SaaSifying security: How VCC solved the data protection riddle with cloud
faculties and staff
Vancouver Community College (VCC) is a post-secondary institution located in the heart of Vancouver, British Columbia. The college offers a number of academic paths including Bachelor’s Degrees, Associate Degrees, certificate and diploma programs, as well as 14 trade apprenticeships. VCC’s academic programs feature relevant real-world training in campus facilities such as gourmet restaurants, an auto shop, and a salon and spa. The strong connection between the college and various professional industries gives students direct access to leading employers in the region and beyond.
In the wake of the 2020 shutdown, VCC found itself in a similar position as many other higher education institutions all around the world. It suddenly had to find a way to keep students, faculty, and staff connected with access to data and systems. At the same time, ramping up the access of the college’s data to their end-users meant they had to amplify security around it as well. As more of VCC’s data moved to the cloud, the increased travel of data also magnified the risks associated with making information more accessible. The typical IT environment at higher education institutions creates unique conditions that make them an obvious target for cyberattacks – even before remote learning became the norm. In fact, education has been the most affected industry for ransomware attacks, according to Microsoft Security Intelligence.
The pressing issue for VCC was how they could make data protection and backup constructs as easy as possible and how they could be made Application Programming Interface (API)-driven to ensure adaptability and seamless communication between apps. They needed to put in place a solution that would not just protect data but also be agile enough to adapt to new platforms and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions.
“Historically, we always struggled with managing access to the backup in granular mode and self-restores,” said Peter Gregorowicz, Associate Director, Network & Client Services at VCC. Granular access, the practice of granting differing levels of access to specific users, helps prevent tampering, leaking, and malicious use of proprietary information. “We were really concentrating on the upkeep of the system – and it was quite resource-intensive.”
VCC wanted to work with an expert on the maintenance and upkeep of their data protection so they could instead focus on the higher-level aspects of their IT such as security governance and policy – addressing the parameters for who has access to what data and how. In short, they needed a cloud-based solution that would execute the data protection and backup game plan that they drew up.
The key to solving the data security question lies in cloud-based platforms. By migrating workloads to platforms such as Microsoft Azure, higher education institutions like VCC pick up the agility and scalability to support remote learning and work-from-home initiatives. At the same time, they are also benefiting from the cloud’s superior security and backup functionality while simplifying infrastructure management. To design and implement an appropriate solution based on VCC’s dilemma, the college turned to Compugen for their expert practices in both cloud and security.
“VCC made the decision quite some time ago to transition to the cloud. We were actually the first post-secondary education institution to move to the cloud with Microsoft specifically,” Gregorowicz said. “We started by using Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) which enabled us to migrate from Novell to Outlook Exchange. Right away, it was apparent how much more cost-effective BPOS was going to be so the decision to continue along this path was easy.”
From there, Compugen supported VCC in the migration their SharePoint platform to the same BPOS suite. The college made it a point as an institution that everything they touched going forward was going to the cloud. To ensure their data was protected and safely backed up, Compugen brought in Commvault with their Metallic solution to handle that responsibility as an outsourced service.
“It’s what I like to call ‘SaaS-ifying’ backup systems with Metallic to protect all the data in Microsoft’s Office 365,” Gregorowicz said.
The primary advantage of this approach is the security outcome it provides to the organization. At VCC, there is but one person who would be responsible for managing data security and redundancy. Now, that person can focus on coordinating the system with the data owners rather than maintaining the nuts and bolts of the backup system.
Another key plus for Compugen’s recommendation to engage the Metallic cloud-based approach to data protection and backup can be summed up in one word: simplicity.
“On premise is much more onerous from a resourcing perspective than cloud-based systems,” Gregorowicz explained. “With on-prem, you have to open a case and wait for somebody to call you back in order to access the backend. Because it's all in the cloud and it's all dual-access between Metallic’s people and ours, issues are resolved more quickly and navigating the system is far better than with the on-prem model.”
As a result of the digital transformation, VCC not only solved their data protection dilemma but thrived from it. The move allowed VCC to take their security posture to the next level.
“We can move our services a step higher,” Gregorowicz said. “Instead of worrying about the hardware and the software, we focus on facilitating self-restores and self-management for our clients so their technicians can restore their own systems while we concentrate on an access protocol.”
The Metallic solution also provides VCC with something they didn’t have before – peace of mind.
“In my mind, this is kind of like an insurance policy. Unless there is something catastrophic that happens, the benefit is not immediately evident – until you actually need it, then you can rest assured knowing that you’re covered. Luckily, under the old system, it never came to an absolute calamity where we needed to restore the entire organization. If we had to do a full restore under the old system, I probably wouldn't be sleeping nights until it was done. Now I'll be sleeping comfortably even if that incident ever arises,” Gregorowicz concluded.
By migrating to a cloud-based approach for data back-up and security, VCC was able to manage their data and secure access to that data in a remote environment while keeping it all fully protected. It also enabled remote access for students, teachers and the administration in the middle of the pandemic. As a result of these efforts, VCC is poised to thrive as a technology-driven institution, not just today but long into the foreseeable future.