Systems The New Different

Surviving IT in Snap Downturns

July 3, 2020

Surviving IT in Snap Downturns

The global effect of and challenges to business in 2020 is the very definition of “unprecedented.” While large enterprises enjoy the advantage of scale to redistribute focus and sustain demand for their goods and services, small- to medium-sized businesses may not be as lucky. For example, your favorite restaurants and retail shops, both local and national chains, have been hit in previously inconceivable ways, and are doing everything in their power to survive. “What’s our contingency plan for closing our dining room and bar for months on end?” was likely never a risk-planning scenario. Some will be forced to close, others will have to merge or reinvent themselves, and some may transition to online businesses. A few, however, may instead use this time to position themselves to come roaring out of the gate once recovery begins.

It’s surprising how much and how quickly the consumer economy has adapted. Of course, we expected IT professionals to have emerged as a key enabling business asset. Working under pressure is what we do. Like your users, you’ve probably been working remotely, streaming more, ordering more takeout, relying on curbside or delivery groceries, and opting in to plenty of new subscription services. In response, businesses are pivoting IT departments and retargeting budgets to new and repurposed technology investments instead of planned strategic projects and upgrades.

Each business has their own unique approach, and IT historically has been a model of doing more with less, at least for the near term. Like everything else in this time, IT is key to survival and, in many companies, is leading the way. So how can companies make sure they’re getting every last ounce out of the systems they have, maximizing flexibility, delivering great services, all while hopefully keeping at least some contingency in their back pockets?

Monitor Even More of All the Things

The first step for most companies in any turbulent environment is to take inventory—of everything. Know what you have, what’s working and not working, and what’s available to adapt before spending on anything new. Some companies have fallen into the trap of emergency spending without first taking stock, but this is the exception, not the rule. When budgets shrink, the thought of throwing money towards more gear and additional services doesn’t get far.

But there’s a silver lining when resources are constrained: the directive to prioritize. Crisis clears longstanding debate, shortens decision cycles, and rewards great ideas that may be been on the bench for years. Despite acute new challenges, you may be able to reduce the distraction of low-priority requests to clarify goals and reduce distraction.

When budgets are flush, we tend to be less disciplined about post-deployment ROI analysis. When all the lights are green, you’re not as worried about getting what you paid for. But those analysis skills are always in our toolbox and can be dusted off quickly to measure performance against what you’ve spent, where it is, and how it’s being used. So ask yourself, do you really need it? Would you buy it again? Would you deploy or support it the same way now? Can you consolidate the infrastructure you already have in use today, or will you need additional investment to increase its useful life?

Storage is an example where savings can often be found if you need them quickly, by understanding how it’s tiered. Some data is tier-one critical information, not puppy pictures or memes dumped into mailstores from email signature embeds. We all love a good laugh, but they shouldn’t take up space in top-tier storage.

Storage resource monitoring can be indispensable when redistributing data by identifying its importance and how it’s used by the business. Multi-vendor controller visibility helps bring orphaned storage back online, magically conjuring “free” resources for zero budget—always a win for you and your leadership even during normal times. Continuous broad discovery and monitoring helps ensure every possible resource is assignable, preventing unnecessary spending and freeing budget for more critical projects.

The Return of Capacity Planning and Forecasting

Although snap downturns can cause IT budgets to veer, it doesn’t mean the volume of data your business generates shrinks. It would be great if it was proportionate, or you could suspend applications until a downturn ends, but that’s incredibly rare. IT teams must still collect, process, and store even as budgets are cut. So, the second step after you’ve identified your real utilization, capacity, and use, is IT’s longtime friend: capacity planning. Modern monitoring systems can accurately project how long you have before critical thresholds are reached, based on your system’s unique environment. When you’re building a purchasing calendar, there’s nothing more useful than knowledge of how long you’ve got. Planning for the future with defensible information gives you a greater idea of when and where to spend and the data to break thought hunches and habits.

Capacity planning also goes hand-in-hand with sprawl detection to help ensure you’re not paying for orphaned and unknown resources. That’s even more important the further we move away from physical hardware with virtualization, cloud and now containers. It’s easy to over-provision cloud storage to house more data or host workloads. It’s also surprisingly easy to lose them—for example, migrating an app but forgetting to deallocate old server instances. Modern sprawl analysis goes even further, identifying over- or under-provisioned resources at the application level. It reveals apps with too many or too few virtual processors and right-sizes memory and bandwidth. Simply adjusting the size of over-provisioned VM instances alone can help create noticeable budget headroom in a challenging time.

Consolidate, Consolidate, Consolidate

While IT pros are careful not to put all their eggs in a single blinking basket, we do consolidate where possible to reduce complexity. We pay points to consolidate mortgages for a reason- generally to reduce overall household OpEx and simplify bookkeeping and administration. Monitoring is the tool IT teams rely on to measure the ROI for consolidation projects. Take the storage example, you have cloud, automated backups, etc. The more vendors and controllers you must manage, the more inventory you have and the more skillsets your team will need. However, standardizing storage services is one of the more expensive and risky projects in IT. Especially during a snap downturn, it’s possible to overlook quick savings for targeted reconfiguration if the risk seems too high. With real-world usage details at hand however, teams may prioritize those storage consolidation projects with high return and low(er) risk.

Practice Makes Perfect

One consolation during any downturn: the business rewards clarity across all its departments. Data-driven decision making allows even large organizations to pivot, repeatedly if necessary. And because IT is a tightly controlled cost center, getting the most out of available budget is the core of what we do. We’re good at adapting not just year to year, but quarter to quarter.

Snap downturns are scary for everyone but play to skills IT pros have gained throughout their careers. We recompute the “What can you do with $X?” equation every day, and businesses appreciate that more than ever when times are tight. Your monitoring systems have always been key to reliable and efficient service delivery during normal times. And you may find snap downturns are easier to weather when you turn your monitoring to 11, at least for the short term. When time is limited data is critical. And when the world changes in a hurry, IT can make things happen quickly. It’s in our DNA.


Patrick Hubbard is a Head Geek and technical product marketing director at SolarWinds. With over 20 years of IT experience spanning network management, data center, storage networks, VoIP, virtualization, and more, Hubbard's broad knowledge and hands-on expertise affirm his IT generalist authority. Hubbard’s initial interest in technology began with a grade school dive into Assembly on the Apple II, and eventually to a half-decade of technogenesis in skunkworks IT at American Airlines. Since then, Hubbard’s career has involved product management and strategy, technical evangelism, sales engineering and software development, all with a focus on application and service delivery for startups and Fortune 500 companies alike that span high tech, transportation, financial services and telecom industries. Since joining SolarWinds in 2007, Hubbard has combined his technical expertise with his IT customer perspective to develop SolarWinds’ online demo platform, launch the Head Geek program and create helpful content that speaks to fellow networking and systems professionals. He runs SolarWinds’ customer education and training program to empower IT Pros to resolve their IT management problems quickly and easily with SolarWinds software. Hubbard is also a Cisco® NetVet and a regular speaker at technology conferences for Ethernet, IPv6 and SDN.