Business resilience and the cloud
- 17 March, 2012 22:00
Business resilience is an emerging topic with significant repercussions for resellers, it brings together topics such as governance risk and compliance (GRC), enterprise risk management (ERM), business continuity planning, agility, and others. It is a response to the escalation of the speed of business, increasing integration of digital technologies, and a perception that the threat environment is becoming riskier as natural disasters follow financial malaise. Resilience is the ability to survive a crisis and recover stronger. It is embedded in IT, and is greatly aided by developing virtualisation and cloud environments. For resellers, it represents a new range of possibilities, and potential to form stronger partnerships with clients and vendors.
Telecom’s Gen-i data division provides guidance to its clients throughout the business continuity planning process.
“The first step we go through with our clients is to conduct a full business impact assessment to define the client’s critical business processes and how to protect them,” says network product manger Leanne Buer. “We work through the business to identify risks, assess the likely impact of a crisis on each business process and the financial cost to the business if a process or service is disrupted.”
Business impact assessments identify the most crucial processes and systems. In addition to the technology, business continuity plans must address asset protection, business compliance and regulation, legal protection and safeguarding against financial loss. No matter how good a business continuity plan looks on paper, it also needs to prove itself in practice. It is crucial to test the plan regularly.
“Cloud computing is an enabler of business agility, flexibility and innovation,” says Buer. “Gen-i has seen increased demand from clients for virtualisation and Cloud solutions in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes. Virtualisation and use of cloud-based technology can simplify implementation of a business continuity plan and help businesses recover from a crisis faster. Businesses can really minimise downtime by getting systems back up and running within minutes instead of hours or even days.”
Despite all the potential of cloud computing, many companies are still reluctant to jump in because of concerns around security, operational performance, cost and control. One issue is that cloud can create new issues to consider in developing a continuity plan. For example, it becomes important to make sure the Cloud providers themselves have effective backup and recovery systems in place.
“Gen-i provides a range of software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service products to support clients and the community during a major crisis,” says Buer. “Following the earthquakes, many clients are now using our cloud solutions for virtual computing, storage and backup capabilities, as well as for email and internet security. These functions can be accessed from any web browser so people can use them from anywhere and still perform some business as usual tasks during a crisis. “
For some clients, Gen-i relocated their infrastructure to Gen-i data centres or alternative client sites around the country, and connected them using its managed data services. Gen-i datacentres are co-located in Telecom’s exchange building infrastructure with the highest Civil Defence priority in the event of a catastrophic event.
“One example of the services we provided our clients to restore business in the immediate aftermath of the quake is our support for the Noel Leeming Group,” says Buer. “The earthquake damaged the building hosting their Christchurch data centre and took down some of its core ICT infrastructure. Gen-i worked closely with the company to manage its ICT disaster recovery needs and temporarily migrate systems to its Auckland data centre. Noel Leeming Group's online stores were also hosted in its Christchurch datacentre. As part of disaster recovery, its online stores were moved to Gen-i's ReadyCloud server. The client has now relocated its core services to Gen-i's Hillmorton datacentre. Gen-i and other partners worked quickly to help restore a number of services.”
Taking a broader perspective of resilience issues, Strategies Research and Consulting is a Christchurch-based consultancy focusing upon organisational resilience. “We see resilience as ability to survive and thrive through time of crises, understanding what is core, and having the capability to deliver that,” says director Dr Erica Seville. “A resilient organisation not only gets through a crisis, but has the ability to thrive, coming out better and stronger. In our research and in-depth case studies, we have found that a lot of that is cultural.”
Resilience is an important concept that goes beyond having strategies in place, requiring capabilities to cope even if plans go awry. Fundamentally, it is critical to be situation aware, and understand your core vulnerabilities. But it is also necessary to have an adaptive capacity.
“Information technology is a critical enabler,” says Seville. “Just as electricity is a hub infrastructure upon which many other things depends, IT is an area in which cascade failure is possible. Email, for example, provides information and coordination for many services. As soon as you lose your ability to communicate with your people, capability to keep things normal is compromised. Cloud can mitigate risk, but it can also introduce risk. Like levees in a flood, people can get comfortable that the threat is covered.”
IBM is involved in cloud-based resilience with a local cloud offering, called Virtual Server Services, providing local hosting. ”We wanted to do something in New Zealand for local business, as opposed to our global offerings,” says technical solutions manager, Paul Croft. “Ours is a New Zealand business-ready focus.”
The local offering is based on VMware and IBM products. It uses the VMware software stack, with VSphere with VCloud on top.
“Resilience can be obtained by leveraging cloud services to complement existing services, in almost a hybrid model,” says Croft. “Another way is to replace an application with a new application having higher availability. With the cloud, you can run an application out of the IBM centre and provide higher resilience from day one. Once you build the cloud environment, it becomes transportable and replicable. Virtualised environment, makes it transportable.“
Over the past 12 months, IBM’s local cloud offering has grown substantially, making it difficult to keep up. Recent large demand is driven by resilience issues.
“Resellers are the additional hands needed to get these solutions in and configured for the customer,” says Croft. “Being able to use partners is absolutely critical to getting resilience out to the customers in reasonable time. For resellers and partners, knowledge of resilience and how business uses the technology is important.“
New Zealand-based Revera provides datacentre services designed to meet resilience needs. “New Zealand infrastructure faces unique risks,” says Revera general manager, Robin Cockayne. “Businesses must spread their risk geographically. Wellington and Christchurch are quake susceptible, and Auckland and Hamilton [could] be impacted by volcanic activity. Further north is cyclone susceptible. Our Revera Homeland Network (RHN), with five synchronised datacentres, was built to address these risks and offer significant advantages over single monolithic data centre DR offerings. If one datacentre is disabled or inaccessible then capacity isn’t substantially diminished. Combined with MPLS networking we’re able to manage remote data centres as a single entity, providing instant options.”
Revera has configured MPLS so that client-nominated production servers are replicated in real-time at an alternative Revera datacentre. Should disaster strike, an automatic process enlivens duplicate servers, restarting them with data and configuration at the point immediately prior to the failure. Replicated servers preserve the same identity and configuration as the original servers.
“In our minds, you don’t have a cloud without at least three local synchronised datacentres offering tick-box services to get the level of protection your environment needs,” says Cockayne. “We provide guaranteed service levels and data sovereignty delivered from triangulated New Zealand-based datacentres.”
At Hewlett-Packard, business continuity is a service offering. “We have a business continuity planning (BCP) practice, where we assist clients with the full range of services, including detailed DR,” says HP enterprise services CTO, Dave Eaton. “It is important to take account of which business drivers are the most important, and what IT solution is actually required. We are seeing an increased awareness in the GRC area after the Christchurch quakes. We are also concerned that crises coming from a warming planet are likely to become more frequent, so it is important to understand systemic issues. Resilience requires consideration of the relationship of the organisation with the fabric of the city or society. One critical issue is that most DR plans implicitly assume that people will be available; in the light of actual urban disasters, that assumption needs to be tested.”
Other important resilience issues became apparent as a result of the quakes. Availability and suitability of infrastructure are often taken for granted, but they may not be there after a big seismic event. Also, the ability of infrastructure to operate over a longer time span needs to be considered. For example, cell phone networks in Christchurch were resilient to the quake, but there were no contingencies around UPS power. Once the batteries ran out, sites went down. Lack of power must be considered as a potentially multi-day event.
“We haven’t yet seen a lot of focus around cloud technologies, but there is a lot of interest around mobility, with public cloud for access and mobility,” says Eaton. “Cloud is highly resilient by design. Applications no longer require a bespoke infrastructure stack, but can be multithreaded and survive in more than one location. The ability to get a development environment up quickly out of the cloud is particularly useful.”
HP provides a full-service cloud, including hardware, managed top to bottom. “Cloud implies you have service management in place to procure, consume, and pay for cloud services,” says Eaton. “It is a multivendor environment, and it becomes important to monitor all relationships. The result is a potential additional resilience issue. We provide multivendor service integration, taking responsibility for overall delivery of services and all constituent parts.”
The current focus on resilience has created new opportunities for resellers to add value to horizontal technologies, tailoring them to particular verticals. “For example, DR mobility applications can be customised to the legal profession, or analytics may be used to predict service failures for a telco,” says Eaton.
An upcoming conference in Christchurch will be focusing on resilience issues. “Resilience is becoming a core business requirement, as we continue to face natural and financial crises under accelerating business conditions,” says conference organiser, Lyall Lukey. “The issues were driven home for us in Christchurch, where the quakes had unanticipated outcomes for many. Yet we observed that some were able to survive and prosper. This is the focus of the upcoming Seismics and the City conference that is being held on March 22 here, one year and a month after the lethal quake.“
The conference is sponsored by TelstraClear and IBM, and focuses upon resilience in the business sector.
“Information technology is a key part of resilience today,” says Lukey. “We have seen considerable interest in Cloud and supporting technologies as a way to preserve infrastructure and move forward.”