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What are you going to do when your customer's systems fail?

19 Mar 2012

Here is the one question that your customer organisation’s CIO should be asking themselves: what are you going to do when – not if – your cloud systems fail? (I’ve deliberately used the word cloud to grab your attention but the question is equally applicable to customers using in-house systems).

Today, systems availability and security are intrinsically linked. When you’re appointed as a CIO you’re trusted to deliver competitive advantage for your company through IT. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you can’t maintain availability and adequate security of your systems then you’ll only manage to deliver disadvantage, and you probably won’t be around very long.

So, let’s get back to the title of this post: what are you going to do when your systems fail?

If you’re running in-house, the apps themselves (if they are decent apps) are least likely to fail. More likely, failures will come from switches, disks, networks, cables and other parts of infrastructure. You protect yourself against this by designing your datacentre(s) around redundancy, with zero single points of failure.

If you’re running cloud services, you pick a reputable supplier who works with a reputable hosting partner. Right? Well, yes – but as we recently saw with Azure (and previously with Amazon and Rackspace and most other reputable cloud vendors), the same hardware failure points exist in cloud provider datacentres as they do in your own. If you appreciate and accept this then you’ll also be mindful that you could be introducing a single point of failure in your enterprise platform and that your service availability is now at the mercy of their service availability.

When you’re running outside of your own bricks and mortar you also need a high bandwidth and high availability WAN, firewalls and proxies etc, that all need to be fault tolerant and designed around redundancy to ensure adequate access and security at all times. Even then you can’t mitigate around someone digging up the cable, which has happened to me twice this year and is more common than you might expect.

Is this a story of cloud bashing? No, it isn’t. It’s a story of how your customer’s IT department needs to take full accountability for managing risk within their platform.

If you’re running mission critical systems and your business can’t afford any outage then you simply can’t design a single point of failure into your enterprise platform.

If you’re running non mission critical systems, then you may choose to take a little more risk around availability and accept a single point of failure and manage any disruptions that may arise.

What you deem to be mission critical or not is your own decision and it doesn’t have to be one or the other. A hybrid platform enables you to run mission-critical applications on premise while other applications are managed in the cloud.

Of course, from a customer perspective people outside of IT expect things to work 100% of the time and if you’re running either of the above, or a combination, then any outage – no matter the culprit – damages your credibility with users.

So if you’re working with an effective CIO, you can help work with them to design an effective platform around what their business needs, and then help manage the risk, and select the suppliers.

So, what are you going to do when – not if – your customer’s cloud systems fail? Make sure you know the answer today.

Mike Lorge is managing director for Sage Business Solutions. Go here for more.