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Data protection trends: Ransomware, M&A deals dominate news

Ransomware made international headlines in backup 2017 news, and vendors looked to mitigate its effects. Vendors were also busy with acquisitions and hyper-converged backup.

From the constant threat of ransomware attacks to looking ahead to the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, backup vendors had much to tackle in 2017. And there was even a lot of movement among vendors themselves, with several big names making acquisitions to gain footholds in important markets.

Here we run down the year's top data protection trends and news.

Ransomware protection gains strength

The ransomware epidemic is not slowing down. While ransomware has been out there for some time now, it made international headlines in May when the WannaCry strain simultaneously hit 300,000 machines in 150 countries. Other strains have made big news and caused problems for organizations of all sizes this year. Statistics vary, but many organizations say ransomware attacks are on the rise.

While WannaCry didn't end up pulling in as much ransom as the attackers likely anticipated, that attack and others had organizations scrambling and making data protection a top focus. Often, backup and recovery is the only way out after ransomware hits. And that focus was evident with backup vendors as well, as data protection trends in this area included adding ransomware-specific features.

  • Acronis built a new version of its Active Protection technology -- integrated into Acronis True Image backup software -- that uses machine learning to help prevent ransomware viruses from corrupting data. It attempts to detect suspicious application behavior before file corruption. Active Protection is also available in Acronis Backup software.
  • BackupAssist launched CryptoSafeGuard, part of its data protection software for SMBs, which works with existing antimalware software. It scans and detects suspicious activity in source files that can be related to ransomware, then sends alerts and blocks backup jobs from running.
  • Druva built ransomware monitoring and detection tools into its InSync endpoint data protection software. The software flags unusual activity occurring to data and helps identify the last good snapshot to recover the entire data set or individual files.
  • Unitrends Recovery Series physical appliances and Unitrends Backup virtual appliances use predictive analytics to determine the probability that ransomware exists in an environment. The vendor alerts customers when it detects the virus, so they can immediately restore from the last legitimate recovery point.

Mergers and acquisitions aplenty

The data protection 2017 market saw a large amount of merger and acquisition activity, particularly in the second half of the year. Cloud backup provider Carbonite was especially busy.

Here are several major moves from the past year:

  • Security and data protection vendor Barracuda is going private, following its purchase in November by equity firm Thoma Bravo for $1.6 billion.
  • Vista Equity Partners in October acquired data protection vendor Datto and will merge it with IT management provider Autotask, in a play to bring several technologies under one roof for SMBs, including backup and disaster recovery, professional services automation and networking continuity. Earlier in the year, Datto bought cloud-based networking provider Open Mesh.
  • Carbonite purchased Datacastle's endpoint backup in August, which gives the growing cloud backup vendor better scalability and a bigger play in the SMB market. That same month, Code42 announced it is shutting down its consumer cloud backup product in 2018 to focus on other sectors and referring consumers to Carbonite. Earlier in the year, Carbonite bought Double-Take Software to improve its high-availability technology.
  • Peak 10 closed on a $1.675 billion acquisition of ViaWest in August, which will lead to a data protection suite of services between the cloud services providers that includes storage, backup and replication.
  • Axcient, which provides cloud-based disaster recovery and data protection, and EFolder, which offers cloud business continuity, cloud file sync and cloud-to-cloud backup, announced in July that they are merging.
  • Data protection vendor Arcserve in July acquired Zetta and its cloud backup and disaster recovery, following its purchase earlier in the year of FastArchiver for on-premises or public cloud emails.
  • Backup vendor StorageCraft in January acquired object storage startup Exablox, in a move to combine primary and secondary storage into one platform.

The convergence and hyper-convergence of data protection

As vendors like Cohesity and Rubrik continue to lead the converged secondary storage market, backup going hyper-converged is one of the top data protection trends of 2017.

As vendors like Cohesity and Rubrik continue to lead the converged secondary storage market, backup going hyper-converged is one of the top data protection trends of 2017. Several vendors this year launched backup for hyper-converged products, with at least one data protection product focused solely on the Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV).

The Unitrends Recovery Series backup appliances and Unitrends Backup virtual appliances feature integration for AHV. The vendor also protects all hypervisors that run on Nutanix and supports VMware, Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer hypervisors. Veeam, Commvault and Rubrik are among the other data protection vendors that recently launched or will launch backup for AHV.

Comtrade Software in June launched its HYCU dedicated to AHV backup. The vendor later in the year updated its product with increased support for Nutanix storage and backup management features.

Commvault went to a place it didn't originally plan on going: the hardware market. The vendor launched its first scale-out integrated hardware appliance for data protection as it attempts to compete with Rubrik and Cohesity, as well as traditional backup vendors. The HyperScale platform is part of Commvault's product strategy to build out its data services with software-defined storage and convergence. Converged secondary storage -- one of the data protection trends that continues to grow -- handles such nonprimary tasks as backup, archiving, test and development, and disaster recovery.

Ready or not, here comes GDPR

Companies are scrambling to ensure compliance with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect in May and covers data produced by EU citizens and data stored within the union. It consists of 99 articles, including a rule that gives individuals the right to force organizations to delete all personal data.

But the rule requiring companies to notify customers of a data breach within 72 hours struck a chord this year via the Equifax breach. The company discovered it in July and reported it publicly in September. Companies not in compliance with GDPR face millions of dollars in fines.

Surveys routinely show that companies are not adequately prepared for GDPR. Some vendors, though, are trying to help aid compliance. For example, Veritas' Integrated Classification Engine uses machine learning to identify sensitive and personal data.

Data protection trends take on storage growth

Tape storage got a capacity bump with the release of LTO-8. The latest version, launched two years after LTO-7 hit the market, features 30 TB of compressed capacity per tape and uncompressed capacity of 12 TB. Tape is seen as a safe, offline backup in the face of cyberattacks such as ransomware. Plus, the massive capacity can help with long-term retention of huge data sets that continue to grow.

"No business measures data storage in terabytes anymore," analyst Jon Toigo wrote in a November SearchDataBackup article. "... So LTO-8 ... seems to be just what the doctor ordered for companies most likely to make big use of tape technology: cloudies and data-intensive verticals, such as healthcare, surveillance, research labs, and oil and gas. These firms are putting tape back to use in an old, secondary storage role."

What's old has become new again.

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