‘Securing dusty old servers in a comms room is no longer feasible’

19 Jun 2020

Eilish O’Connor, CTO. Image: Viatel

With more than 15 years’ experience in the tech industry, Viatel CTO Eilish O’Connor talks about what the future holds for IT.

Eilish O’Connor is the CTO of Dublin-based telecoms operator Viatel. She has worked in telecoms and software companies for more than 15 years, after beginning her career as a technical trainer. She started with Viatel as a senior technical presales consultant back in 2012 and, after working in various other companies, she returned to Viatel as the director of cloud solutions.

“I have always seen myself as a bridge between technology and people,” she told Siliconrepublic.com. “You can have the best technology in the world, but if you can’t link that to the challenges people are facing and the benefits that your solution brings, then it’s irrelevant how good the tech is.”

‘Your network can now provide huge insights into how people work and allow you to make much more intelligence-based decisions’

When O’Connor returned in 2018, Viatel’s focus had expanded to become a private cloud and software-defined company. “Within our Irish-domiciled data centre, we host our private cloud infrastructure,” she said. “Our cloud offerings include storage and compute-as-a-service, as well as a suite of business availability solutions such as backup-as-a-service and disaster recovery-as-a-service.”

Having taken on the role of CTO in November 2019, O’Connor is still responsible for the team of solution architects and supporting sales, but she is now also responsible for IT, system development, product development, and compliance and regulation.

Are you spearheading any major product/IT initiatives you can tell us about?

For the last couple of years, we’ve been developing our solution offerings in the direction of cloud, SD-WAN and security. The Covid-19 pandemic has made us focus even more on these areas and expand further our teleworking offerings.

The drive to cloud is going to increase dramatically. The work environment is suddenly no longer centric to a physical location. The applications and tools that employees use need to provide performance and flexibility from wherever the employees happen to be. Maintaining and securing dusty old servers in a comms room is no longer feasible in this new world.

When we spoke to people about disaster recovery before the crisis, it was always about the ‘what if?’ Well, that disaster has well and truly hit, unfortunately. One of the new products we’re launching to our backup-as-a-service range is Office 365 backup.

A lot of people don’t realise that the data you have in Office 365 is the responsibility for you to secure. There are many reasons why you should have a backup of your Office 365 data away from Azure. The obvious one is that accidents do happen, no service provider is 100pc guaranteed to stay up – either technical, man-made or malicious incidents can happen.

Another tool that we are launching in the fight against cybercrime and ransomware is immutable storage in our cloud. This will ensure that backups are secured from being overwritten, in particular for malicious reasons. It brings the flexibility and elasticity of the cloud, as well as the secure feature of ‘write once – read many’ nature of tape backup.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

We run quite agile operations. This allows us a lot of freedom to act quickly and pivot when needed. We are not burdened with particularly laborious processes, so when a customer needs something, we are able to delight them by moving quicker than our competition. We don’t outsource any part of our business. We do partner very closely with other providers in the market as well as our technology vendors. We foster very strong relationships with our suppliers and partners.

Digital transformation is something that we have been preaching for years. We have been a key enabler for many Irish companies to transform from traditional, manual and even, in some cases, paper-based processes to truly digital and cloud-based. We have also provided the key infrastructure, such as connectivity, that is essential to the success of any digital transformation project.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

There are so many wonderful advancements out there – some changing the world for the better and in others we will need to wait and see how it all pans out.

You obviously have big advancements in AI and machine learning, hot topics wherever you go. In the world we live in now, there is so much data being created. It is vital that we have these tools to organise and utilise this very valuable resource. However, if the input is bad it can have some very serious and dangerous results. The biggest development I can see in this area is not around the technology itself, but around the ethics and governance of its use.

RPA [robotic process automation] is something that has been gaining legs recently. I think a lot more companies will investigate this more deeply due to the lockdown. While people were in the office and going about their usual routines, RPA might have seemed like something in the future. However, companies now need to find ways to improve process and automate more where possible.

In my industry specifically, I think software-defined networks are changing the way we work radically. Before, your network was a means of getting data from point A to point B. With SD-WAN, it opens up your network to be a crucial source of information. Your network can now provide huge insights into how people work and allow you to make much more intelligence-based decisions. It offers dramatically increased flexibility to work in new and exciting ways, as well as providing big improvements on security.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Security is an area that everyone knows they need to do better, but they don’t know how. It is such a radically evolving area that it is hard to keep up. A holistic approach needs to be taken – it is a combination of the tools, processes and people that need to be addressed.

One of the biggest improvements that companies can take is around the education of all staff. People are still the biggest vulnerability any company has. Most companies will never have the cybersecurity expertise to manage their threat exposure effectively, which is why managed security services will grow and become increasingly more important.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.