of ever catching up with their forward-thinking rivals will transform from slim to non-existent.

Sponsored by Dell.