Democratizing Business Continuity

Customers and employees are showing zero tolerance for downtime and delay, forcing issues of business continuity and disaster recovery to become front and center for businesses of all sizes.

A confluence of a number of risks is making uptime more critical, said Vinay Nair, senior product marketing manager for Windows Server at Microsoft Canada. “Culturally, we seem to be getting a lot less tolerant, especially as we introduce a generation into the workforce who were basically raised with tablets in their cradles.

“But another big part is the maturity of the online business models. E-commerce is really ‘of age’ now, not ‘coming of age,’ and that means there’s more money at stake and that applications are more relevant and tied to revenue.”

Also, the damaging impact downtime has on brand can’t be dismissed. Nair noted that numerous highly publicized downtime events have shone disastrously negative light on the businesses affected. “It has a substantial impact on brand, particularly if customers are entrusting sensitive information to the business,” he said, reminding that those customers have become more unforgiving. “So, it has also be-come a regulatory and compliance issue too.”

He pointed to PCI (payment card industry) compliance, for example as a driver to business conti-nuity investments, as well as more obvious security issues.

Still, with all the concerns driving the need for business continuity, cost has traditionally been a factor causing some small, and even mid-sized, businesses to shrink away from solutions and simply accept risks. That has changed in part thanks to cloud computing, as well as features in Microsoft Windows Server 2012.

Nair noted that cloud computing is a business continuity game-changer, since pooled hardware resources naturally create redundancy. “Whether it is private cloud or public cloud, if a server goes down, an application can be virtualized elsewhere in real time without service disruptions.”

Selecting a public cloud host can provide that redundancy, yet Nair stressed IT and business leaders need to recognize that doesn’t remove responsibility. They must be diligent in ensuring their hosting partners have SLA’s that share risk, the right geographic distribution, are “battle-tested” and have the professional expertise needed.

Given the importance of business continuity, “these are the kinds of evaluations you have to make a lot more judiciously,” he said.

Although Canadian businesses have been slower in adopting virtualization currently only about half of workloads are virtualized our hosting providers are gaining a lot of attention worldwide, Nair noted, due to cheap and abundant access to power, political stability and stringent privacy regulation. It is a trend that bodes well for Canadian businesses looking to embrace cloud for their own disaster recovery and business continuity efforts, but also multinationals.

“You need to be able to move your resources around the world very affordably and at a moment’s notice, otherwise you could have to invest very heavily in extensive backup solutions, and it becomes a lot more intensive,” he said. “With virtualization, though, you can really move things around and repli-cate on the cheap.”

Features available in Windows Server 2012 have made data replication capabilities even more cost-effective, bringing business recovery capabilities that were traditionally only available to companies with big budgets. Hyper-V Replica, a Hyper-V feature new to Windows Server, provides asynchronous replication of virtual machines between two host servers. Nair said it’s an example of how Windows Server 2012 provides functions “in-the-box” that were previously found only in third-party point solutions.

This will better democratize business continuity by providing continuous backup to even small businesses with a minimum of two hosts running Windows Server 2012. “So, from an investment point of view it’s really small, but from an implementation point of view it’s also just like turning on a switch,” he said.

“Disaster recovery solutions were always seen as something very expensive and cost-prohibitive,” he said. “There is a perception that, as you get down to the mid-market or smaller, disaster recovery has to be an expensive ordeal, because they were driven by storage vendors making their living selling SAN (storage area network) solutions focused on large enterprise players.”

Of course, the area of business continuity is one near and dear to Microsoft. With one of the largest product footprints in the world, crossing all industries and spanning most technologies, Nair said it’s important to try to ensure user’s technology experiences are top-notch even beyond Microsoft-specific products. “We tend to bear a bigger brunt when things go wrong, so there’s an interest from brand perspective to make sure technology is up and running and easy for our customers.”

As well, as a company with its own business services from Bing, to Xbox LIVE, to Hotmail, it has been important for the company to demonstrate its own business continuity, and it has put those lessons learned from its own services into the core of Windows Server.

“Our credibility is really on the line if we don’t maintain high availability ourselves,” Nair said. “So business continuity and disaster from our own experiences is something that’s very close to our heart.”