Is High Availability Sexy?

April 10, 2013

The subject of business continuity has grown in appeal for me as my years in IT have grown, especially as I have personally experienced disasters big and small and the need to recover systems and facilities. I became particularly interested during my training as an IT auditor.
The area of business continuity isn’t necessarily a “sexy” part of data management, but it is a franchise requirement for most organizations and corporations and certainly critical for financial services organizations. Interestingly, the responsibility for business continuity is a business responsibility and yet the knowledge and training for how to implement it is a specialty within information technology (IT). I call this “the tail wagging the dog” because the responsibility cannot be delegated to IT and yet IT needs to lead the process of how to implement it.
The way we implement business continuity is using techniques in disaster recovery and high availability. Disaster recovery is how to bring back up systems and access after the loss of power, services, or access to a facility. High availability is a similar concept except maintaining system continuity by switching to alternative resources automatically at the loss of any resource, system, connection, facility, etc.
The rule of thumb with business continuity is that the lower the amount of time of any disruption at the loss of a resource, the higher the cost. Thus, a high availability solution that has no disruption has the highest cost. Organizations that require high availability solutions are therefore frequently spending millions of dollars on their disaster recovery solutions and millions more on their high availability solutions.
EMC has recently released a new high availability services product and is now asking the question “why invest in both disaster recovery and high availability?” http://www.emc.com/about/news/press/2013/20130212-01.htm
Maybe organizations that require high availability should put their business continuity budgets into that rather than dividing between both high availability and disaster recovery. Well, it may not be such a simplistic answer. Should every single application in the organization be set up with high availability? And yet, dividing systems between continuity solutions makes testing and effecting business continuity much more difficult. As long as the organization can prove they have a high availability solution for everything that would serve any necessary disaster recovery requirements.
OK. High availability isn’t sexy. But to me, it is slightly sexier than disaster recovery. Certainly it is time to consider whether it is more cost effective to put the entire business continuity budget into high availability.

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When Technology Leads – The Tail Wagging the Dog

September 27, 2011

There is a great temptation to implement technology because it is “cool”, but for decades business and technology strategists (as well as most people in both business and technology) have realized that unless your business is to sell technology, the implementation of technology should be in support of business goals.  Sometimes, technology innovations can provide entirely new ways of performing business services and allow business differentiation.  In fact, there is a movement toward technology strategy being developed in collaboration with business strategy, rather than subsequently.

There are also some business functions that must be performed by every organization that are critical to business operation where, in practice, the technology organization tends to lead. One such area is “Business Continuity”, preparing for emergencies and business disruptions.  This is a business responsibility which cannot be simply delegated to the technology organization, and yet it requires significant specialized expertise, and in practice tends to be developed mostly by highly trained technologists.  The part of Business Continuity that deals with the recovery of data and computer systems is called “Disaster Recovery” and is a core technology operations capability.  So, the technology organizations tend to provide most of the resources to help business areas develop, test, and implement Business Continuity plans.  In practice, the tail wags the dog.

Best practice holds that Data Governance and Data Quality programs should be led by business managers, not IT, but there are key aspects of these programs which cannot be accomplished readily without technology support.  The key skills involved in performing these functions involve process improvement and data analysis capabilities, which are skills found most frequently in technology organizations.  Frequently, Data Governance and Data Quality initiatives get started in IT, but tend to be much more successful when led from business areas.