How to Build an Always-On, Always-Available Enterprise

There is never a good time for downtime, even planned downtime. As companies become more global, with employees, customers, partners, and suppliers spread across every time zone, it becomes increasingly difficult to schedule times when no one is affected. There is no "easy button" when it comes to running always-on, always-available services. Here are three steps to get you on the path to building and running an always-on, always-available enterprise.

Imagine the following: You work in the Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) department of a large retailer with a significant online e-commerce presence, and at noon today, a critical component of your infrastructure failed. While you scramble to find a solution, your company's Website that brings in tens of thousands of dollars a day is greeting all of your potential customers with an error message and the social networks are starting to buzz. But to make matters worse, today is not a normal day -- it's one of the highest volume days of the year.

This nightmarish scenario is an extreme example of downtime occurring at the worst possible moment for a business. But the truth of the matter is that there is never a good time for downtime, even planned downtime. As more and more employees become mobile and working- from-home policies relax, the concept of the 9 to 5 workday has eroded. Furthermore, as companies become more global, with employees, customers, partners, and suppliers spread across every time zone, it becomes increasingly difficult to schedule times when no one is affected.

Compounding the need for always-available services is the additional fact that your customers are rarely contained between the four walls of your organization. Today's IT departments are responsible for supporting two unique sets of customers with different sets of needs: internal employees and external customers, partners, and suppliers. But these constituencies are more similar than you think: Just as your internal employees increasingly expect to perform their jobs anytime and anywhere, your external stakeholders share the same expectations in their ability to purchase, receive support, or access your data and systems. Forrester refers to this concept as the extended enterprise because a business function is rarely, if ever, a self-contained workflow within the infrastructure confines of the company.

There is no "easy button" when it comes to running always-on, always-available services; a blend of a mature and stable process, people, and, of course, technologies are required. For companies that have matured their approach to high availability and disaster recovery to the point where they are one and the same -- a concept that Forrester refers to as business technology resiliency -- it has taken years of refining policies, adapting responses to downtime, and securing the appropriate levels of investment.

While you can't transform your organization overnight into an always-on, always-available enterprise, these three initial steps will get you on the right path:

Step 1: Understand the Costs of Downtime of Critical Services

Securing investment in the capabilities required to run an always-on, always-available enterprise can be difficult, especially if you don't know your hourly cost of downtime. Because it is such a complex task, Forrester finds that the majority of companies have not calculated the cost of downtime for their critical services. Although trying to calculate the impact of an outage on reputation and customer retention can be a daunting task, just calculating revenue losses or productivity losses can be a worthwhile exercise.

Remember that not all outages are created equal: Timing and duration have a significant impact on the costs of downtime. In the original example, the outage was perfectly timed to impact the largest number of potential customers and thus have the largest business impact. What if this outage occurred at 3 a.m. ET instead of noon ET? Or what if it happened on a different day? Or, what if, instead of the Website being down for 4 hours straight on a single day, it was down for 30 minutes on eight different days? Shorter duration outages tend to be less disruptive than longer ones. All of this must be taken into account when calculating the impact of an outage.

Don't try and tackle the entire infrastructure all at once; break down your calculations on a service-by-service basis, starting with the most critical business services. Understanding the costs of downtime will guide the appropriate level of investment in downtime prevention for these services.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
Download CIO's Roadmap Report: Data and analytics at scale