Improve availability of enterprise data
For those striving to avoid system downtime, change is enemy No. 1
Each of the IT services will be available in gold, silver, and standard service levels. Before deploying an application, the owners will need to determine how much computing resource it needs, how much storage it needs, and the level of availability it requires, all of which will determine whether the app is deployed on a stand-alone machine, into a cluster with local fail-over, or into a cluster that supports both local fail-over and fail-over to a business continuity site 30 miles away. While each service level maps to a specific standard configuration, the administrative model will be consistent across all three tiers. The consolidated infrastructure dramatically lowers hardware costs, especially for high-availability configurations and, as Ferris notes, especially if you are faced with different groups having their own separate test and dev, staging, and production servers.
“Especially when you get into high availability,” he says, “[having all of your apps running on their own servers] becomes very unwieldy. If you can take all of your Oracle databases and combine them on, let’s say, a three-node cluster, like we’re doing, you can house a lot of databases there. You don’t have to have 15 separate database servers, and based on the requirements of the application you can configure the database for the type of fail-over you need pretty easily, because you’ve already got your cluster built.”
One key element is standardizing on configurations for production servers and ensuring that the servers in test and development match it. A central group responsible for release management will usher any new code or changes into production, making sure they are bundled up from test and development, put into staging, run through a checklist of tests, and finally promoted into production.
“In the staging and production environments, the application developers and application owners won’t have administrative access anymore,” Ferris explains. “They might not even have administrative access in test and development.” If they do, Ferris says, the environment would be closely managed to ensure that the configurations in testing match those of production servers.
The IT group uses BladeLogic to manage those configurations and control releases, and to run compliance reports to check for variance from standard configurations. The controls help prevent mistakes from impacting production servers, and the standard system images help speed up provisioning — a benefit that extends to disaster recovery.
“We’ve packaged the configuration of [our] Veritas cluster server, the baseline OS, and the Oracle database into a reusable configuration that makes it easy to rebuild the environment from scratch,” Ferris says. “You can set variables for IP addresses, so it’s easy to re-create a multitier application in a new environment.”
Investing in availability
In addition to providing important safeguards and making complex infrastructure easier to manage, the combination of standard configurations, standard procedures, automated provisioning tools, and a consolidated infrastructure helps to drive down the cost of high availability. Other technologies are playing a role here, too, notably clustered storage and server virtualization. (See sidebar.)
But while many of the associated costs are coming down, keeping datacenters running will always require significant investment in the people that maintain them, not to mention the time and effort poured into improving the processes by which the whole infrastructure is managed. Training, standards, and careful management of changes will only increase in importance as applications continue to become more complex and more interdependent.
You might find a good lesson in the famous case of the missing NetWare server that ran for four years after being sealed behind a wall by construction workers: The best thing you can do for a system is to leave it alone. Of course, that’s not possible for most business applications, especially in these days of rapid change. But if you can’t build a wall, you can at least start laying down some red tape.