Easing the Pain of Systems Disruption

By | April 24, 2006

Downtime is becoming more and more painful for organizations. Consider these statistics: According to Infonetics Research, large companies lose up to 16% of their annual revenue due to unplanned network downtime.

Additionally, a recent survey commissioned by Symantec found that 30 percent of respondents indicated their company incurs at least $10,000 in productivity and revenue losses after suffering a server failure. Needless to say, the challenge for any enterprise is to eliminate such losses by ensuring that its systems are always available and unfailingly secure. This article looks at how enterprises can achieve such a state by successfully automating IT client management tasks.

Disruptions are a fact of life

It´s no exaggeration to say that information is the engine of every enterprise´s business. And every enterprise confronts the challenge of ensuring its information is always secure and always available. But maximizing information security and availability is difficult, primarily due to the diverse requirements that enterprises face each day, including fragmentation. Think of it: enterprises of all sizes need to support multiple devices, operating systems, applications, and networks–all while providing everything from intrusion prevention, antispyware, policy compliance, and virus protection to patch management, OS and application rollouts, license monitoring; and systems and data recovery. That´s a hefty agenda.

Factor in disruptions to business services and the situation becomes even more complicated. Disruptions can be caused by a number of events, including operator error, power failures, poorly configured systems, and cyberattacks that exploit software vulnerabilities. What´s more, in today´s dynamic and uncertain business world, even many “normal” or routine business operations–such as the deployment of new business applications or OS platforms-can be just as disruptive and costly to an organization´s health as malicious attacks on the infrastructure.

That´s why building an environment that is completely disruption-proof is impossible. Given the complexity of the IT environment and the heightened threat landscape (with its increasing vulnerabilities, sophisticated attacks, and exploits that are published before companies can complete patch testing), disruptions are certain to occur. In fact, they´re inevitable. And regardless of whether a disruption is planned or unexpected, every minute of disruption costs money and potentially puts a business at risk.

Be ready to respond

The key to eliminating or significantly minimizing the effects of these disruptions is for organizations to take a holistic approach to systems, storage, and security management in a way that creates a state of business capable of addressing: Planned disruptive operations; Unplanned disruptive operations; Rapid recovery from disruption.

Planned disruptive operations

In the normal state of IT operations, all servers, desktops, laptops, and mobile devices must be constantly updated and configured to ensure that the environment is available and secure. So whether it´s a hardware refresh, new OS deployment, or just a service pack update, even the normal state of the enterprise entails change on a regular basis. Now consider an enterprise-wide OS upgrade; while such an event can be very costly and disruptive, it´s also considered normal. The process involves determining exactly what is on every machine in the enterprise, setting the standards for a new operating environment, preparing that environment for deployment, and then finally deploying the change. Bottom line: The whole process takes significant manual activity and expertise.

Unplanned disruptive operations

Unplanned disruptions are characterized by a sudden interruption in the operational environment and an unplanned, unscheduled need to respond in order to restore normal operations. One of the best examples of an unplanned disruption is the discovery of a security vulnerability, such as a worm or blended threat. Other examples include natural disasters or simple human error. In all instances, the urgent business requirement to recover to normal operations is the same.

Of course, the activities that an IT department launches in response to an unplanned disruption are themselves disruptive to the normal operating state of the business and IT environment. Patch remediation, for example, represents an acute pain point for most organizations. The ability to completely patch and configure machines securely (e.g., close open ports, shut down unnecessary services, etc.) presents a large problem-primarily because the threat landscape evolves more quickly than the patch process can update the software. According to the most recent Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, in the first six months of 2005, an average of 48 days existed between the release of an exploit and the release of an associated patch. During this time, systems were either vulnerable or administrators were forced to create their own workarounds to prevent exploitation.

As disruptive as these prevention activities can be, however, more severe damage can occur if vulnerabilities are not eliminated faster than they can be exploited.

Rapid recovery from disruption

Even the most secure enterprise must have a backup and disaster recovery plan that enables it to recover successfully in the event of an attack or other operational disruption. The need for such infrastructure stability has received additional impetus lately as a result of a growing number of regulations, including Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, FISMA, and Basel II. Executives are now personally responsible for ensuring that IT processes are properly implemented. Such developments point to the need for automated data backup and disaster recovery.

Automation is key

By now it should be clear that an organization must ensure that the security, systems, and storage management elements of its infrastructures perform successfully not only during normal conditions but also during any disruption. That´s why organizations are increasingly turning to an automated change management solution to restore their systems within minutes when a disruption occurs. Such a solution provides the ability to discover, provision, configure, patch, and recover client devices throughout an organization, including laptops, desktops, and handheld devices. It automates manual IT processes and transforms them into unattended operations that can be performed on multiple systems simultaneously. As a result, IT administrators can quickly discover all hardware and software assets across a network as well as understand and analyze their current states in order to apply proper IT controls and policies.

An automated change management solution also recognizes that it´s not always practical for an IT administrator to physically touch an affected system. Instead, many activities – such as reconfiguration, recovery, and reprovisioning – need to be handled by remote control. This is a critical component of any automated change management solution.

Overall, an automated solution enables organizations to manage and protect the state of their business operations with greater ease, efficiency, and effectiveness-and without hiring additional IT personnel.

Conclusion

To respond to today´s elevated threat environment, and to rapidly recover from disrupted IT operations, organizations need to integrate their storage and systems management processes and infrastructures, and integrate them with their security management infrastructure and processes. An automated change management solution helps organizations remove the technical and operational boundaries that have historically existed between storage, systems, and security management. Above all, it enables them to respond to and recover from disruptive events in less time and with greater success.

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