The highly available enterprise

For many organisations, traditional business continuity measures are seen as expensive 'insurance policies' that add little value to the business. That may explain why robust – and expensive – fault-tolerant systems and disaster recovery services, that promise uninterruptible processing, have held such appeal in certain industry sectors such as finance and telecoms and so little appeal elsewhere.

At Information Age's most recent roundtable debate, delegates deliberated over which, if any, applications truly need that kind of 'always on' capability – with some surprising conclusions.

The lunch debates bring together 20 CIOs, IT directors and other senior IT decision-makers to discuss issues that are dominating their corporate agenda, giving insight into how other leading businesses are getting to grips with the same challenges. The lunches are held under the so-called Chatham House Rule to encourage delegates to speak openly without concern that their comments will be attributed to them or to their company.

Always on computing

At the Business Continuity event in November, sponsored by Oracle, the discussion centred on the requirement for ‘always on' computing and the role of disaster recovery systems.

Most delegates argued that only a relatively small proportion of systems really need to be constantly available, and that building an ‘always on' environment can be prohibitively expensive.

The idea of high availability is an attractive concept, opined one attendee, because it strips out the costs that would otherwise be spent on disaster recovery: "We don't want to pay for a whole bunch of infrastructure that doesn't add value to the business."


Heard across the table:

"Why have disaster recovery equipment sitting there doing nothing when it could be used in the business?"

"All this talk of five-nines availability is misleading. Each individual component can be available 99.999% of the time, but across an entire system, that means lower overall availability."



This was a view echoed by the CIO of an online retailer. "Full-blown disaster recovery is too expensive. Instead we operate a staging environment that can quickly be ramped up into a full production system, should we ever need to."

But whatever the desire for high availability, some downtime is inevitable, said the director of IT at one public sector organisation. "It's not cost efficient to have every system always on. And it's not necessary. We factor in planned downtime and get the management board to sign up to its priorities."

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the main systems that delegates said is essential to keep running is email. Many were at pains to point out that email is not a mission-critical system, but it is highly visible. "We know when we've got a serious problem with email because I get the CEO on the phone. And he wants to know why, having spent so much money on the infrastructure, we can't keep it running," reported the head of IT at an international bank.

This level of visibility means that email is frequently given higher priority in terms of system uptime than perhaps it deserves. "Because the CEO can see when email is down, it has become for him a way to measure whether I'm doing my job properly," reported one delegate.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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