Behind the scenes with tech trailblazers: Meet Michael Kulessa

By | 6 minute read | October 23, 2020

“Storage technology is the foundation for everything. Providing innovative solutions to help clients reduce complexity and effort and get ahead of their competitors is a passion for me.”

Michael Kulessa joined IBM in 2011 as a client technical specialist with a deep focus on data protection solutions. He’s always been interested in technology, from how things work to how innovative tech can make the world a better place. He sees IBM storage infrastructure everywhere, operating behind the scenes on a huge range of everyday transactions, from banking to shopping, and is passionate about helping organizations find the best modern data protection solutions. Michael regularly speaks at conferences about how businesses can protect their data and intellectual property from cyberattacks, disasters and operational data loss. Outside of work, he enjoys woodworking and being outdoors gardening, cycling, fishing and hunting.

Michael spent some time with me discussing his point of view on data protection and the future of storage technology and hybrid cloud.

Tell me a bit about your technology background. How did you come to specialize in storage technology? 

I was interested in IT since childhood when I started building web applications and programming Java applications. I also finished my education on a technical IT education path. I was always curious about how things technically work and how various components work together — and it’s this inclination that motivates me to research and develop optimal technical solutions that yield the most benefits for clients. Storage technology is the foundation for everything. Every organization has to store data. Now more than ever before, we’re seeing an exponential growth of data. Data can be a business’s most valuable asset, placing high demands on protection in our current and future world. It makes me proud to work on systems that are part of nearly every data center in the world.

Backup and recovery might not be the most glamorous topics, but they’re certainly important given that data can be a business’s most valuable resource. What’s the most important thing organizations need to know about modern data protection?

The most important thing to know is that your data is always vulnerable to cybercrime. It’s not a question of ifan attack happens but when. Modern data protection offers an end-to-end, fully integrated solution to help businesses be prepared if an attack happens. The crucial point is to have a cyber-resilient data protection strategy that includes a real air gapped media layer because anything online can always be compromised. With modern data protection from IBM, it’s possible to integrate any storage media, including flash, SSD, disk, object and especially tape. Since we’re now seeing a shift away from tape, it’s even more important than before to include the air gapped media layer in your data protection strategy. While online data, such as on a disk, can be accessed all the time — even in a backup system — tape cartridges can be physically separated. Even if tapes are accessible, an attack would directly attract attention in the client’s monitoring and alerting systems because it’s time-intensive to manipulate tape contents.

What are some of the best client examples you’ve seen of storage solutions making a big impact on a business?

Data protection is a topic that organizations often deal with only when they must or because regulations require it. One of my most formative experiences involved a client in the financial consulting sector that had been the victim of a large, and unfortunately successful, cyberattack. The attack compromised most of its online production data and destroyed parts of its local building access infrastructure. In the context of reviewing its data protection infrastructure, I developed and implemented a secure, cyber-resilient concept based on IBM data protection and IBM tape. The concept focused especially on an air gap solution to tape, which separates the backup data from online systems. The air gapped backup copies stored on tape helped the client get back up and running and ultimately keep its business alive. Without that data protection, it could have lost its core data and intellectual property.

The exponential growth of data can also pose challenges with the resulting backup data. I worked with a banking client that was getting logical errors in the database systems of one of its main client applications. It wasn’t possible to recover the data in the needed recovery time objective (RTO) because its databases had grown exponentially and its existing strategy failed to appropriately reflect that growth. In numbers, it meant that it wasn’t possible to restore multiple databases up to an instance-size of 32 TB in under 6 hours. With such a large database, you have to adjust the strategy to include hardware snapshot-based data protection. This adjustment meant replacing the physical transfer of the data with snapshotting functionality in the storage array, which happened in seconds, independent from the real data volume. In my analysis of the issues, I developed a hardware snapshot-based data protection strategy that provided the client with the required safety and a better plan for the future. The client now has a reliable backup and restore system that’s nearly completely independent from the real size of the protected databases.

 I’ve heard you’re a pro when it comes to identifying new opportunities to help clients succeed. What do you think empowers you to recognize the technologies that might help solve their business challenges?

You have to get in the client’s mindset. Understanding and feeling the client’s fears, pains and challenges lets me identify the relevant solution technologies. My experience working on various client solutions has helped me learn how to rate and interpret the huge number of different requirements and reasons to act. With these insights and experience, I develop and conceptualize solutions that address client requirements and challenges with innovative technology.

What’s the next frontier in storage technology?

Speaking of storage infrastructure generally, we’re clearly moving to all-flash arrays, replacing spinning disks. This shift is because of the potential capacity, lower power consumption and more compact handling of flash with 38 TB per module versus a HDD with only 18 TB. Additionally, we’re reaching the physical limits of spinning disks while we’re just beginning to see the potential of flash module research. All-flash arrays or SSD-based storage will also take the primary role in data protection infrastructure. Spinning disks are often used to store backup data today, but I clearly see the tendency toward flash-based and SSD storage.

When it comes to where and how to store data in terms of the physical place, the trend is toward hybrid multicloud environments. This transition means that you might store your data not only on premises and off premises in a hybrid environment, but also with multiple cloud vendors. Management and orchestration are essential to help you get the most benefits out of this kind of infrastructure. Hybrid multicloud also affects how data protection will happen in the future. I see a trend toward backup-as-a-service (BaaS) offerings where organizations will protect their cloud workloads in another cloud without touching their own on-premises data centers. Also, still existing, on-premises workloads will become directly protected by or into BaaS solutions in various clouds, which may make on-premises data protection infrastructure obsolete.

And we can’t forget the exponential growth of data, which will demand innovative technologies to protect these environments. It’s not only a technology discussion but also a question about which data really has to be protected versus data that’s stored so highly available that it may not need traditional backup.

This blog post is part of the “Behind the scenes with tech trailblazers” series where we interview leading IT specialists and architects, distinguished engineers and experts in AI, hybrid cloud, security and more, providing a glimpse into how they’re helping businesses around the world succeed with the IBM IT infrastructure. “Tech trailblazers” are demonstrated leaders who bring innovation, collaboration and creative thinking to their work, have an endless thirst for knowledge and are role models to peers. Stay tuned for more.