Balancing efficiency with resilience

The challenges facing an IT director in balancing multiple simultaneous, and sometime competing, demands, are nothing new, writes Terry Walby, a director...

The challenges facing an IT director in balancing multiple simultaneous, and sometime competing, demands, are nothing new, writes Terry Walby, a director at Computacenter. The business wants more innovation, but lower cost; greater responsiveness, but more efficiency; more business value, but fewer staff.

And as IT departments assess their strategic direction, it must always be with a view to satisfying competing priorities. The extent of virtualisation, the adoption of cloud-based services, and the level of outsourced services versus in house capability, are all examples of where this balance is critical.

One further example is the balance between maximising datacentre power efficiency and providing the highest levels of resilience and fault tolerance.

Datacentre resiliency


In recent years, providing high levels of resilience from a datacentre environment has become a more fundamental and significant aspect of their design. Many industries require the highest possible levels of availability and uptime, and for many, system downtime represents not just an inconvenience, but a loss of reputation, customers, or at worst millions of pounds in lost income.

As a result, organisations have become much more demanding about the resilience of their datacentre environments - both internal facilities and those of their service providers - and are expecting availability guarantees, failover or hot standby capability and fault tolerance.

Of course, the need for high levels of datacentre resiliency will have a trade-off against operating efficiency. For example, the Uptime Institute's Tier IV datacentre rating requires full fault tolerance, including simultaneously active components to provide uninterrupted service availability. By definition, this approach requires more power than a less resilient environment - and is therefore less efficient.

An environmental balance


So is it a simple choice - efficiency or resilience? Not quite. For a start, even the most highly available and highly resilient datacentre can be built to minimise energy consumption by implementing measures that drive datacentre infrastructure efficiency (DCiE). Implementing some of the recommendations contained in the EC's Code of Conduct on datacentre efficiency, which contains guidelines and standards for improving DCiE while ensuring mission criticality is not compromised, will help.

But perhaps the most effective method of maintaining the balance between efficiency and resilience lies with properly analysing and understanding the business requirements of each application. By using this information in the design of an IT operating model, the IT director can balance cost and efficiency with resilience - hosting mission-critical workloads in fault tolerant datacentres, while using alternative approaches for less critical applications.

Taking this route allows organisations to use a blend of highly specified facilities, more modestly equipped environments, and the use of shared capacity or cloud-based services, to provide the optimum balance between both power and cost efficiency, and availability and resilience.

This blended approach is not technically a difficult journey, but culturally it can be. This is where the IT director needs to step up to the challenge of convincing the business that not all applications are equal, undertaking a proper critical needs analysis, and rather than taking a traditional one-size-fits-all approach to hosting applications in a datacentre, recognising that tomorrow's IT services will be delivered through a number of different methods and approaches much more closely aligned to individual need.

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