MSPs learn cyber protection best practices from sports tech leaders at #MSInspire

Acronis

Technology leaders from two of Acronis #CyberFit Sports Partners wowed attendees at Microsoft Inspire 2021 with a live panel discussion entitled, “Lessons for MSPs from Professional Sports Teams on Protecting Microsoft Environments”. David O’Neill, Director of Application Central Services for Liverpool Football Club, and Matt Cochran, Senior IT Manager at NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports, began the session discussing the huge data volumes on which both organizations rely for a winning edge both in competition and beyond.

Despite living on the high-performance end of the spectrum for data protection and cybersecurity, the two pro-sports tech veterans offered practical lessons that MSPs might use in delivering managed cyber protection services to their business clients, specifically for Microsoft environments. Acronis executives Craig Joseph, Chief Alliance Officer, and Pat Hurley, VP and GM, Americas, helped O’Neill and Cochran to field questions from the rapt audience. The following excerpts loosely paraphrase some of their discussion:

Q. How has technology affected the way you prepare and compete as a professional sports organization?

DO: “At Liverpool FC, data drives every aspect of the business. We capture huge amounts of video in practices and on match day that we analyze in great depth to improve individual and club performance. Then there’s our huge merchandising operation, social-media engagement with millions of fans, and all of our traditional back-office operations. We found it essential to integrate the storage and backup of all of Liverpool’s business data, applications and systems into a single solution to protect the club’s competitive edge.”

MC: “NASCAR restrictions on the physical aspects of every car means that effectively collecting and processing vehicle data during the race, and making adjustments and tactical recommendations based on real-time analysis of it, often translates into the few fractions-of-a-second difference between winning and losing. That led us to seek more flexible and robust protection of our entire environment, from endpoint devices to Microsoft 365 data, including mailboxes, Microsoft Teams channels and SharePoint sites. Quick recovery from any outage is essential. We needed to be able to restore critical data from multiple locations, including cloud locations and disaster recovery sites.”

Q. What lessons have your organizations learned from the past difficult year-and-a-half or so?

MC: “The shift to greater remote work during the pandemic lockdown forced us to pay extra attention to securing collaboration applications, remote-employee data, and data that we had stored in cloud repositories. We were a highly-distributed organization before covid, which helped, but it still tested us, forced us to be doubly vigilant.”

DO: “We learned that it’s important to build a talent pipeline to maintain a strong bench of IT and cybersecurity operations talent. We look for culture fit, the same kind of dedication and single-mindedness we seek in our athletes, as much as certifications and experience. With the global brand and loyal fandom we have, and the glamor of professional sport, it’s probably easier for us to attract applicants than for many managers in our audience here, but I think finding that proper combination of skills and attitude is critical for any tech operation, whether a Premiere League club or an MSP.”

Q. What advice can you offer our audience on the subject of tech-supply chain attacks?

MC: “Every tech leader has to renew their commitment to asking their suppliers and partners some hard questions about how they are defending themselves against the kind of breaches and other vulnerabilities that provide supply-chain attackers a foothold. We all have to rely on at least a handful of strategic partners. Vetting those partners to build trust that they won’t become a link in a supply-chain attack is more important now than ever.”

DO: “We use a range of technologies and processes to ensure that we aren’t making it easy for attackers to compromise our data, like security awareness training to ensure every employee is on the lookout for potential threats. Asking our technology partners to show us the investments they’ve made to protect themselves, and by extension us, has become an essential step.”

Q. How are you taking advantage of machine intelligence in your data protection and cybersecurity operations?

DO: “I hope our audience will forgive me if I don’t talk about all of the weapons we use in defending our data. But I can say we leave no stone unturned in seeking a winning edge against the opposition. It’s just better not to share everything we’re doing in a public forum.”

MC: “There’s one application I can talk about. Acronis developed a custom tool for us that uses machine intelligence to help us handle the huge volume of photos that we generate on race day. It helps us instantly and automatically identify and tag the key criteria of photos by car number and vehicle orientation to the track. We send the photos to a mobile data center and upload them from there to Microsoft Azure for classification by the Acronis tool. Our engineers then use a web app Acronis built for us to view and search through those photos to help optimize strategy and tactics on the track.”

Lessons for MSPs

Professional sports teams have resources, talent and budgets to protect their critical data that most businesses can only dream about, especially SMBs. That presents a clear opportunity for MSPs to offer the kind of cyber protection services that smaller businesses need to survive, compete and thrive in a world of daunting cyberthreats.

Acronis continues to enhance Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud, the platform that thousands of MSPs use to protect their SMB clients, with new capabilities like Advanced Email Security powered by Perception Point. MSPs may not have to manage over 100TB of engineering and wind tunnel data and over 250TB across their organization like Hendrick Motorsports, but they can take advantage of the same Acronis platform that Hendrick and more than 50 other professional sports teams use to build their own highly profitable suite of cyber protection services.

Final thought

If you didn’t manage to attend Microsoft Inspire 2021, Acronis still offers many resources to help you understand how to safeguard your clients’ Microsoft environments and combat the latest cyberthreats on their behalf. Visit our Resource Center for additional complimentary educational pieces like A Checklist for Implementing Cyber Protection for MSPs.

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