He’s more Dilbert than Dark Knight, but Rick Vanover has had his share of superhero moments.
Known as Rickatron to his online followers, Vanover is senior director of product strategy at Veeam, the cloud-backup provider. His mission: Making sure organizations can recover their data in a crisis. Yes, there are villains in his world, like hackers spreading havoc with ransomware.
Vanover dwells in a realm of hard disks and tape drives. It’s not exactly the sexiest corner of cyberspace. When backup comes to the rescue, however, it can be downright alluring.
“It's sexy when it makes you the hero,” Vanover said in an interview with The Forecast by Nutanix. “When it saves the day, you'll love backup then.”
In his Forecast interview, Vanover talked about the crucial role of backup, recovery and data management in the evolving cloud era. He explained why companies must do better as ransomware threats surge, and why they have such a hard time honing their backup strategies. Finally, he told how he became a tech evangelist and a leader of Veeam’s community of backup true believers.
Job 1: Averting a Ransomware Apocalypse
As a backup evangelist at Veeam, Vanover helps clients understand the general need for better data management and the specific need to thwart hackers. Vanover is not a dour guy. He’s positive and forthright. That’s context for his current data-security assessment.
“The threatscape here is exponential,” Vanover said.
“I saw a news event with a $50 million ransomware demand. And I think the attacks are getting more sophisticated. There's a lot of risks around insider actions aiding these types of things. I'm really, really worried about them.”
A while back, Vanover asked a manager at Veeam for advice on ransomware threats. The response: “He went on to say, ‘I recommend going so far as to have mortal fear instilled in both IT administrators and end users.’ So now it's in all my PowerPoints.”
Vanover’s conclusion: “Ransomware is the overarching threat that could end it all.”
Why Companies Have a Hard Time Getting Backups Right
Having a solid backup-and-recovery program can feel like a superpower when it staves off a ransomware shakedown. Nevertheless, lots of companies are weak on backup and recovery.
A 2020 survey commissioned by Veeam found that while 96% of organizations expect to accelerate cloud usage, 80% of them have an availability gap because modernization is stressing their aging IT systems. Moreover, 58% of data cannot be recovered.
“If an organization has a ransomware situation that isn't going well, they're down. They're not back online quickly,” Vanover said. “The expectation is, ‘I lost my data, bring it back.’ It's that simple.”
Clouds and virtual machines can be spun up in minutes. People want their backups that fast — but it’s not that simple in an ever-changing data-protection landscape.
“People were focused on tape, then they went to cloud,” Vanover recalled. “And then they were focused on new hypervisor platforms like Nutanix. And then they were focused on cloud platforms and then they were focused on form factors and consumption models, what I call a solution stack.”
In the midst of these gyrations, companies want to stick with technologies or methodologies whose time has passed. His advice: “Give backup a new look. Chances are, it can do a lot more than what people thought it used to be able to do.”
Cloud technologies stand at the center of evolving backup capabilities. “Cloud is a model, it's not a location,” he said. “It's an elastic model of consumption, scalability, automation, orchestration and agility.”
Organizations that need robust backups don’t always weigh the specifics of the components within the cloud model, he added. That complicates their lives when they’re craving simplicity.
From Tech Support to Product Evangelism
Back in 2001, when blogging was young, Vanover was a newbie to the world of technology. One day, he saw something amiss on somebody’s technology blog.
“So, I sent an email to the editor of a website and I said, ‘Man, this blog is crap. He doesn't know what he's talking about.’ And the editor came back and said, ‘Can you write?’ That is the dawn of Rickatron, right there.” Soon he was blogging, tweeting, hosting webinars and writing whitepapers. And he has been ever since.
In 2010, he took these skills to Veeam. While helping the company build its cloud-backup business, he’s maintained a side hustle as a leader in Veeam’s support forums and product discussions.
“I have a simple mission, bridging the gap between product management in the field, delivering technical content and enabling IT communities,” he said.
The biggest fans in his community have titles like Veeam Vanguards and Veeam Legends. They build powerful narratives about their experience with backup software that’s easy to use and there for them when they need it.
“It's a story that resonates,” he said. “The technology we're in becomes a passion. People really care about their data, and I like that.”
How Rickatron Learned to Relax and Love Backup
Vanover’s passion boils down to data — organizing it, protecting it, even rescuing it.
One of his favorite data stories predates Veeam. Some 15 years ago, when he still had hair, he was doing IT in logistics. One day his boss ordered him to fly to Venezuela and fetch a single .INI file from an IT system on the verge of collapse.
“This parcel freight operator in that country would have lost everything if I didn't do this,” he recalled. “Here I am the squirty kid with a lot of hair coming in there, trying to fix their problem. And I did it great. I saved the day.”
Vanover has spent more than a decade at Veeam helping people bond with backups. Otherwise rational techies change their tune when his technology’s superpowers kick in.
“When it saves their job, they love it,” he said.
The same is true when it saves their business, gets them out of a jam or solves a complex problem like migration.
“When I get customers who have beat ransomware with backup, they're happy because otherwise it’s basically an end-of-days situation. Avoiding that is enough to make you fall in love with backup.”
Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.
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