Establishing a Zero Outage Standard is About Technology, People and Processes

C. Drake
C. Drake

Summary Bullets:

• A new initiative, spearheaded by 11 major IT companies, aims to establish industry-wide standards that enable zero outage and the continuous operation of IT systems.

• To succeed this initiative must include the wider industry, and should address the interaction between technology, people and processes as a source of IT systems failure.

On November 4th, a group of 11 major IT firms announced the formation of the “Zero Outage Industry Standard” association. Established in London by founding members Brocade (now being acquired by Broadcom), Cisco, Dell EMC, Fortinet, Hitachi Data Systems, HPE, Jupiter Networks, NetApp, SAP, SUSE and T-Systems, the association aims to kick-start discussions that it hopes will lead to new industry-wide standards that enable the continuous operation of IT systems.

Increasing support for a zero outage industry standard reflects several parallel trends and developments. These include the ongoing digitalization of enterprise and the growing importance to business of being able to maintain an uninterruptable supply of services to their customers. It also reflects a recognition of the real cost to business of caused by service disruptions and outages. The latest study from Emerson and the Ponemon Institute shows that the price of downtime continues to grow, with average outage costs rising by 38% between 2010 and 2015 to almost $9,000 per minute.

The industry has recently seen several reminders of the cost and multiple potential sources of data center downtime. These include outages at commercial data centers in London operated by Equinix, Telehouse and Global Switch, due to things such as faulty UPS equipment and tripped breakers. They also include a major and costly outage at a Delta Airlines data center in the US, which was caused by electrical equipment failure; disruptions to several Los Angeles data centers which followed an explosion that interrupted network connectivity; and disruptions to Google’s cloud services business in Belgium, which resulted from lightning striking the local utility grid serving Google’s local data center.

Although the ongoing reality of data center outage and the associated cost of downtime is a clear motivating factor behind the push to establish a zero outage industry standard, another key factor is the desire among industry manufacturers to find new commercial opportunities and ways of boosting productivity in an increasingly competitive market. The new equipment and solutions required to support a zero outage standard would provide manufacturers and systems integrators alike with new commercial opportunities.

Recognizing that IT systems failure can result from technical defect, human error or flawed, inconsistent, or ineffective organizational processes, the Zero Outage Industry Standard association intends to focus its activities on several areas. These include establishing consistent error response times, improving security and platform guidelines, and agreeing on new training and qualification requirements for IT personnel. The association will also need to promote better awareness of the way the interactions between technology, people and processes can be a source of systems error and failure, just as much as any one of these three. The association members will aim to work together as partners and develop an open industry-wide “best practice” approach that is generally applicable and widely respected.

It is still early days for the association and, in order to be successful in its objectives, it will need to embrace new members and extend its internal discussions to include a wider range of industry participants; these should include hardware and software vendors, internet service providers and systems integrators. It is notable that several major data center solutions vendors – including IBM, Oracle, Huawei and Red Hat – are not involved with the association. Although it has yet to specify a timetable for achieving its goals, the association has said it will publish a framework for defining the Zero Outage Standard once this has been agreed on. A second board meeting will take place on December, 22nd, at which a content roadmap for 2017 will be developed.

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