Monday, 28 September 2015

IT System Outages - an inevitability ?

Looking back over the past few years there have been some very high profile outages affecting Ebay, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, to name but a few. Such outages are inevitable, simply because IT is dependent on so many factors - many outwith the control of the provider. The challenge however is getting people to accept this! In the past there was a tolerance to such events - the mere mention of a system being unavailable now makes twitter within minutes.

At the University we work hard to provide services with high availability, however from time to time we will suffer from outages.  This can be as a result of many things including human error, equipment failure, malicious acts or a power outage. What worries me most is that people have become so dependent on IT within their business processes they can no longer function without it. This is not a good position to be in especially if you consider it from a business continuity perspective. Even with resilient infrastructure, backup power and a variety of other measures in place to make systems resilient, failure is inevitable.

Even in high availability and mission critical applications there are so many factors that can impact an information system that even with high levels of resilience built in we have to accept at some point a system may not be available.

Part of the challenge as we all embark on digital transformation programmes is how we educate our business colleagues in business continuity as we cant always depend on the information system being available. A mixture of sourcing strategies can help this by adopting cloud and hybrid solutions, implementing resilient internet connectivity and having robust change controls. IT leaders have been traditionally measured on uptime, availability and integrity of systems and to this end try very very hard to achieve as near to 100% as possible. Whether a further measure of how quick we can respond to outages would be useful remains to be seen.

With such a significant migration to cloud based services a whole new area is emerging, perhaps a re-badging of previous similar solutions, which look at service continuity where a cloud service becomes unavailable. Today I have been reviewing the market for email continuity services. Where in the past we might have looked at solutions which involved DR services or the bringing to site a portacabin full of equipment we now look to the Cloud to secure another Cloud service.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Moving to "The Cloud" - my perspective

This week I attended Computing's Data Centre & Infrastructure Summit 2015. Overall an excellent event and really good content and speakers. A must attend event for anyone involved in DC or Infrastructure provision.

As a panel member we discussed some of the challenges and lessons learned for organisations considering a move to using cloud services to deliver all or part of their IT requirements.

As the maturity of all forms of cloud offerings continues to improve some of the earlier challenges, perceived or otherwise, have been removed. Barriers to adoption included data sovereignty, security and availability all of which have now been addressed in some way as cloud offerings have evolved.

Psychologically however we still face organisational challenges when introducing services where the data does not reside on premise. There is still a perception amongst some that the cloud is insecure. At the event I commented on this and clarified that I would still not be comfortable placing all of the organisational data in the cloud as we are not yet in a position to provide cast iron guarantees that its secure - however, we cant do that regardless of where it resides! Many cloud based providers have in place far better security and controls than many organisational based solutions.

I also discussed how colocation might increase your opex costs by 15-20% when compared with on premise based approach. The reason for this is obvious and the use of colocation, in my opinion,should not be driven by cost savings (maybe Capex savings if you need to build a new data centre for example) but co-location can improve the service - as colo providers do this for a living, have 24x7 support, multiple internet connections, backup power and purpose built secure facilities - worth the extra money if that's what your business needs. Therefore, I would argue that its a commercial decision and not one for IT who of course will advise.  Ultimately like moving to a cloud service a risk based approach is needed.

As recent research has shown a hybrid approach is a more common place for organisations to be at this time. A mixture of on and off premise services. A good toe in the water approach for anyone considering cloud for their organisation.

Where a public cloud service is available to meet a business requirement it will almost inevitably be cheaper than a private cloud or colocation solution. This is simply based on economies of scale. Any decision to do this must include a robust contract and significant up front and ongoing due diligence.

To summarise, horses for courses when it comes to making the decision between public, private, hybrid, colocation or on premise.