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End-User Experience: The Key to Continuity

September 13th, 2006

The post-dotcom boom has been a tough time for many IT departments. As budgets have tightened, an increased focus has been placed on making existing infrastructures and applications work more cohesively in order to drive user and systems productivity.

For many organisations, this process has been a successful one. Improvements in interoperability between multiple applications and systems have increased the effectiveness of work flows and raised productivity by delivering instant access to centralised information and enabling increased intranet, extranet and web functionality. Hence, constant access to information has quickly become a basic expectation in business.

During this same period, the world of eBusiness has matured greatly, with the general availability of broadband making the Internet the essential tool in business communication worldwide. Most mission-critical business applications – from order placement to team collaboration to email — are Internet-dependent. And in the last five years, a new generation of workers who grew up with computers has entered the business world and is now gaining more responsibility and authority. All of these changes have resulted in a very different and much expanded idea of who the user is.

Today, the user is anyone ranging from an employee or customer to a supplier or partner who is using the internet or a mobile device, such as a PDA, mobile phone or BlackBerry, to access information relating to your business. The modern user expects to be able to find what they want, when they want it and in a format they require. They also expect instant answers. If they can’t find what they want from a website, intranet or extranet in a matter of seconds, they presume it isn’t available. With advances in technology opening up the internet even further, users’ demands are only going to increase as they come to expect 24/7 availability of information.

The inescapable truth is that businesses have become completely dependant on their IT infrastructure to operate. As technology advances, the commercial pressure to improve delivery of information on demand will continue to intensify. Already, the impact of user downtime, defined as a period when the user is unable to access the information they demand, has become a serious business issue. Although there can be significant costs associated with fixing the underlying problems causing downtime and lost user productivity, the real threat to a business is often the inability for users to complete time-sensitive activities during a disruption. A late sales proposal, a lost support call, or a breached SLA could have dire implications for a company.

It is impossible to quantify the exact financial level of risk associated with these types of disruptions, but it is easy to see that the damage, particularly to an organisation’s reputation, could be quite significant. So, while downtime has traditionally been thought of in terms of system unavailability, the effects of the user-downtime are where today’s businesses are most at risk.

A company that achieves 99.9 percent uptime will have a minimum of 9 hours downtime per year — and there are very few organisations that even achieve that level of availability. It is reasonable to assume that most organisations will incur more than 30 hours of downtime on their critical servers — such as Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, IIS, File Server, SharePoint and others — over the next three years, which could well be enough time for a company to suffer sever disruptions to business.

For busy IT departments facing limited budgets and ever-increasing expectations for application availability, these are sobering numbers. Fortunately, advances in technology have also resulted in solutions that remove the risk of user downtime, provide site protection and offer easy installation and administration. The benefits that just a few years ago were available only to those that could budget for cluster solutions are now available in affordable software that protects critical applications right out of the box.

With today’s mobile workforce, and the significant increase in the use of numerous devices offering on-demand access to information, companies are expected to deliver information in a timely manner. Unfortunately system disruptions will continue to happen, but the companies that will thrive in the future will be those that do not allow those disruptions to affect end-users – whoever and wherever they may be.

The Neverfail Group is exhibiting at Storage Expo 2006

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