The Assumption Of Normalcy

By Rich Stroffolino

I’ve been thinking recently about what we mean when we talk about “the new normal.” Obviously, a lot of this is tied up with a longing for any kind of normalcy in these turbulent pandemic-defined times. The impulse is completely understandable; I’ve felt it myself. But it seems that people are emphasizing the “new” part of that phrase, while perhaps not considering what we’re actually referring to with “normal.”

I recently moderated an excellent discussion with Stephen Foskett and Commvault CIO, Reza Morakabati, discussing data protection in what is emerging as the “new normal.” The entire conversation was a frank look at the challenges and opportunities ahead for organizations. But I keep thinking about one particular moment when Stephen mentioned that right now – it’s less that the priorities or tools of data protection are changing: it’s the target.

This gets at the heart of what we mean when we speak to what is normal. Normalcy, especially in IT, is a set of assumptions. The common sense that rules our everyday lives, the things we don’t have to actively question (or at least choose not to), provide a sense of stability. But being assumptions, they aren’t intrinsically true.

Whenever the stability of these assumptions changes, we see normalcy disrupted. This isn’t just something that’s happened due to COVID-19. Over the last decade, we’ve seen numerous “new normals” hit IT. In data protection alone, we’ve seen the emergence of cloud storage and all-flash arrays changing what we can expect in terms of availability, flexibility and performance. All of these required not just refactoring applications and workloads, but the underlying assumptions about data protection.

This is best illustrated by the emergence of ransomware as a major concern for organizations. We’re still in the middle of establishing a new normal to combat it, partly because ransomware isn’t standing still as IT is working to establish that normal. Indeed, ransomware is able to persist because of the inertia to change these norms. What makes ransomware so challenging is it strikes at the metaphorical fault line in the old way of doing things. It often seems to fall short of traditional disaster recovery scenarios, which are geared for edge cases and the physical unavailability of data. But the urgency of having all your data encrypted typically could not be met by traditional availability and operational recovery schemes.

Much like the challenge of ransomware, the data protection challenges of operating in a pandemic require a new normal that better aligns IT with the larger business continuity picture. Strictly speaking, this does not require a new set of tools, but it does require understanding that what IT is aiming for is changing. Disaster recovery and business continuity need to be seen as two sides of the same coin, with IT invested as a stakeholder in operations of the business. The assumption about IT is that it is a cost center, ultimately just facilitating what the business actually wants to do. The normal we can now realize is the actual value of IT, being able to deliver more services, more efficiently, with the flexibility the business doesn’t even know it needs yet.

The unique challenge to organizations presented by COVID-19 and the unexpected disconnection of people, process and technology, is reshaping organizations. The temptation is to be overwhelmed by the newness of it all — en masse remote work, deepening dependence on SaaS apps, and securing devices on disparate networks and devices. But as we settle into and adapt to this newness, the more persistent challenge is to consciously shape the normalcy of the “new normal.”

Organizations that actively recognize the assumptions they are making right now, including the targets they are trying to hit, will not have to waste time discovering them the next time another major shift happens in IT. The organizations that focus on building a new normal, rather than accepting one as an external consequence, will be in the best position to weather future eras of uncertainty.

Rich Stroffolino is a podcast producer, editor and presenter, recognized for his work with Gestalt IT and TechFieldDay. Follow him at @MrAnthropology.

On-demand webinar

What does the new normal mean for data protection?