What Makes a Business-Critical Application?

My superstar channels marketing director Janine Soika was at a recent channel event where an executive from a prospective partner asked her what HOSTING did.  Janine replied with our mantra, “HOSTING builds and operates high-performance clouds for business-critical applications.”  The executive responded by saying, “these days, what applications are NOT business-critical?”

Increasingly, the answer to that question is “Not many.”  Two years ago this month, Marc Andreessen of Andreessen-Horowitz (and Mosaic/Netscape fame) penned an extremely prescient column in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Software Is Eating the World.”  In it, he describes how companies in virtually every industry are becoming “software” companies as online software becomes an evermore critical component of their business models.

As Andreessen put it, “Six decades into the computer revolution … all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.”  He also observed that, “More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense.”

This focus on new software is great news for the consulting firms, systems integrators and packaged software providers who are ramping up to meet this increased demand.  However, the business-critical nature of this software adds new challenges for these firms, as well as for their midsized enterprise end customers.

Specifically, business-critical applications typically meet 4 criteria. First, it comprises software that is core to the operation of a business, and needs to be operating properly whenever the business is operating.  For many online businesses that are effectively open 24×7, that means business-critical software cannot go down.  Ever.

This is where things get complicated.  Preventing downtime requires a much more complex architecture than for a “standard” application.  It also requires significantly more expertise during the architecture, implementation and operations phases.  Specifically, business-critical applications have specific requirements that must be addressed.

These requirements start with the need for a high-availability architecture that ensures that no single component failure such as a firewall, load balancer or database server will bring down the entire application.  Second, business-critical applications also need a recovery capability so the application can be quickly transitioned to an alternate data center (usually in a different geography) in case something bad happens to the primary data center.

Third, business-critical applications require comprehensive security capabilities to protect them from hackers and other Internet bad guys.  After all, whether an application goes down due to a hardware failure or a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, it still goes down.  Fourth and finally, all these added capabilities – availability, recovery and security – need experts to be available 24×7 to manage these systems.

It’s no wonder that as more and more companies deploy business-critical applications, many are realizing it may be time to find a new cloud service provider.  If you are seeing this trend to evermore business-critical applications, ask yourself how well your existing cloud service provider is set up to support the specific needs of these critical systems.

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