Process activities, methods and techniques. The Availability Management process depends heavily on the measurement of service and component achievements with regard to availability

The Availability Management process depends heavily on the measurement of service and component achievements with regard to availability.

If you dont measure it, you cant manage it

If you dont measure it, you cant improve it

If you dont measure it, you probably dont care

If you cant influence or control it, then dont measure it

What to measure and how to report it inevitably depends on which activity is being supported, who the recipients are and how the information is to be utilized. It is important to recognize the differing perspectives of availability to ensure measurement and reporting satisfies these varied needs:

  • The business perspective considers IT service availability in terms of its contribution or impact on the VBFs that drive the business operation.
  • The user perspective considers IT service availability as a combination of three factors, namely the frequency, the duration and the scope of impact, i.e. all users, some users, all business functions or certain business functions the user also considers IT service availability in terms of response times. For many performance-centric applications, poor response times are considered equal in impact to failures of technology.
  • The IT service provider perspective considers IT service and component availability with regard to availability, reliability and maintainability.

In order to satisfy the differing perspectives of availability, Availability Management needs to consider the spectrum of measures needed to report the same level of availability in different ways. Measurements need to be meaningful and add value if availability measurement and reporting are ultimately to deliver benefit to the IT and business organizations. This is influenced strongly by the combination of what you measure and how you report it. The reactive activities of Availability Management

Monitor, measure, analyse and report service andcomponentavailability

A key output from the Availability Management process is the measurement and reporting of IT availability. Availability measures should be incorporated into SLAs, OLAs and any underpinning contracts. These should be reviewed regularly at Service Level review meetings. Measurement and reporting provide the basis for:

  • Monitoring the actual availability delivered versus agreed targets
  • Establishing measures of availability and agreeing availability targets with the business
  • Identifying unacceptable levels of availability that impact the business and users
  • Reviewing availability with the IT support organization
  • Continual improvement activities to optimize availability.

The IT service provider organizations have, for many years, measured and reported on their perspective of availability. Traditionally these measures have concentrated on component availability and have been somewhat divorced from the business and user views. Typically these traditional measures are based on a combination of an availability percentage (%), time lost and the frequency of failure. Some examples of these traditional measures are as follows:

  • Per cent available the truly traditional measure that represents availability as a percentage and, as such, much more useful as a component availability measure than a service availability measure. It is typically used to track and report achievement against a service level target. It tends to emphasize the big number such that if the service level target was 98.5% and the achievement was 98.3%, then it does not seem that bad. This can encourage a complacent behaviour within the IT support organization.
  • Per cent unavailable the inverse of the above. This representation, however, has the benefit of focusing on non-availability. Based on the above example, if the target for non-availability is 1.5% and the achievement was 1.7%, then this is a much larger relative difference. This method of reporting is more likely to create awareness of the shortfall in delivering the level of availability required.
  • Duration achieved by converting the percentage unavailable into hours and minutes. This provides a more human measure that people can relate to. If the weekly downtime target is two hours, but one week the actual downtime was four hours; this would represent a trend leading to an additional four days of non-availability to the business over a full year. This type of measure and reporting is more likely to encourage focus on service improvement.
  • Frequency offailure used to record the number of interruptions to the IT service. It helps provide a good indication of reliability from a user perspective. It is best used in combination with duration to take a balanced view of the level of service interruptions and the duration of time lost to the business.
  • Impactof failure this is the true measure of service unavailability. It depends on mature incident recording where the inability of users to perform their business tasks is the most important piece of information captured. All other measures suffer from a potential to mask the real effects of service failure and are often converted to a financial impact.

The business may have, for many years, accepted that the IT availability that they experience is represented in terms of component availability rather than overall service or business availability. However, this is no longer being viewed as acceptable and the business is keen to better represent availability in measure(s) that demonstrate the positive and negative consequences of IT availability on their business and users.

The most important availability measurements are those that reflect and measure availability from the business and user perspective.

Availability Management needs to consider availability from both a business/IT service provider perspective and from an IT component perspective. These are entirely different aspects, and while the underlying concept is similar, the measurement, focus and impact are entirely different.

The sole purpose of producing these availability measurements and reports, including those from the business perspective, is to improve the quality and availability of IT service provided to the business and users. All measures, reports and activities should reflect this purpose.

Availability, when measured and reported to reflect the experience of the user, provides a more representative view on overall IT service quality. The user view of availability is influenced by three factors:

  • Frequency of downtime
  • Duration of downtime
  • Scope of impact.

Measurements and reporting of user availability should therefore embrace these factors. The methodology employed to reflect user availability could consider two approaches:

  • Impact by user minutes lost: this is to base calculations on the duration of downtime multiplied by the number of users impacted. This can be the basis to report availability as lost user productivity, or to calculate the availability percentage from a user perspective, and can also include the costs of recovery for lost productivity (e.g. increased overtime payments).
  • Impact by businesstransaction: this is to base calculations on the number of business transactions that could not be processed during the period of downtime. This provides a better indication of business impact reflecting differing transaction processing profiles across the time of day, week etc. In many instances it may be the case that the user impact correlates to a VBF, e.g. if the user takes customer purchase orders and a VBF is customer sales. This single measure is the basis to reflect impact to the business operation and user.

The method employed should be influenced by the nature of the business operation. A business operation supporting data entry activity is well suited to reporting that reflects user productivity loss. Business operations that are more customer-facing, e.g. ATM services, benefit from reporting transaction impact. It should also be noted that not all business impact is user-related. With increasing automation and electronic processing, the ability to process automated transactions or meet market cut-off times can also have a large financial impact that may be greater than the ability of users to work.

The IT support organization needs to have a keen awareness of the user experience of availability. However, the real benefits come from aggregating the user view into the overall business view. A guiding principle of the Availability Management process is that Improving availability can only begin when the way technology supports the business is understood. Therefore Availability Management isnt just about understanding the availability of each IT component, but is all about understanding the impact of component failure on service and user availability. From the business perspective, an IT service can only be considered available when the business is able to perform all vital business functions required to drive the business operation. For the IT service to be available, it therefore relies on all components on which the service depends being available, i.e. systems, key components, network, data and applications.

The traditional IT approach would be to measure individually the availability of each of these components. However, the true measure of availability has to be based on the positive and negative impacts on the VBFs on which the business operation is dependent. This approach ensures that SLAs and IT availability reporting are based on measures that are understood by both the business and IT. By measuring the VBFs that rely on IT services, measurement and reporting becomes business-driven, with the impact of failure reflecting the consequences to the business. It is also important that the availability of the services is defined and agreed with the business and reflected within SLAs. This definition of availability should include:

  • What is the minimum available level of functionality of the service?
  • At what level of service response is the service considered unavailable?
  • Where will this level of functionality and response be measured?
  • What are the relative weightings for partial service unavailability?
  • If one location or office is impacted, is the whole service considered unavailable, or is this considered to be partial unavailability? This needs to be agreed with the customers.

Reporting and analysis tools are required for the manipulation of data stored in the various databases utilized by Availability Management. These tools can either be platform- or PC-based and are often a combination of the two. This will be influenced by the database repository technologies selected and the complexity of data processing and reporting required. Availability Management, once implemented and deployed, will be required to produce regular reports on an agreed basis, e.g. monthly availability reports, Availability Plan, Service Failure Analysis (SFA) status reports, etc. The activities involved within these reporting activities can require much manual effort and the only solution is to automate as much of the report generation activity as possible. For reporting purposes, organizational reporting standards should be used wherever possible. If these dont exist, IT standards should be developed so that IT reports can be developed using standard tools and techniques. This means that the integration and consolidation of reports will subsequently be much easier to achieve.

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