Source: Kelly Vizzini, DataSynapse
Kelly Vizzini of DataSynapse explains the potential business continuity benefits of virtualisation technology.
Organisations today not only need to be focused on their day-to-day operations – they also need to prepare for all “what if” scenarios that may occur 24/7/365. For instance, organisations working with the federal government to provide key data on the general public to assist during disasters like Rita, Katrina and September 11th must ensure that the data collected – names, addresses, social security numbers, etc. – is being protected to guarantee that no person is “lost” during a disaster, especially when funds are needed to survive.
While this can be effectively achieved, there is a new problem facing today’s enterprise. The applications used to run the business need to adaptively shift all resources to a given application if a disaster occurs to assure optimal processing, efficiency, with no downtime or service delay. If a disaster happened this moment, today’s organisation would experience crippling interruptions, as application servers would need to be manually reconfigured and provisioned for peaks in capacity. Companies need a solution that can offer capacity on demand, assuring seamless mobility across compute resources for optimal service quality, while reducing the necessary human resources needed to manage the environment.
Does this problem sound familiar? It shouldn’t as this scenario is unfortunately not an isolated case as more and more companies strive to move away from time-intensive, manual, and the error-prone provisioning of resources towards a more dynamic IT infrastructure able to cope with the demands of today’s business environment.
Our world has changed in many ways. Customer demand is so increasingly dynamic that IT needs to be just as dynamic – able to shift resources and applications adaptively to meet this ever-increasing demand. Due to this increase in demand and coupled with the dependency on their business processes and underlying applications, many companies need protection from loss, waste and downtime. As a result, disaster recovery and business continuity strategies have become a large part of IT planning. Achieving high availability through both reduced planned and unplanned downtime has become an IT imperative.
However, imagine a world where every processor could back up every other processor; where processing power was just a single pool from which the business could draw on demand; where the compartmentalisation between services levels, unplanned downtime, geographic processing windows and disaster recovery disappeared.
It wasn’t long ago that disaster recovery and business continuity technologies were mostly focused on providing backup and offsite standby. Then, business processes did not depend on technology to the degree they do now. If access to applications was lost, most business units could revert to manual processes whilst data was being restored from tape or hardware, and applications would be rebuilt and redeployed by hand. Most organisations did not have the need or the budget for costly business continuity technologies, such as long distance replication and application failover.
While we must plan for disaster and how to recover from impending disaster – we must also plan for the day-to-day disruptions. Prevalent business strategies such as online trading, online purchasing, customer support and just-in-time inventory are not possible without technology and are key to maintaining a competitive advantage. In addition, new Government and EU regulations make it mandatory to have advanced levels of protection for all sizes of businesses. Consequently, for more and more business units, functions and applications, even a minimal service interruption has a dramatic financial impact. Manual processes are simply not an option anymore.
In global financial enterprises, M&A activity is just a part of everyday business. Consolidating servers and applications to reduce duplication of effort and contain costs is a priority. As companies grow, IT organisations must leverage existing resources more efficiently and at times rapidly add capacity — often in the form of new applications running across a variety of operating systems. The resulting application and server sprawl is costly in terms of technical, financial and human capital. If these costs can be offset by improvements in business continuity, the exercise is more worthwhile.
Virtualisation technology is enjoying a period of explosive growth, and an increasing numbers of enterprises are becoming virtualisation converts. Research firm IDC estimates about 750,000 virtual servers were in operation in 2004, and it expects this to rise to more than 5 million by 2009 — a compound annual growth rate of almost 50 per cent. Why the surge of interest? Virtualisation as a concept has been around for years if not decades, but only until recently has its potential for business continuity been truly understood.
By virtualising application platforms and services (based on business-driven policies and real-time service levels), it is now possible to centralise the command and control of application deployment and execution, thereby guaranteeing that capacity is available on demand. Virtualisation is able to eliminate downtime and service interruption by providing application failover both locally and remotely, while also enabling organisations to run production applications at hot-sites during non-emergency times. For risk managers this capability is powerful and compelling, giving the capability to provide high availability for optimal SLA management, increased operational efficiency and flexibility, higher application and server utilisation, while lowering the cost and reducing the complexity of IT. With a potentially worldwide processing pool, under the control of business performance policies, a whole new approach to business continuity is possible.
A recent report by Gartner which asked CIOs what are the biggest concerns for the data centre in the year ahead saw business continuity and disaster recovery topping the list, and was followed closely by virtualisation directions and technology. Ironically, in 2007, it can be argued that these two fundamental concerns will give rise to a new approach for dealing with today’s unpredicatable marketplace. Despite the unpredictable demand for IT services, application virtualisation heralds the answer to effective business continuity planning by driving dynamic and automatic allocation and optimisation of IT resources so that service levels are predictable and consistent.