By simplifying infrastructure management, Application Virtualisation can make such infrastructure failures a thing of the past.

The recent failure of Northern Rock’s website under pressure is one of the most high-profile and high-fallout examples demonstrating that online service provision is often not as resilient as it should or could be.

Those trying to book tickets to Glastonbury this year, or indeed, trying to get their hands on the latest album release from Radiohead this past week, will be more than aware of how common and frustrating the problem of online failure under peak demand is.

The Northern Rock case is particularly grave because the website crash itself exacerbated the whole crisis, compounding the lack of confidence felt by Northern Rock customers and accelerating the rush to withdraw funds. As Northern Rock is apparently sitting lamely waiting for a buyout, the whole unfortunate scenario highlights how important it is for businesses to ensure their websites continue to perform during unexpected peaks in demand – not only in order to protect and increase revenue but also to retain customers and protect the brand.

Post-Northern Rock, there has been much debate about the technologies available to mitigate such consequences but almost all agree that these would not necessarily solve the true problem in extraordinary circumstances.

Yes, web accelerators and timing systems help customers feel the online organisation is still up and running, but this is ultimately a distraction rather than a solution.

Yes, you can add extra capacity and have dual-site contingency, but this is expensive, energy and space-intensive and likely to result in low utilisation rates throughout the year, creates waste and flies contrary to the key tenets of aligning IT with the business and getting the best out of the assets in the organisation. Yes, you can outsource, but then the challenges of operational service level assurance will still remain.

Yes, you can open up the pipes and increase network bandwidth or improve load-balancing techniques, but this will simply increase the pressure on your downstream systems, and what happens when the stretch is just too much?

Business demand is dynamic – and often, as evidenced, unpredictable. IT has to be one step ahead of the business and able to accommodate growth and shift capacity to different applications in real-time in order to meet the needs of customers and employees.

No-one predicted the Northern Rock crisis and so it has been argued that the system collapse is understandable in these circumstances. However, technologies such as Application Virtualisation make this an outdated assumption.

Today’s organisations need to be building an on-demand infrastructure that is flexible enough to withstand unprecedented and unplanned-for levels of pressure. Although there is a tendency to buy IT in silos there is no need to run the company’s infrastructure in a siloed fashion. This is where Application Virtualisation, which decouples the application layer from the server-infrastructure, comes into its own.

By simplifying infrastructure management, Application Virtualisation focuses on creating an IT infrastructure that is able to match application demand with guaranteed available supply, “dialling-up” the scale of business processes as demand increases.

This creates a system agility that ensures the supply side can rise to meet both predicted and unpredicted demand, automatically and in a matter of seconds – taking full advantage of the organisation’s entire IT real estate from under-utilised servers and desktops to out-of-hours office systems overseas. IT departments can respond with automated real-time solutions to mission-critical problems, ensuring consistent service provision, and most importantly, protecting the brand.

Given the integral role that technology plays in daily operations, organisations can either accept the risk of application downtime, overspend to ensure that systems remain available or adopt a technology that maximises the value of existing assets and guarantees service level agreements (SLAs) to the most important part of the organisation – the business applications.

This is not just about reacting in times of unforeseen crisis. Increased throughput and functionality online in all business applications is creating a pressure wave throughout the whole organisation, with multiple traffic peaks and troughs in any given day. More online transactions mean more pressure on back office systems.

Application Virtualisation is about managing the end to end process - identifying and supporting weak links in the whole business process chain is key to delivering against SLAs. Once organisations have created a flexible infrastructure that can deal with uncertainty and manage pressure at any point, they will be ready for anything.

In an unpredictable world, the ability to react fast and to react automatically ensuring that service levels are continually met whatever the circumstance is key. And it is Application Virtualisation that can give companies that necessary edge.

Alun Baker is Managing Director, EMEA, at applications virtualisation software provider DataSynapse