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A corporate lifeline for internet operations


As companies start to invest and rely more upon e-business systems, there is an onus to protect them from potential disasters and outages. There is a need for 'e-continuity'. But to substantiate such a claim, perhaps we ought to consider recent developments that have led to today's intense interest in e-commerce.

A brief history of e-commerce
Business has been working towards e-commerce since the first E-mail systems were introduced over twenty years ago, although at that time, interaction was within rather than between organisations. However, as we emerged from the eighties, E-mail began to take more ambitious and ultimately useful forms. Milestones include:

n E-mail - faster version of mail to place orders, queries, etc

n EDI I - where customers could place orders with suppliers electronically

n EDI II - The next step where customers could access supplier's databases to verify their ability to fulfil orders prior to plac ing them, or where information, software patches, etc could be downloaded

Rise and change in Internet use for commerce
In the very recent past, a business with an Internet presence probably used its web-site as an on-line 'billboard' or glorified brochure, and if one of your advertising hoardings is knocked down or a brochure lost who will really notice or worry?

However, in recent months, use of the Internet as a proper commercial entity has been eagerly received and the analysts predict that this interest is unlikely to wane. If anything the indicators are that the trend towards e-commerce is set to explode dramatically in the next few years as the research findings by Goldman Sachs and IDC illustrate:

nOn-line brokerage will rise by 40-50% until 2002 (Goldman Sachs)

n On-line banking could climb by 35-40% until 2002 (Goldman Sachs)

n 63 million people will have access to the Internet in Western Europe by 2002 (IDC)

n e-commerce will be worth $223bn by 2002 (IDC)

n SME's will see a threefold increase in spend on IT from 1.5% to 4.5% of turnover by 2002 (IDC)

Thus business reliance upon the Internet has graduated as usage has moved from billboard to worldwide retail banking outlet. With 24x7x52 opening hours and unparalleled visibility, this electronic high street is not limited to consumers or clients within your traditional geographic domains. Anyone with Internet access is a potential customer (for we can stumble upon sites as much as we can actively seek them).

This being the case, if your Internet shop is closed for even the shortest period of time, there are repercussions in terms of lost sales, inability to trade, loss of reputation, damage to brand image and depleted share value. Something that eBay Inc. discovered to its cost when $5 billion were wiped from its market value following a 21 hour period of system downtime.

It stands to reason therefore that Internet operations require an approach to continuity planning beyond traditional disaster recovery thinking. An Internet presence is global and constantly visible. It requires continuity arrangements that recognise this and ensure zero downtime. It needs e-continuity".

"E-continuity!" - a definition
"e-continuity!" is about ensuring the continuous availability of an organisation's Internet related activities. Thus e-continuity enables an Internet site to remain open all hours for e-commerce activities. E-continuity protects the investments organisations have made in order to take commercial advantage of the Internet. For example, following a relatively modest investment to trade on the Internet, you could potentially lose the entire business if your site then ceased to be available. For some companies the Internet is their sole means of doing business and hence e-continuity must surely be an important consideration.

The sad reality, however, is that in many respects contingency arrangements for Internet operations are sadly lacking - always a problem with emergent technologies compared to their legacy cousins. The world wide web may be likened to the wild wild west in terms of its preparation and provision for disaster. By thinking in terms of e-continuity, you can keep the cowboys and your web-facing business on different sides of the canyon.

So how does e-continuity differ to more traditional recovery methods and what does it entail?

Disaster Recovery Versus E-continuity
Disaster Recovery has been based upon a regime which involves taking regular backups of key systems and using them to generate the required systems environment - on a shared 'recovery resource' - in the shortest possible timescale after Invocation. Of course with phenomena such as the recovery gap, globalisation, extended business hours and, of course, e-commerce, there are limitations for traditional disaster recovery. This is largely due to the time required for the entire recovery process, which typically involves:

n Waiting for back-up tapes to be delivered from off-site storage and subsequently restored

n Establishing exact point of failure in data and transactions

n Re-keying data lost since last back-up

Enter e-continuity, which shifts conventional thinking to a model which ensures availability for mission critical Internet processes. It challenges businesses to review standard recovery strategies because the needs of Internet activities are so immediate. Hence, the new thinking requires:

n Zero downtime, not just back-up & restore

n Continuous, as well as high, availability

n Segmentation of web-facing IT and busi ness processes from remainder of business infrastructure

n Technical models that place Internet activ- ities to the fore.

E-continuity! How?
Bearing these points in mind, how can e-continuity be delivered? As discussed above, traditional disaster recovery cannot provide the cover e-traders require, based as it is upon restore times that can take anything up to ten or twelve hours to effect. Internet connections are too big for traditional recovery methods to handle and the recovery times themselves would be of no protection against Internet losses. Typically, e-continuity solutions will entail elements of the following: Real-time mirroring of critical systems, using solutions such as:

n CATS, SRDF, MIMIX, DataMirror, Legato /

n Vinca product range, database or hardware replication tools

n Diverse routing of 'thick' Internet pipes from ISPs

Web-site monitoring for early detection and notification of problems (such as 'Safetynet') Future solutions will include multi-homing and triangulation of ISPs in order to effect benefits such as:

n The elimination and reduction of single points of failure

n Reduced communications costs

n Improved resilience

n Reduced support costs

Is outsourcing a way forward for e-commerce / e-continuity?
Yes - for e-continuity solutions to be truly immediate in their response, it is essential for all components of the solution to be managed by one source, and ideally by the organisation responsible for business continuity. In addition, with the communications cost of real-time mirroring across the country so high, it makes sense to have relatively adjacent recovery centres with cheaper communications in close proximity to the major ISPs, where both ends of the mirror may be managed in a controlled environment. Communications to remote users can also be controlled from this location and the solution will become more cost effective, reliable, immediate and organised. In other words the one-stop-shop is ideal for econtinuity, if one company is in control it should prevent any gaps appearing in the solution that have the potential to cause downtime.

For e-continuity to be truly successful, it depends upon the ability of the recovery provider to view each scenario on its own merits and devise tailored solutions that meet the real business requirement behind the need for e-continuity. This may mean employing leading edge high availability solutions for web-facing or highly time-sensitive aspects of the business, whilst incorporating more traditional approaches for other facets of the organisation.

Whatever the specific requirements of your organisation to protect its e-commerce activities one thing is certain. With appropriate e-continuity provision, those incidents that lead to failure of your competitor's Internet operations and perhaps their business, will not mean likewise for you!

Paul Gunstone
Director- e-continuity

Piper-Anna Shields
Piper-Anna Shields is also vice-chair of the CSSA’s Business Continuity Management Group and an editorial advisor to Business Continuity Management magazine.

Safetynet Group



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