‘This is an important functionality’: Slack launches data residency

11 Sep 2019445 Views

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Slack's head of enterprise product, Ilan Frank. Image: Slack

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Slack’s head of enterprise product, Ilan Frank, tells Siliconrepublic.com why the company is launching a new data residency feature.

Today (11 September), Slack announced that it will enable customers to choose which country or region their data is stored in, enabling businesses to fulfil corporate policies and compliance requirements.

Until now, data from the workplace messaging and collaboration platform has been primarily stored in the US. This includes user-generated data, such as messages, posts and files, which are all encrypted.

From December onward, however, users will have the choice to store their data in new data regions, starting with Frankfurt, Germany.

Slack’s head of enterprise product, Ilan Frank, spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about the decision, which will make Slack available to more teams in highly regulated sectors such as financial services, government and healthcare.

Before joining Slack, Frank worked with SAP. His experience taught him that there has always been a massive demand for more control over where data is stored.

“I have been working in cloud and large enterprises for as long as there has been cloud and large enterprises,” he said. “I don’t think that demand is going to go away any time soon.”

Data residency

“Data residency is an important functionality for Slack as it allows our customers in regulated companies or geographies to bring their data and store it in the data region or country of their choosing,” Frank added.

He explained that when data residency launches in Germany later this year, all Slack users with Slack Plus or Slack Enterprise will have the option to store their data in Frankfurt, whether they are actually in Germany or not.

“Users will have the option of where they want to store their data. They don’t have to be companies that exist in the EU to store their data in the EU.”

‘We wanted to make this functionality very accessible – both technically as well as financially’
– ILAN FRANK

Around 50pc of Slack’s users are based outside the US and, for that portion of users, data localisation is growing increasingly important.

When asked how many countries we could expect to see Slack launch data residency in, Frank said that at the moment there are only plans for a handful. In particular, this means nations with in-country requirements for data residency, such as Germany, Switzerland and, in some cases, France.

“Then there are other countries in the EU that are perfectly fine with storing anywhere in the EU, as long as it’s in the EU,” he added.

There are many questions hanging over the future of how data storage will be handled if or when the UK leaves the European Union. When asked about how Slack is preparing for the potential consequences of Brexit, Frank said: “Let’s just say that we’re planning for a post-Brexit world.”

How it works

Frank noted that data localisation isn’t something that a lot of companies do because it relies on a very complicated architecture.

“You’ll see the more mature enterprise companies do this, but it’s difficult for young companies to have operations that are dispersed. What we’ve built is actually an even more complicated architecture than traditional data residency, where you essentially copy all of your operations into other geographies,” he explained.

Put simply, Slack’s data residency was built so that, in theory, a car manufacturer in Germany could collaborate with a marketing agency in the US through Slack. The car manufacturer can store its data in Germany and the US company can store its data in the US.

From December, users will be able to migrate to a new residency immediately, but their experience with Slack will remain exactly the same.

In a blogpost about the announcement, the company said: “Existing customers can move their organisation’s or teams’ data to new residency regions. Note, however, that the entire organisation or team must be rooted in a single region.”

Frank explained how this will work for a multinational company with remote workers spread across regions.

“This is something we have baked into the design for multinationals. Initially, when we launch, the company will have to choose one data region to be in. The way we’ve built this is so that we can actually separate out the information.

“When companies have a subsidiary in another country that has to keep their data there, we [will] work together seamlessly between those geographies. The Slack client will know where to go to pull the data dynamically.”

When Slack’s data residency launches in Germany later this year, it will be free for users with Enterprise or Plus subscriptions.

“We understand that these are requirements that companies face because of their geographic location and we feel that those companies should not have to pay a fee for being in a certain country or a certain region,” Frank said. “We wanted to make this functionality very accessible – both technically as well as financially.”

Once data residency launches, Slack’s Dublin office will process and monitor the new feature from a legal and operations perspective.

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com