Resilience acts as virtualisation’s backbone

23 Feb 2011

If virtualisation has made it into your plans for reducing ICT costs, you also need to plan now for stronger resilience. Licensed wireless technology could be the answer.

By now, the arguments for virtualisation as an ICT delivery model have mostly been made, and made well. By replacing multiple physical servers with a virtualisation framework that condenses these onto fewer host machines, costs can be removed from the operation, including capital outlay and ongoing support. Additionally, with your enterprise founded on a virtualised architecture, you’re able to react faster to emerging needs and opportunities – deploying new applications, upscaling or downscaling.

What’s not always emphasised in discussions of virtualisation, however, is the increased need for and reliance on a fast, well-performing and highly available wide-area network. Virtualisation further drives centralisation of ICT into one location, increasing the criticality of all links into that location. Assuring the quality and performance of those links will help ensure you achieve the anticipated benefits of virtualisation, and minimise the risk of a costly and damaging downtime incident.

Licensed wireless technology can offer a cost-effective way to help manage the risks associated with virtualisation, in four key areas:

Deliver on the need for speed: Virtualisation of your resources may require more speed in your WAN than you currently provide, to protect system performance. Additional fibre connectivity to your hosting centre may be costly, but a licensed wireless link could let you achieve the bandwidth boost required at a lower price point. When creating a secondary network to back up your primary connectivity, look hard at the bandwidth provided. Backing up a 10Mbps primary network with a 1Mbps secondary network may look like a cost-effective way to achieve resilience; but in practice such a speed drop could deal such a blow to productivity that the enterprise suffers almost as badly as it would in a total outage.

Achieve resilience with diverse connectivity: Key to a resilience strategy should be the establishment of a robust secondary network to back up your primary link. But in establishing diverse connectivity, dig deeply into the detail of what suppliers offer. There are examples of Irish organisations who believed themselves to be resilient until primary and backup networks failed simultaneously. Often customers may have fibre as their primary network backed up by DSL, but if the local exchange goes offline, all services may disappear. Backing up a primary fibre link with a secondary network that uses licensed wireless technology delivers better protection, since truly diverse paths are used for network traffic.

Diversity should be achievable by using any two different providers for primary and secondary connectivity, but always do your homework. Both providers may be co-located or share access points, or your secondary provider may get its connectivity from your primary provider. Always evaluate where your secondary network goes and who’s carrying the backhaul.

“How a company gets resilience is important. If you have two carriers, that’s not a guarantee that they come in over different access points; try to remove any single points of failure within your network,” said Gary Watson, operations director for Hosting365. “It is possible for two providers to come into a building over the same medium, and both go offline.” He advises companies to ask their providers for detailed network diagrams of how traffic is carried, and satisfy themselves that true diversity will be achieved.

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Protect voice and data: Voice services may be overlooked in your data resilience strategy, yet without voice or data, virtually any organisation would see its productivity stop dead. Protecting voice can be complex, since typically telephone numbers are linked to the local exchange, and if that goes down, getting your calls to you is challenging. “A way to get around this is by using licensed wireless,” explained Peter Hendrick, technical director of AirSpeed Telecom. “We can provide voice resilience by carrying voice traffic from a company’s premises to a data centre, and from there, we can interconnect with the voice provider’s network, so calls can get through.”

Achieve resilience that actually delivers: A comprehensive resilience strategy for your enterprise must entail testing of your resilience links, to ensure your secondary network is both functional and sufficient for your operational requirements. Load balancing your daily traffic between your primary and your secondary network is one means of continuously monitoring the functionality and quality of your secondary network. AirSpeed Telecom delivers load balancing for companies across fibre and licensed wireless as primary and secondary networks. This division of labour effectively delivers a continuous live test of the secondary network, offering reassurance that the secondary links are ready and able to step up in the event of outage.

Regardless of whether you’re investigating virtualisation or plan to stay with your existing ICT infrastructure, now is the time to look again at your resilience. With today’s tighter budgets, it’s tempting to let existing network arrangements experience a trial by fire rather than proactively improving resilience. But with many large organisations now pressuring suppliers to deliver more for less and achieve increasingly impossible deadlines, a single downtime incident could lose you customers. In this context, resilience could be the best network investment you’ll ever make.