Are service outages now unacceptable in a Covid-19 world? Teleconferencing company Zoom is a great example of a booming ‘always-on’ business that has seen its business rapidly expand as a result of the pandemic and the rapid move to homeworking. Similarly, it’s an online business that fully understands what ‘always-on’ means and the mission-critical need to avoid any service outage. Zoom, like many others, understands the importance of resilience, and the damaging impact if it couldn’t deliver the service its customers require and expect – demand!
An article in the FT, Bolts From the Blue Test our Fragile Systems, by Andrew Hill, that was published before Coronavirus, was both very timely and thought provoking as it questioned resilience in our world today. It asked about resilience and its changing role in areas ranging from business continuity (where it is traditionally associated) through to efficiency and its impact on workers. It stated:
‘Resilience used to be a low priority, except among specialists and people working for always-on companies such as water utilities. It generally slipped to the bottom of the agenda for everybody else.’
The important phrase in this statement is ‘always-on’, because it now refers to so many more companies beyond national utilities.
Socially or at work, we all now rely on ‘always-on’ digital services, like Zoom. The very fact that they are ‘always on’, that they are easy to use and can be accessed from anywhere is what makes them so popular. But like national utilities, the customer expectancy of ‘always on’ comes with significant responsibility, but also now increasing business vulnerability.
If the water stops flowing from the tap or the electricity goes off, switching to another supplier quickly is not possible. You need to wait until the service is restored and then think about changing supplier. Not a quick or straightforward process. The potential response of consumers is limited.
So what about digital ‘always-on’ services? Like a traditional utility, some are so ubiquitous most users would be forced to wait no matter how long the service was down. For example, Facebook, I suggest, is such a company. There is no credible alternative to Facebook given its reach and the amount of our data it has. Perhaps we should mourn the demise of MySpace? How about Zoom? If Zoom went down how long would its customers wait until they were forced to find an alternative video teleconferencing service – of which there are many?
So competition and customer choice is a significant vulnerability for ‘always-on’ businesses, especially when there are plenty of alternatives, e.g. retail, dating, betting, etc. Serious resilience failures here could ultimately, end an ‘always-on’ business.
Clearly, digital ‘always-on’ businesses, should be taking resilience planning very seriously. They should be asking themselves the question: How resilient is the IT infrastructure and systems that we rely on?
A very common IT strategy for many digital ‘always-on’ start-ups is the use branded Cloud services from one of the hyper-scalers. Easy to access and often free, these US-based public Cloud services appear attractive, but when it comes to resilience and business continuity how appropriate are they? ‘Putting all your eggs in one basket’ is rarely best practice when it comes to resilience and business continuity, but this is exactly what a growing number of ‘always-on’ businesses are doing; price and convenience often overshadow other business imperatives like resilience, control, responsiveness, transparency, choice and flexibility. Hyper-scalers are great for many things, but when something goes wrong, how easy is it to pick up the phone and talk to someone who can fix it? If you’re a big customers perhaps you can get to talk to someone quickly, if you’re a smaller one, it is likely to become much, much harder.
At Flexiion MSP, we specialise in helping our customers maximise the business advantages of their use of Cloud-based hosted IT, regardless of where the IT infrastructure resides, be it in-house, Private or Public Cloud. We call this a Dynamic-Cloud approach that helps ensures our customers have the flexibility to choose, so they get what they need when they need it.
Returning to the FT article:
‘Organisations cannot afford unlimited insurance. An oil company executive once pointed out to me that the ultimate back-up plan would involve building two interchangeable rigs for each oilfield, an unfeasibly costly solution.
But in too many places, too many people are running a single, consolidated system, with little or no resilience — and that distant rumbling could be thunder.’
Simon Lofthouse, CCO, Flexiion
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