New Strategies Change the Definition of Mission-Critical

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The IT systems you consider mission-critical almost certainly remain mission-critical today. But are there other systems that should be receiving similar attention and protection too?

A new study by Springboard Research sponsored by Intel may lead you to expand your idea of what constitutes mission-critical. The study found the idea of mission-critical computing is expanding from historical definitions to a far broader spectrum of workloads and applications.

What are your truly mission-critical systems? Certainly ERP and transaction processing systems remain mission-critical. Is CRM mission critical? How about procurement? Or HR? Or Finance itself?

Traditionally, mission-critical systems are those that are essential to the ability of the organization to survive. If a mission-critical system goes down the organization, effectively, is dead in the water. Transaction processing systems almost always are mission-critical. If they go down the revenue stream stops. The classic example of mission-critical systems beyond ERP is the airline reservation system.

This is why mission-critical systems get the bulk of the IT budget for security, recovery, availability, and data protection. Expanding or revising what is considered mission critical may require reordering budget priorities or reallocating IT resources.

In the Springboard study, 35% of respondents considered specialized or vertical applications as mission-critical. Another 14% of executives put ERP systems in the same category while collaboration tools as well as financial and accounting applications were highlighted as mission-critical by 10% of those surveyed.

However, changes in technology and changes in how organizations do business should lead to rethinking the question of what's mission-critical. Springboard Research suggests that virtualization will challenge the historical mission-critical computing model. In that model organizations created silos of technologies to support different applications within the datacenter. Each mission-critical application was accompanied with a Level 1 (urgent) backup and recovery plan and a data protection strategy. Organizations strived for 99.999% availability in their most mission-critical systems.

Virtualization, which forms the foundation of cloud computing, is growing as a central element in the enterprise computing infrastructure. In the process, according to Springboard, it will contribute to the breakdown of boundaries between traditional computing silos, including legacy mission critical infrastructure and processes.

As a result of technologies like cloud computing and social media, organizations increasingly conduct business differently. For example, social media is giving rise to new customer facing strategies and systems. Should these customer facing systems be treated as mission-critical?

Ideally, cloud computing could change how organizations handle mission-critical systems. The cloud may allow them to more cost-effectively maintain backup systems and data on standby or more easily reallocate IT resources. In the event of a failure of a mission-critical system, the organization could quickly fire up the standby system and bring it online. This is not very different from how key mission-critical systems are handled today except that through the shared resource economies of the cloud it may be less costly to set up and maintain.

Maybe the most mission-critical of new technologies today is email. How long could your organization function without email?

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