IT people spend much of their time—and invest much of their credibility—putting numbers on things that might or might not happen. Security threats might appear in the wild, or not. Disasters might justify costly contingency planning and backup systems, or not. But year-end peak loads on financial systems, not to mention "Cyber Monday" and other spikes in workload, come every year. So why is it they seem to come as a surprise?
During Thanksgiving weekend, servers at both Wal-Mart and Macys appeared to suffer after-dinner drowsiness. Wal-Marts systems were described by monitors at Keynote Systems in San Mateo, Calif., as "effectively down" from 4:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the critical "Black Friday" of the holiday weekend.
Macys systems ran at one-sixth of normal throughput from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. that same day, a striking coincidence but apparently not a parallel symptom of a single Internet-related cause. These slowdowns were likely caused by site-specific errors: possibly ill-behaved applications, very likely system misconfigurations and almost certainly inadequate knowledge of what tasks were consuming what resources. Someday, someone may even be held accountable—not that this will do any good. What will do good is for all the other IT pros to do more than give thanks that it didnt happen to them. Its not enough to dodge a bullet: At some point, one needs to shoot back.
Many of next years challenges will arrive on schedule, but many will be larger and more complex. SOAs (service-oriented architectures), for example, present a rising number of points at which critical workloads may concentrate. However, those same SOAs also offer the potential of improved visibility of interactions and improved scalability to fluctuating demands. Server virtualization, dynamic resource allocation and proper investment analysis should be among the weapons that IT builders start deploying now, before next years peak demands inexorably arrive. In addition, governance mandates and SLAs (service-level agreements) offer leverage toward securing resources for ITs needs. The best companies treat IT budgets as strategic investments and dont let them become sitting ducks for the snipers of cost reduction. IT pros should put numbers not just on risks but also on opportunities and be unapologetic in pursuing the resources required to make the most of what technology can deliver. Preparation for Cyber Monday 2007 starts now.
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