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How to build resilient IT infrastructure

Mon 10 Jun 2019 | Steve Blow

The art of IT resilience is the orchestration of multiple different processes and technical solutions to protect what is effectively the lifeblood of a company: the availability of its data and applications, writes Zerto’s Steve Blow

Described in the Oxford English dictionary as being “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” and “the ability of a substance to spring back into shape,” resilience is a characteristic that many employees aspire to have amongst their best qualities. However, it has now long surpassed its value as a strictly personal attribute. Being able to bounce back, against whatever the market, threats or even customers may throw at a business, is now being recognised as a critical element of long-term plans.

Resilience is found in every aspect of a business, from communications, to product development, to a physical crisis, and can be the key to helping a company stand the test of time. Notably, this includes resilience against a changing competitive landscape through a pivot in direction, resilience against negative publicity in the form of crisis communications, or resilience to operational disruption due to an unforeseeable disaster.

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes, and when it comes to data specifically, they can come in the form of both obvious threats and hidden ones. In this day and age, businesses focus a lot of time and money on cyber threats, but sometimes it can be basic disasters, or merely human error, that impacts IT the most.

The evolution of data protection

These days, data protection no longer solely revolves around protecting data from natural and man-made disasters. Today, when hit with a disaster, companies need to be able to do a full 180, bouncing back quicker than ever, and ideally doing so before anyone has been affected.

With this in mind, the impacts of a disaster can be measured in a variety of ways. For example, this could be anything from losing revenue due to downtime of a user app, to reputational damage in the form of backlash on Twitter from angry customers that are unable to buy items, and means that companies need to be prepared for each type of potential catastrophe.

Nowadays, it’s not just about backing up or replicating, or even adding redundancy to the infrastructure layers – it’s about bouncing back, and quickly.

Becoming resilient

Businesses need to move from the ‘reactive’ – the traditional notion of data protection – into the ‘proactive’ – which accounts for planned and unplanned outages, as well as potential attacks – in order to be completely protected in today’s age. This seems like a no-brainer, but many IT teams would confess that while attending to the day-to-day needs of their organization, they are constantly trying to keep their heads above water. Essentially, there is little to no time to proactively prepare for outages that are planned, let alone unplanned.

However, being ready for both anticipated outages and unforeseen disruptions remains a critical component on the road to IT resiliency.

It is important to plan for expected outages, as even anticipated unavailability can cause a problem for the business: disruptive upgrades, workload relocation, and cloud migrations all of which are legitimate reasons for downtime, can still mean the company incurs substantial costs.

“The head of your IT team knows everything there is to know about the organization’s systems, but what about when he leaves?”

Inevitable yet unplanned disruptions require a contingency plan that goes beyond traditional backup. Security breaches and malware infections are becoming the norm, rather than the exception, and data protection needs to be able to continually evolve.

So, how do you begin to build a resilient IT infrastructure? It all starts with perspective.

Knowing how to identify the risks

One of the biggest enemies of IT has, and will always be, risk itself. So, being able to identify risk will be the first step to solving any potential system weakness, ensuring a quick bounce back. However, it’s important to remember that risk isn’t limited to technology alone – processes and people can also pose as a potential threat, and one that you don’t always see coming.

Consider this: the head of your IT team knows everything there is to know about the organization’s systems, but what about when he leaves? Do you know if he’s correctly and sufficiently documented everything, so that his team can easily pick up where he left off? What if the project becomes delayed because not everyone understands the process?

In other words, is the concentration of knowledge a risk for your organization?

Become proactive, not reactive

Becoming proactive rather than reactive enables you to have more of an account for the level of control you have, in relation to the concern you may be feeling. For example, if you think about it, your wide-area links may be an external risk that you have little power over – it’s your telecommunications provider that controls them. So, if something were to go wrong on the telco network, you’re powerless to fix it and are at the mercy of the provider.

Nevertheless, even with variables outside your control, it doesn’t mean that you’re without mitigation options. You may not be able to control the telco network directly, but you can design around this issue. Can you utilise diverse routing over disparate links owned by different providers? These sorts of decisions are part of IT resilience; if you can’t fix the real risk, such as the WAN link going down, then you have to design around it, such as implementing redundant WAN links.

Additionally, you can look for solutions to potential roadblocks that fall in both categories: those that are inside of your control, and those that are outside of it. One way would be to take advantage of recent developments in disaster recovery and data backup as they continue to converge. These technological advancements can aid your company in preparing both for the planned outages, and the unplanned. They can also ensure that, by converging your data protection strategy, you are taking a holistic approach to the road to IT resilience.

The art of IT resilience is the orchestration of multiple different processes and technical solutions to protect what is effectively the lifeblood of a company: the availability of its data and applications.

The move, from virtualisation, and then to software-defined computing, and finally to all forms of cloud computing, has thus enabled the possibility of a whole new level of resilience. Now is the time to start reaping the benefits of IT resilience within your organization.

Experts featured:

Steve Blow

Tech Evangelist
Zerto

Tags:

data protection networking resilience
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