“Tier 1” Apps are Special…But At What Cost?

Greetings everyone, and happy-almost-spring. Lately I’ve been focusing on understanding the costs (in all its forms) of delivering and managing Tier 1 applications. For the sake of discussion, let’s define a “Tier 1” app in terms of reliability or “quality of service”. In a previous post, I discussed four tiers of criticality for enterprise applications. While you may disagree with some of the names, there should be little argument that there are classes of applications that are truly critical to the success or failure of a business; the so-called “mission critical” application.Erik Svenson Thumbnail

These apps are also referred more generically to be called “Tier 1 applications”. These applications hold a special level of importance in the corporate enterprise because their failure (measured in terms of reduced service quality or complete outages) would have a profound effect on the business including any or all of the following:

  • Widespread business stoppage with significant revenue impact

  • Risk to human health/environment

  • Public, wide-spread damage to organization’s reputation

  • Company-wide productivity is compromised

Examples of these types of applications are eCommerce (amazon.com, ebay, etc.), 911 response systems, stock and commodity trading systems, and airline reservation systems (some would also put CRM and corporate email into this group too).

(Note: while some have referred to Tier 1 apps with examples such as Exchange, SharePoint, SQL, Oracle, DB2, etc., I claim they are missing the point. With the possible exception of SharePoint, these other examples support the application and need to be treated as part of the overall solution, not as the solution itself.)

It’s obvious that these applications are important to the business for the reasons listed above as well as others. They represent a significant importance to the business when they run well and a huge impact to the business when they don’t.

Tier 1 Apps Put Quality and GRC Ahead of Cost

What I find interesting, however, is that these apps hold a special place in the minds (and the wallets) of business and IT leaders. Despite the IT maturity of an organization, companies will “invest” whatever it takes to keep these applications up and running with the highest levels of quality expected of their customers.

Even for organizations that do not have a culture of IT maturity improvement, Tier 1 apps will always enjoy financial and human resource availability to ensure those apps remain highly available. While the driver for most applications in the organization (60%-80%) is cost (delivery and ongoing maintenance), Quality of Service (QoS) and Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance are foremost.

The implications of this can be profound, particularly for companies that do not have a practice of IT maturity improvement. Highly mature organizations imbue the practices of service delivery with high quality, high compliance, and low risk across the entire portfolio of their service catalog, without incurring the huge costs of maintenance.

Less mature organizations, on the other hand, will tend to be reactive in nature and waste resources to ensure these Tier 1 applications remain healthy. The costs incurred can come from many sources such as expensive consulting resources, inefficient, time-consuming processes, and an over-reliance on expensive technologies. In short, these organizations will throw whatever is necessary at a Tier 1 app to keep it up and running to meet any explicit or implicit quality and compliance bars exist.

What to Do? Learn The Lessons from Tier 1 App Delivery and Management

Regardless of how you define it, every business of any appreciable size has Tier 1 applications. Unfortunately, many IT organizations do not have a very high level of IT maturity and yet, these Tier 1 apps demand it. As a result of this gap, significant wasteful costs are incurred to keep them up and running. Where there are pockets of good, mature IT practices, they probably exist within the realm of Tier 1 service delivery.

Unfortunately, what also exists is REALLY bad process too, all in service of maintaining high quality of service. In my role as an enterprise consultant for many years I’ve seen countless “all hands on deck” events when a Tier 1 app went down. There was a mad scramble to restore service, all the while work on other important IT functions was put aside.

For that reason, IT organizations should look at the mature practices and policies they do have have (many of which will be implied) for their Tier 1 apps and see how to apply them across their IT service portfolio, but not simply because it’s “good practice.”

The organization needs to also take a hard look at recent emergency situations as much to understand what cost is being incurred to restore service as to understand how to minimize their occurrences.

By using the lessons learned from their Tier 1 app efforts (both the good and bad), IT organizations will reduce their overall delivery and operating costs by becoming more efficient in the deliver of IT services through such activities as:

  • Rationalizing the costs of high availability

  • Reducing the reliance on expensive consulting and support resources

  • Becoming smarter and more targeted about information security

  • Designing apps with the right level of service (how many “9s” are needed?)

  • Resolving incidents more quickly with appropriate service monitoring


The overall message is simple and taken from an old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. IT organizations and the businesses they support will lower their overall delivery and operations costs when they look to the best practices learned from the delivery and maintenance of their Tier 1 apps and apply them generally across their organization.

All the Best,

Erik Svenson, Application Platform Lead, War on Cost Team

Comments (3)

  1. shaun says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this up.  It makes sense, though I would venture it is not new news but rather old news more eloquently stated.  I would be interested to hear more about your perspective as it pertains to specific technologies that serve as platforms for these Tier 1 applications.  

    The fact is there is still a Systems Administrator, a Database Administrator, a Developer and so on.  These folks implement the "inadequate/costly for Tier 1" practices (as you've observed & stated) and seek to do their best, however they think in terms of technologies.  Therefore how does a "Tier 1 Practitioner", of say SQL Server, using their scope & skill set contribute to the broader objective of "appropriate" Tier 1 practices.

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