Why There Is No Business Continuity

By Michael Vizard  |  Posted 2008-09-02

Most IT executives don’t have a whole lot of confidence in their company’s business continuity strategies. The reason for this lack of confidence isn’t necessarily based on a lack of will, but rather on a lack of budget.

Though IT organizations generally have enough funding to support their ongoing IT operations, they typically run short of funding when it comes to buying the secondary infrastructure required to deploy a robust business continuity plan. As a result, most IT organizations have no real business continuity plan in place—or else they have a plan to support key assets that’s tenuous at best.

This situation exists primarily because the vendor community has always viewed business continuity as an opportunity to sell additional products. In effect, vendors are using the fact that IT products can fail as an excuse to sell additional products to their customers.

The question is, Does it really have to be this way? The answer is, No. A number of products have recently come to market that not only distribute workloads across multiple devices, but also automatically pick up for each other if one of the products fails.

For example, the Oklahoma division of 7-Eleven manages the IT infrastructure for 100 stores from its Oklahoma City facility. The division is in the process of deploying wireless access points across these 100 stores as part of an effort to improve its inventory control system. But instead of choosing one of the better-known providers of wireless access points, the company opted for Aerohive’s wireless access points, which are mutually supporting in the event of failure.

According to Mike McTice, a senior systems programmer and integrator at the company, this means that if an access point were to fail, 7-Eleven would not have to immediately dispatch someone to fix it. More importantly, the company would not have to pay for additional wireless access points just to serve as a back up.

A similar concept is at work in a new generation of Ethernet switches from Woven Systems, which are plugged into a mutually supporting fabric of switches. This system allows load to be automatically balanced, and, in the event of a failure, the other switches on the network automatically kick in to make sure there is no disruption in service.

When you think about it, this is the way all enterprise-class technology products should work. If they did, the underlying infrastructure would be intelligent enough to provide an embedded business continuity capability. With that in place, it would also be a lot easier to wrap people’s minds around the whole sustainability issue, which dominates much of the discussion taking place in the boardroom today.

The core element of creating a business sustainability strategy is to break down processes into a set of modular components that can be easily replicated in the event of some type of disruption. But if the underlying IT infrastructure is too fragile or expensive to support a sustainability strategy, the issue becomes moot.

The good news about all the fuss over sustainability is that it forces companies to take a hard look at their IT infrastructure. A lot of business executives don’t want to have a conversation that basically ends up with them having to authorize additional IT budget allocations. As a result, they wind up shorting the IT budget in terms of what is really required to sustain the business. In effect, this means most companies are betting that a major business disruption isn’t going to happen, rather than putting appropriate plans in place beforehand.

The best answer to this conundrum would be for every product to simply plug into a fabric in which every device automatically supports every other system, but it will probably be a few years before that happens. This means IT people need to have real conversations about the costs of sustainability, given the fact that the business basically runs on the back of the IT infrastructure.

Of course, insisting that technology vendors provide distributed load-balancing capabilities as a core feature, rather than as an expensive option, would be a major step in the right direction.