Whether the goal is to achieve higher levels or productivity or generate greater customer engagement and revenue the venue today is the same: applications. In any application-focused business strategy, availability must be the keystone.
When the business at large is relying on applications to be available, any challenge that might lead to disruption must be accounted for and answered. Those challenges include an increasingly wide array of problems that cost organizations an enormous amount in lost productivity, missed opportunities, and damage to reputation. Today's applications are no longer simply threatened by overwhelming demand. Additional pressures in the form of attacks and business requirements are forcing IT professionals to broaden their views on availability to include security and performance.
For example, a Kaspersky study found that “61 percent of DDoS victims temporarily lost access to critical business information.” A rising class of attack known as “ransomware” has similarly poor outcomes, with the end result being a complete lack of availability for the targeted application.
Consumers have a somewhat different definition of “availability” than the one found in text-books and scholarly articles. A 2012 EMA study notes that “Eighty percent of Web users will abandon a site if performance is poor and 90% of them will hesitate to return to that site in the future” with poor performance designated as more than five seconds. The impact, however, of poor performance is the same as that of complete disruption: a loss of engagement and revenue.
The result is that availability through scalability is simply not good enough. Contributing factors like security and performance must be considered to ensure a comprehensive availability strategy that meets expectations and ensures business availability.
To realize this goal requires a tripartite of services comprising scalability, security and performance.
Scalability is and likely will remain at the heart of availability. The need to scale applications and dependent services in response to demand is critical to maintaining business today. Scalability includes load balancing and failover capabilities, ensuring availability across the two primary failure domains – resource exhaustion and failure.
Where load balancing enables the horizontal scale of applications, failover ensures continued access in the face of a software or hardware failure in the critical path. Both are equally important to ensuring availability and are generally coupled together.
In the State of Application Delivery 2015, respondents told us the most important service – the one they would not deploy an application without – was load balancing. The importance of scalability to applications and infrastructure cannot be overstated. It is the primary leg upon which availability stands and should be carefully considered as a key criteria.
Also important to scalability today is elasticity; the ability to scale up and down, out and back based on demand, automatically. Achieving that goal requires programmability, integration with public and private cloud providers as well as automation and orchestration frameworks and an ability to monitor not just individual applications but their entire dependency chain to ensure complete scalability.
If attacks today were measured like winds we’d be looking at a full scale hurricane. The frequency, volume and surfaces for attacks have been increasing year by year and continues to surprise business after business after business.
While security is certainly its own domain, it is a key factor in availability. The goal of a DDoS whether at the network or application layer is, after all, to deny service; availability is cut off by resource exhaustion or oversubscription. Emerging threats such as “ransomware” as well as existing attacks with a focus on corruption of data, too, are ultimately about denying availability to an application. The motivation is simply different in each case.
Regardless, the reality is that security is required to achieve availability. Whether it’s protecting against a crippling volumetric DDoS attack by redirecting all traffic to a remote scrubbing center or ensuring vigilance in scrubbing inbound requests and data to eliminate compromise, security supports availability.
Scalability may be able to overcome a layer 7 resource exhaustion attack but it can’t prevent a volumetric attack from overwhelming the network and making it impossible to access applications. That means security cannot be overlooked as a key component in any availability strategy.
Although performance is almost always top of mind for those whose business relies on applications, it is rarely considered with the same severity as availability. Yet it is a key component of availability from the perspective those who consume applications for work and for play.
While downtime is disruptive to business, performance problems are destructive to business. The 8 second rule has long been superseded by the 5 second rule and recent studies support its continued dominance regardless of geographic location.
The importance of performance to perceived availability is as real as scalability is to technical availability. 82 percent of consumers in a UK study believe website and application speed is crucial when interacting with a business. Applications suffering poor performance are abandoned, which has the same result as the application simply being inaccessible, namely a loss of productivity or revenue. After all, a consumer or employee can’t tell the difference between an app that’s simply taking a long time to respond and an app that’s suffered a disruption. There’s no HTTP code for that.
Perhaps unsurprisingly a number of performance improving services have at their core the function of alleviating resource exhaustion. Offloading compute-intense functions like encryption and decryption as well as connection management can reduce the load on applications and in turn improve performance. These intertwined results are indicative of the close relationship between performance and scalability and indicate the need to address challenges with both in order to realize true availability.
Availability is as important to business as the applications it is meant to support. No single service can ensure availability on its own. It is only through the combination of all three services – security, scalability and performance – that true availability can be achieved.
Without scalability, demand can overwhelm applications. Without security, attacks can eliminate access to applications. And without performance, end-users can perceive an application as unavailable even if it’s simply responding slowly.
In an application world, where applications are core to business success and growth, the best availability strategy is one that addresses the most common challenges – those of scale, security and speed.