Building resilience for remote infrastructure management
Use a comprehensive strategy to build a high availability
network, says B Ashok
new market opportunity has emerged as Indian IT vendors move up the value chain
beyond software services. Remote Infrastructure Manage-ment Services (RIMS)
are expected to drive the next wave of growth in the outsourcing market.
Gartner estimates that IT management presents a market opportunity of $150 billion
in 2006. Of this, around $250 million is expected to be spent annually on RIMS
delivered from India.
In a Morgan Stanley study, over 25 percent of CIOs surveyed believed IMS was
the IT service most likely to be sent offshore. Forrester has identified several
market trends that may influence the IMS market. These include:
- IT budgets in most countries will grow just 12
- Global IT services giants are expanding their offshore
operations in low-cost nations.
- Indian providers have achieved a certain level of
process maturity, reducing the risk of outsourcing an IT network to remote
As Indian IT firms tap the IMS opportunity, networking infrastructure has emerged
as a key differentiator. Prospective clients usually evaluate delivery capabilities
based on the vendors Network Operating Centre (NOC) setup. Since infrastructure
management is a critical issue and even minutes of downtime can cripple a clients
business, the network has emerged as a crucial element of an IT vendors
business strategy. The entire network must therefore be resilient.
Business resilience refers to the operational and technological readiness that
allows IT service providers to operate their networks efficiently. Business
resilient networks help businesses respond quickly to opportunities and react
appropriately to unplanned events.
Business resilience is holistic. Indian IT firms realise they can no longer
just look at point products. The trend is to work with networking vendors that
- Secure and scalable infrastructure
- World-class service and support, and
- Domain experts who work closely with internal teams
to build comprehensive business resilience strategies.
This article considers six essential components of a business resilience strategy,
and how they should be addressed.
A high-availability network is the foundation of network resilience. This requires
substantial investment in both capital and operational expenditures, but pays
off with significantly higher uptime, greater customer satisfaction, increased
revenues and reduced exposure to regulatory penalties. A comprehensive strategy
for high-availability networking includes:
- a re-inforced network infrastructure
- Real-world network design
- Realigned network operations
- Real-time network management
- Relentless network support.
Some firms may deploy lowest-cost, point-product solutions from several vendors
without realising how this approach diminishes their ability to deploy future
products and services, and without counting the cost of network downtime. Robbing
the organisation of the benefits of system-wide network intelligence can increase
the complexity and expense of network operations.
Deploying a resilient network provides the flexibility to adapt an infrastructure
to future services and applications with minimal disruption. A resilient network
has end-to-end intelligence that segments (through virtual LANs, virtual SANs,
or WANs), prioritises (through quality of service), and protects (through encryption)
traffic without requiring major upgrades, only configuration of existing features.
To facilitate scalability and adaptability, enterprises also need networking
vendors that offer worldwide, world-class service and support. This helps IT
firms track and solve problems quickly with access to online training, documentation
and software upgrades, a 24-hour helpdesk and onsite assistance.
A resilient network increases applications resilience. Network intelligence
complements server and storage technologies to maintain application availability.
Offloading processor-intensive tasks such as encryption, compression, and load
balancing into the network increases application resilience and scalability
by freeing server and storage processors to perform their core duties.
The trend towards data centre consolidation redefines how companies attain optimal
applications resilience. It begins with redundant network components and server
clusters. Server virtualisation technologies protect applications, preventing
faults that occur in one application from affecting others. Intelligent storage
networking improves both availability and utilisation of storage resources.
Acquisition-prone companies can end up with storage resources from several vendors.
By applying networking concepts, virtualisation technologies make it easier
to match application service-level requirements with the appropriate class of
Regulatory compliance often requires enterprises to build geographically-dispersed,
redundant data centres. SAN extension technologies such as Fibre Channel over
IP (FCIP) and optical networks support synchronous and asynchronous transaction
and data mirroring. If a catastrophe takes all or part of a data centre offline,
mirrored resources in a backup or hot-standby data centre can take over business-critical
activities without session loss.
Enterprises are gradually moving towards IP communications. If regulation permits,
Indian IT vendors could move beyond IP PBX to offer cost-effective Voice over
IP applications. Converged networks enhance communications flexibility. The
telephone service is the function most essential to conducting business, therefore
the network that supports the telephone service must be highly available. Branch-office
routers must include features that maintain local telephone service and PSTN
access should the WAN link to the central management service fail. IP call centres
should allow remote agent access from home when weather conditions make commuting
difficult or dangerous.
Workforce resilience strives for anytime employee accessibility to applications
and services from any location. In the office, conference rooms with wireless
LAN access eliminate the battle for ports.
Mobile workers can carry a preconfigured broadband router and IP phone kit that
allow them to connect to the corporate network from anywhere and enjoy the same
services they would access if they were directly connected at office. Teleworkers
use a similar means to set up home offices with secure, always-on VPN access
to the corporate network. Such flexibility increases employment options, worker
satisfaction and productivity.
The most available and intelligent network is not resilient without adequate
protection. An integrated approach to resilience makes it easier to apply and
enforce consistent security policies throughout the enterprise.
Attacks such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), information theft, and
worms and viruses, can cripple an organisations ability to do business.
For example, after surfing the Internet, an employee can innocently introduce
a worm or virus to the corporate network through a remote-access connection.
Endpoint security coupled with network-based policy enforcement can stop the
infection before it spreads by pre-screening user PCs before allowing them to
log into the network. This cooperation between computing and network elements
creates a synergy that provides stronger protection than either system can accomplish
independently. This principle forms the basis for multilayer, modular security
While worm and virus attacks make news headlines, a simple misconfiguration
of a router, switch or firewall can introduce an exploitable vulnerability.
Configuration templates can help operators avoid common mistakes, thus increasing
network availability and implementing security policies.
Industry-wide initiatives like Network Admission Control strive to enforce security
policy compliance on all devices seeking to access network-computing resources.
The aim is to eventually protect every packet flow on a network.
Investing in and using integrated management systems eliminates configuration
errors and speeds up routine processes through automation. Networking vendors
offer extensive lifecycle-based services to help enterprises with assessment,
design, implementation and operations for high-availability networking, security
and network operations. Network operations are critical to a successful business
resilience strategy. As with any journey, enterprises can plan a cost-managed
path towards resilience goals when they know how resilient their IT systems
Nearly all of Indias tier-I IT companies have deployed state-of-the-art
networks that address all the key components of business resilience. If Indian
IT services companies are to take advantage of their networks to win a fair
share of the $150 billion IMS market, they would do well to incorporate elements
of an effective business resilience strategy.
The author is Senior Vice-president, ITS, Cisco Systems,
India & SAARC