If there is one component that has revolutionised business continuity, it has to be virtualization technologies.
In this article, Steve Gold looks at how virtualization can be engineered to go hand in hand with increased IT systems resilience - and how the technology can go a long way towards supporting the Holy Grail of 100 per cent systems uptime...
Although cost is a major driver in most enterprise's migration to a virtualized environment, there are increasing arguments in favour of the technology, thanks to the increase in IT systems resiliency against downtime and other system failures.
Conventional data centre best practice argues against operating a single resource for an enterprise, due to the risks of power outages, floods and other disasters that can bring a data resource to its knees in relatively short order.
Most enterprises, in fact, usually operate two or more data centres, so as to give themselves better resilience against serious downtime, but a virtualized IT environment also allows managers to spread the required IT resources across multiple sites and systems with relative ease.
In fact, there are signs that using a distributed virtual approach to an enterprise's IT resources can actually go a long way towards meeting the business continuity plans of even the most paranoid of company boards.
And, whilst there will probably never be a replacement for a bank's 24x7 disaster recovery centre, for example, using a secure virtualized environment can often reduce the requirement for a disaster recovery IT resource for many companies.
In an April 2009 study carried out amongst 450 IT professionals on both sides of the Atlantic, expenditure on virtualized storage systems was predicted to continue rising in the next three years, whilst expenditures for conventional storage was seen as stagnating.
The survey - which was carried out by Millward Brown and Research International - found that storage was the only category poised for overall growth in 2009.
In addition, the 450 members of the LinkedIn Research Network said that virtualization was emerging as a key trend impacting the industry, as organizations focus on achieving IT goals through squeezing efficiencies from reducing budgets.
According to Steve Ingledew, managing director of Millward Brown's Technology Practice, in times of recession, there tends to be a heightened need to protect what you have and in many ways, storage is to technology as insurance is to financial services.
"With data increasing exponentially and with the appetite for risk low, this is an area in which you simply don't want to compromise," he explained.
When asked about the key challenges facing them in the coming year, the 450 decision makers cited "meeting the same or similar objectives with lower IT budgets," with 55 and 63 per cent of mid-market and enterprise decision makers, respectively, stating this.
To address these challenges, some 84 per cent of enterprise and 77 per cent of mid-market organizations stated the most important area requiring support from technology providers was "achieving cost efficiencies from our existing IT environment."
According to Ingledew, with this focus on achieving cost efficiencies, it's perhaps not surprising that virtualization dominates buyers thinking as the top trend impacting the technology industry over the next five years, with 69 per cent of enterprise IT decision makers reinforcing this view.
"Virtualization can enable an organization to meet key IT initiatives without the need for significant infrastructure investment," he said.
Delving into the survey's findings reveals that IT systems resilience is cited time and time again as one of the main reasons that enterprises made the leap into the virtualized IT resources world.
It was his trend that led IBM to announce back in August 2009 of its plans to launch the public desktop cloud service which has recently been rolled out to clients here in the UK.
At the time, IBM said that cloud computing can give end-users easy access to the critical information they need remotely, from various devices, virtually anywhere.
IBM says that it can help organizations benefit from this model with desktop services that are designed to enable end-users with network-attached PCs - and other devices - the ability to access applications and data through a centrally managed computing environment.
"Today more than ever, enterprises need an affordable, reliable and efficient way to deploy and manage desktop infrastructures," said Jan Jackman, vice president of end user services with IBM's Global Technology Services.
"The public desktop cloud service is designed to help bring cost savings, flexibility, scalability and security to clients like never before," she explained.
According to Jackman, IBM's Smart Business Desktop on the IBM Cloud subscription service helps clients virtualize desktop computing resources, and provide a logical, rather than a physical, method of access to data, computing power, storage capacity and other resources.
This service, she said, requires no up front capital or one time expense and is designed to provide enhanced levels of security, resiliency, reliability, and quality for virtual desktops.
The service, she went on to say, offers flexible delivery models, including three standard cloud-based offerings, dedicated infrastructure, and customer premise solutions, while helping to streamline data backup and recovery, and reduce unauthorized access.
Through key technology and business partnerships with a number of third-party vendors, IBM says it is helping clients address PC replacement dilemmas - and deliver resilience plus reliability for critical information - all at competitive subscription service pricing.
And it's this subscription approach to cloud-based services that makes them so highly attractive to those enterprises looking to move to a virtualized environment, but with higher levels of systems resilience, as well as the ability to reduce the risk of systems downtime.
Downtime is a fact of life in any enterprise's IT resources experience, but using virtualization and cloud resources in tandem can go a long way to ensuring an organisation's IT systems are as robust as possible - and still remain on a sensible budget.