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Malaysia’s highway authority improves DR capabilities

The Malaysian Highway Authority is now more resilient against cyber attacks through a local disaster-recovery-as-a-service offering powered by Veeam software

As the custodian of all highways and expressways spanning 1,820 kilometres across Malaysia, the Malaysian Highway Authority (MHA) is hard pressed to ensure that its data and IT applications are as reliable and well-protected as can be.

According to Mohd Sukri Shuib, assistant director of technology at MHA, the organisation faced legacy challenges that made it increasingly difficult for it to meet recovery objectives in business continuity standards required by the Malaysian government.

Additionally, MHA’s backup solution was becoming increasingly unwieldy and outdated, he revealed, noting that that there were times when backup was slow, and recovery was unreliable.

“The outdated and unreliable backup solutions also put MHA in a highly vulnerable position as this meant we were more prone to cyber attacks,” Shuib said.

Indeed, one of MHA’s core systems had been attacked before, resulting in the defacement of its website which in turn jeopardised its reputation.

Recognising these dangers, Shuib and his team had to act quickly. But with a myriad of technology options in the market, Shuib said the solution that MHA picked had to address its pain points without compromising existing IT processes.

“We were also looking for a solution that would make data protection easy and efficient while strengthening our backup and disaster recovery [DR] strategy,” Shuib added.

The main objective for MHA’s DR project was to modernise its data protection practices and ensure that the IT applications supporting highway management and maintenance were well-protected. This was crucial in enabling MHA to fulfil its primary goal of making travel safer, faster and more accessible for residents.

DR services

Founded in 1980, the MHA is the government organisation in charge of the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and toll collections of Malaysia’s highways and expressways. It employs more than 300 people, of which 15 are in-house IT staff.

After going through an evaluation process, Shuib said MHA settled on hiring Malaysia-based Infinity Consulting Technology (ICT), a Veeam cloud service provider and DR partner. ICT offers an in-house service called Aegis, which is based on Veeam’s solution stack.

According to Shuib, MHA deployed an Aegis appliance called Disaster Recovery-In-A-Box (Drib), which comes with an on-premise backup service that is preloaded with virtual machine (VM) images of production servers.

Shuib said these backups replicate 10TB of data across more than 20 physical machines and VMs, both on and off premises, to Aegis. The connection from MHA to Aegis is established through Veeam Cloud Connect, which enables the agency to extend data protection to the cloud without the cost and complexity of managing a second infrastructure.

Meanwhile, backups and replicas are encrypted and secure, which increases ransomware protection, Shuib said.

“The standby local DR servers help to ensure that our data is fully secured and data loss from on-premises disasters will be minimised. It also helps to replicate backup data through the network to ICT’s disaster recovery centre.

“ICT’s Aegis also provided us with unlimited DR drills in a year that are assisted by dedicated personnel to help ensure the success of these exercises,” he said, adding that the annual budget for the Aegis deployment is about 50,000 ringgit (US$12,000) per year.

Benefits gained

Shuib said as the Veeam solution backs up any workload on any hardware and any storage, MHA did not have to invest in new resources.

Also, instead of incurring costly capital expenditure to build and maintain a separate DR infrastructure, MHA opted for an operating expenditure model through disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) from Aegis, reducing its annual IT costs by 50%.

Shuib claimed that MHA can now escalate and resolve issues quickly by proactively monitoring and reporting issues as the Veeam and Aegis solutions helped to speed up recovery time – although he did not quantify the amount of time saved.

“With Veeam and Aegis providing extended backups and replicas, we are also able to secure our data to the private cloud to boost ransomware protection, and our IT applications and website are now less susceptible to cyber attacks,” he said.

Key lessons

When asked about the key success factors for this digital transformation project, Shuib said it was important to get cooperation from all stakeholders in the organisation to ensure that high levels of efficiency can be achieved.

“The business teams helped ensure the budget for the project was well-allocated across the respective IT departments, while the administrative teams ensured all documents and procedures were properly recorded in MHA’s systems for future references.

“Regular checks from the management team ensured all business and technical teams were on track to meet their recovery and cost objectives and eliminate slow data recovery time,” he added.

Shuib also stressed the importance of having a good partnership with the technology implementer.

Noting that MHA outsourced the backup and DR tasks to ICT so that MHA’s IT team can focus on more productive tasks, Shuib explained: “With proper training in place, our technical team was equipped with the right knowledge of this project.

“We split the labour between ICT and us proportionately and this helped maximise external resources while ensuring internal parties are well-equipped with the right skills to step up when the occasion calls for it.”

Shuib advised other governmental agencies that are embarking on similar projects to secure buy-in from the business side of the organisation.

“It’s challenging to convince an organisation to invest in technical projects as technical objectives are not as tangible as business objectives,” he said, adding that his team has had to detail the business benefits of digital transformation in terms of cost savings, improved efficiency and enhanced customer experience.

“We did this by organising a workshop to introduce digital transformation to the management team, which was crucial to educate them on the importance of ensuring the business is up to date with the latest technologies to keep up with the ever-changing business needs.”

Another important step, Shuib said, is to organise regular meetings with both IT and business teams. “This ensures all stakeholders have visibility on the benefits that IT projects can bring and are kept updated on the progress of the company’s digital transformation,” he added.

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