The Changing Definition of Mission-Critical

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? When was the last time you prioritized your systems in terms of criticality to the organization.

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 examples of mission-critical systems beyond ERP are airline reservation systems, bank transaction systems, or the brokerage systems if investment firms. Every industry from manufacturing to healthcare to entertainment has its mission-critical systems.

Since they are mission-critical these 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. This doesn’t sound like a major reordering of priorities is being called for.

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 traditional mission-critical computing model. Typically organizations created silos of technologies to support different applications within the data center. Each mission-critical application was accompanied by 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 although most settle for something closer to 99.9%.

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 breaking down boundaries between traditional computing silos, including legacy mission critical infrastructure and IT processes. It also will contribute to the solution; the ease of moving virtual machines across the network and the speed at which they can be restarted elsewhere provides a new layer of availability protection.

At the same time technologies like cloud computing and social media increasingly are changing the way organizations conduct business. For example, social media is giving rise to new customer facing strategies and systems. IT increasingly has to treat them carefully in terms of compliance and e-discovery. Should these customer facing systems also now be treated as mission-critical?

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

Maybe the most mission-critical of current technologies today is email. How long could your organization function without email? What’s your plan should it fail?

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