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Creating an Adaptive Environment in a Tumultuous Time

A frightened rabbit can jump 15- 20 feet in one bound. A chameleon, if blinded, can still change colors to camouflage itself in its environment.

A cockroach can live for several days without its head. When cornered by a predator, a starfish can sacrifice a limb and re-grow it after the danger has passed. These are only a few examples of how well the animal kingdom is equipped for disaster. Animals, by nature, seem to be built for adaptability, change, and yes, for survival.

If only it were this simple for a CIO to protect an organization’s infrastructure. However, in today’s challenging, global environment with rapidly developing technologies and market trends, volatile economic conditions, and dwindling resources, greater adaptability is not only expected, but essential – and becoming more critical every day.

Evolution in Progress

Thirty years ago, an IT environment functioned largely as its own entity, a cost center supporting business functions but separated from business strategy information or decisions. Backup and recovery efforts were focused purely on bringing the systems back up after a crisis or business interruption.

Over the years, with enterprise-wide systems like ERP, and then supply-chain management systems that extended beyond the walls of a single business, IT began to evolve into a business enabler that not only housed information for a business, but also generated revenue, cut costs, improved internal and external customer relations, and more. The requirements for survival in the face of crisis evolved accordingly – from recovery of IT systems after a crisis (disaster recovery) to keeping business operations functioning at a pre-determined level during a crisis (business continuity or resiliency). Depending on circumstances, the determination may be to continue operations in a degraded state or to recover systems within a pre-set, acceptable amount of time.

For resiliency, it became essential to view the IT within its business context. Decisions about how quickly and how far to recover systems and the business functions they support, and in what order, are specific to the needs and objectives of a particular organization. Such an organization can be expected to have a highly evolved, complex environment with both known and unrecognized interdependencies.

BC/DR planning for a specific IT in its business context must take all of the above and more into account, as well as identifying likely vulnerabilities and closing any gaps that may exist between what the business believes its disaster recovery capabilities to be and what the IT organization can actually deliver. However, in a global, technology-driven, 24×7 world in which the only constant is change, resiliency is no longer enough. We have reached a new evolutionary stage.

The Adaptive Environment

The adaptive environment can, perhaps, best be thought of as an “organism.” More than just IT systems within their business context, the adaptive environment is also the people and processes that rely on those IT systems – including clients and partners as well as employees; the physical facilities in which the people and systems function; the business drivers, the threats, and even the opportunities that face the business. In short, every aspect of the business and its functioning and the sum total of possibilities the business faces today and tomorrow. Adaptability allows the business “organism” to change in response to changes in the external environment, or better yet – to proactively predict and prepare for any given situation before it occurs. No matter if the situation is a threat or an opportunity, an adaptive business organism will be capable of “learning” and evolving to be better prepared for future changes. This adaptability will not only enable the business to manage and respond to risk more proactively and proficiently, but will also allow the business to run its regular operations more efficiently and costeffectively day-to-day.

Goals for Greater Adaptability

In order to move from resiliency to adaptability, infrastructure must be built with an eye toward evolution – i.e., not only scalability for business growth, but also flexibility to meet future business changes, including mergers and acquisitions, new applications, new business functions, and new processes. Building such an infrastructure requires asking the following questions:

  • How can IT work with the business to best align IT requirements with business needs today and in the future?
  • How resilient is your existing environment – for both IT and the business?
  • How can you best assess where you are before you determine if, and when, you need to change?
  • How will you be able to recover in the shortest possible time if disaster or business interruption should occur?
  • How will you create system(s) that are not only resilient but also adaptive?
  • What tools will you need to become more adaptive – and how will you prioritize your needs within your budget?

New Tools, New Tricks

Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks? Perhaps. As you know, most data centers today are at least 20 years old. However, infrastructure can be added to your legacy systems to help increase your IT’s adaptive abilities. Just as a weather forecaster can look ahead to help you manage what is coming, so can the latest BC/DR tools predict potential areas of concern within your infrastructure.

Some of the newest BC/DR tools are now proactive. They identify the inability to meet recovery objectives upfront – before a disaster has a chance to strike. They can also show you what is not recoverable based on changes to the environment. Finally, these newer tools can help you identify, organize, and manage activities around risk (and opportunity) on a single platform, thus giving business and IT a unified view of a holistic system. This way, a CIO can easily see where risk/opportunity issues appear – from the board-level on down the line. The business can meet its compliance goals, plan for risk, and predict and manage growth.

Many other IT tools available today are leading CIOs toward better adaptability, such as IP communications networks that allow for redundancy, call manager technologies that can balance employee workloads, as well as network technologies that can identify and respond to anomalous traffic or user behaviors.

New tools are being developed every day – emerging in all areas, including servers, storage, security, and virtualization.

Adaptive Virtualization

As organizations move toward greater adaptability, not only will the equipment be dispersed but also the information. Virtualization for server and storage systems is an essential part of creating an adaptive IT/business organism because it enables “stateless” infrastructure. Such systems strengthen security, servers, and storage because the business functions are “stateless” – or unconstrained by a specific machine or geography – thus avoiding single points of failure while creating redundancies and dispersing workloads.

This “mutation” in technology architecture is part of the latest evolutionary step toward fitter, more adaptive business environments built for survival in tumultuous times.

As director of business continuity and disaster recovery for Forsythe, Michael Croy helps clients with strategic, adaptive BC/DR planning, and implementation. Croy is also the author of the newly published book, “Are We Willing to Take That Risk? 10 Questions Every Executive Should Ask About Business Continuity.”