For some time, companies have been using software tools to manage and automate parts of their IT systems – for example to spot problems before they cause service outages or to automate tasks such as storage provisioning.
As well as making day-to-day running of systems more efficient, these tools can be of help from a business continuity perspective, by allowing recovery to be done remotely.
Utility computing – with its promise of high-availability computing on tap – could provide an IT infrastructure that perfectly suits the goals of business continuity.
For example a company utilising a grid architecture could be using server clusters at different locations, but managed as one infrastructure, so that if one server fails, its processing capability is taken up by others in the cluster, providing continuous operation.
This can also allow a third-party supplier to remotely monitor and support the networks of its customers, with obvious benefits in terms of economies of scale.
Larger companies may want to use utility-style computing on their own infrastructure, getting the benefits of high availability without sharing infrastructure with rivals.
As Hamish Macarthur, chief executive of storage analyst Macarthur Stroud International explains: “What companies are trying to do is architect their system to have not just the network but the management tools in place to balance that utilisation, so that if there is a glitch they fail over to another part of the system seamlessly.”
A number of different management tools will have to be used in these scenarios: “It’s not just storage but infrastructure and security and database and network,” he says.
Andy Cleverly, Oracle’s UK director of technology, says that grid technology – such as that in Oracle 10g – can help companies improve their business continuity and reduce costs at the same time.
“You need a management framework to manage what is going on in the system to give you a continuous service,” he says, pointing to the Grid Control management framework in 10g which can be used to manage multiple systems and build them into a grid infrastructure.
Grid will allow you to implement business continuity in a more cost-effective way because of commodity hardware, he argues.
“We are taking business continuity from being a proprietary package built for you, and pushing that down into the infrastructure so it becomes standard. If you commoditise it and make it built-in then you dramatically reduce the cost.”
However, many experts believe the full implementation of grid computing will not happen in the short term, even if elements of the strategy are becoming apparent.
As John Holder senior research analyst at Butler Group explains: “Grid computing will offer an ideal business continuity solution – but this is quite a long way away.”