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World Backup Day: Why Network Infrastructure Matters Also

Network Infrastructure

Network Infrastructure

Solutions Review’s Expert Insights Series is a collection of contributed articles written by industry experts in enterprise software categories. Josh Stephens of BackBox reminds us that World Backup Day, celebrated every March 31, is not just about data but network infrastructure as well.

Expert Insights badgeWorld Backup Day started with a post on Reddit in 2011 – a user wrote about losing their hard drive and wishing someone had reminded them about how important it is to back up data. Every year on March 31, World Backup Day, data backups get a lot of attention, but sadly, sometimes the operational work that keeps networks secure and operational – like automating configuration and software backups for firewalls and other network infrastructure devices – goes undone.

Backing up the data won’t protect your business continuity if your network goes down, and backups are useless without a vetted, reliable restore process. Without the network, there’s no sharing of data, and business grinds to a halt. Recent high-profile network outages have brought attention to the importance of not just automating improvements in network security and operations, but recovering quickly and minimizing downtime when disaster strikes. A periodic outage now and then might be survivable for most companies, but extended or frequent outages may very well kill the business.

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Network Infrastructure and World Backup Day

It seems incredible that even today, the simplest configuration change or even a typo can sometimes cause a ripple effect and bring down a network and/or disrupt a supposedly fault-tolerant business service. No one is immune – not even tech giants like Microsoft. EMA’s research states that over 80 percent of network outages are caused by configuration errors which means that those outages could be quickly recovered if the root cause is rapidly identified. This isn’t to say that all outages are caused by configuration mistakes. Hardware failures, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, personnel changes, and malicious insiders can all cause network outages that are difficult to recover from without reliable backup and recovery tools and processes.

Furthermore, the pace at which new Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) and operating system (OS) bugs are identified, deploying OS updates and patches to the network infrastructure has become a never-ending project for most network operations teams operating at scale. Each of these upgrades implicitly includes the need to programmatically backup the OS and configuration before the upgrade and to be able to fall back to the previous state when warranted programmatically. While automated upgrades are significantly more reliable than those done via keyboard, upgrades are complex. Your upgrade strategy should include the ability to fall back and retry later when business continuity is at stake.

Backing up the network infrastructure, firewalls, and other network devices protects against malfunctions, human error, and cyber-attacks to ensure business continuity. Network teams at organizations can be proactive and strategic in backing up network and security device configurations and operating systems by taking the following steps:

  1. Ensure the network team is brought into company disaster recovery conversations. In less mature organizations, these conversations sometimes do happen without a network team member present.
  2. Ensure that there is an accurate and regularly updated network inventory. This inventory should include current versions of software, and in order to backup your backups, you should keep current network diagrams on hand.
  3. Set up a trustworthy methodology to automate backup and recovery. You want to be able to restore your network with one click or via API, even if it’s a complex restoration process. You need a workflow that can do validation checks for backups and restores whenever there is a change, and certainly daily.
  4. Ensure that any critical devices can be upgraded right away. Suppose they can’t be upgraded as needed. In that case, you should plan to take other measures to mitigate the risk, like temporarily disabling network services or blocking outside access to those devices.
  5. Automate regularly scheduled upgrades and patches, like operating systems for firewalls and network infrastructure.
  6. Integrate vulnerability & risk intelligence data into your upgrade strategy to streamline and prioritize your upgrade schedules.

As you set up your network and security device backup and recovery strategy, be sure that you include daily network configuration audits that compare your current settings against best practices, CIS and NIST guidelines, and your own golden configuration. It’s a constant cycle of remediation, repair, and automating where you can.

Once you’ve instrumented a trustworthy and reliable backup strategy, begin to think more holistically about disaster preparedness and recovery. Document your processes and keep printed copies in binders within your network operations center (NOC) in case you need to enact them during an extended outage that prevents access to online data. In many organizations, the senior network leaders are amongst the most senior technical leaders within the company, so don’t be afraid to assume a leadership role when it comes to disaster recovery planning for your organization.

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