4 critical trends in IT business continuity

How IT business continuity is helped (and challenged) by 4 tech megatrends: social, mobile, virtualization and cloud

By Bob Violino
Mon, April 02, 2012

CSO

In IT, failure is not an option. Not surprisingly, organizations have made it a high priority to develop and implement reliable business continuity plans to ensure that IT services are always available to internal users and outside customers.

But recent technology developments and trends, most notably server and desktop virtualization, cloud computing, the emergence of mobile devices in the workforce and social networks, are having an impact on how enterprises handle IT business continuity planning and testing. Much of the impact is for the better, experts say, but these trends can also create new challenges for IT, information security and risk management executives.

Here's a look at how these tech megatrends are affecting IT business continuity specifically. (For a holistic perspective on business continuity planning including more about people and assets, read Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning: The Basics.)

Use these quicklinks to navigate to a specific technology:


Virtualization

Virtualization is making business continuity planning easier for IT executives and their organizations, if for no other reason than it's helping to reduce the number of IT assets, says George Muller, vice president, sales planning, supply chain & IT at Imperial Sugar Co, Sugar Land, Texas, one of the nation's largest processors and marketers of refined sugar.

"For those of us who have been in the IT world for a few years, we've seen the transition from the old large mainframes to client server to Web-based applications to cloud based computing," Muller says. "During that time the proliferation of PCs and servers has been wild."


[Also read 3 key issues for secure virtualization by Bernard Golden]


With so many devices to maintain and keep running, particularly physical servers in the data center, ensuring systems uptime had become a much greater challenge, Muller says. "With virtualization, we've now been able to reduce that footprint [of servers], which means when we are planning for business continuity now we've got fewer devices to worry about."

Server virtualization has allowed communications and compliance technology services provider Walz Group in Temecula Calif., to greatly reduce its planned outages, and largely eliminate unplanned downtime, says Bart Falzarano, CISO.

Using server virtualization, the company can manage, support and secure its applications more effectively, Falzarano says. Walz has been able to achieve higher virtualization efficiencies (a higher number of virtual machines to hypervisor host) using newer infrastructure technology.

The company is then able to leverage workload mobility capabilities locally that allow it to quickly switch virtual machines and applications between different physical resource pools of compute, memory and storage.

"For maintenances, upgrades, firmware updates, critical patches, etc., Walz simply moves the applications away from the area being impacted by the maintenance activity," Falzarano says. "Once the maintenance activity, testing and quality control checks are complete, [we] may move the application back to that region or area."

Virtualization has actually had a bigger impact on disaster recovery than on business continuity, says John Morency, research vice president at research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., although one area where there's been an effect on continuity is work area recovery.

Many companies have relied on providers of work area recovery sites for business continuity, which can cost from $15 to $25 per seat, Morency says.

"But what more organizations are doing now is having people work at home or at Starbucks or the library or wherever," he says. "The use of Citrix, DVI and other desktop virtualization technologies, in conjunction with secure tunneling, is enabling organizations to implement broader and more distributed work area recovery."

Some businesses and functions, such a branch banks and customer service call centers, continue to use work area recovery services, Morency says. But a growing number of Gartner clients are leveraging virtualization to enable people to work offsite when needed, as an alternative to work area recovery.


[Also see CSO's ultimate guide to business continuity and disaster recovery—11-page PDF report, FREE CSO insider registration required]


Rachel Dines, senior analyst, Infrastructure & Operations, at Forrester Research in Cambridge Mass., says desktop, or client, virtualization is having a bigger impact on business continuity than server virtualization.

"Client virtualization is making workforce recovery [possible] for many companies that cannot rely on employees working from home with laptops," Dines says.

For example, at companies with highly sensitive information—such as financial services and insurance firms or government agencies—where employees are not issued laptops to prevent data leaks, client virtualization enables the rapid deployment of client images to disparate hardware at workforce recovery sites, Dines says.

In addition, organizations can deploy client virtual machines over the Internet and allow employees to access them via personal computers at home. "Either way, users are able to use the same environment that they are accustomed to on a daily basis, which means they will be more productive during the outage," Dines says.

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