High availability is no longer a luxury beyond the affordability of most corporations, in the 21st century it is now considered a requirement for almost all businesses regardless of industry and solutions are actively sought. Quite simply, a computer or server that fails might very well prevent the business from operating, and in today’s online world that may equate to significant lost revenue.
Within select industries such as government, financial services, legal, or health and hospitals, downtime is simply not acceptable. High availability of service is considered mandatory and may face regulatory oversight with penalties levied if uptime guarantees are not met. Meaning solutions that ensure minimal downtime and optimum service for the required number of users are actively sought out.
Solutions that encourage high availability comprise all facets of the IT network, and need to be designed with architecture that makes a failover anywhere in the system transparent to the user. This also offers the advantage that systems and components can be repaired or replaced without downtime or added pressure from users when IT perform maintenance.
Duplication of network components is easily the most popular solution for ensuring high availability across the network, typically most IT administrators install multiple RAID in their server farms or use storage area networks (SANs). Multiple redundant paths and failover routers and hubs are also used extensively and so too are backup servers that run hot and are ready to seamlessly take over resources if a failure is detected in the primary servers.
The need for duplication stems from most systems and components lacking fault tolerance that would allow continued operation despite a failure, forcing IT to create fault tolerant networks thru increased spending on backup components, and additional pipes. The cost of creating a dedicated backup network is usually beyond the budget of most corporations, with high overall costs of acquisition.
Third party data center and network leasing is a viable and affordable alternative, and leasing services within third party owned data centers that act as backup for critical network servers and components removes the onus on the IT department for planning and maintaining backup networks. By contracting out for backup services, complexity increases, but also allows for greater flexibility in testing failover procedures.
Designing systems and procedures that monitor performance of servers and network components and create log files, but more importantly generate resource usage reports over time are integral to high availability systems. Determining the correct solutions thru analysis of actual needs is preferable to running simulations of potential problems.
Training staff to recognize problems before they occur promotes a culture of excellence, helping personnel make better decisions and recognize potential problems before they occur, often be being able to read incomplete information. High availability solutions are complex, and trained personnel are better able to anticipate bottlenecks and failures, thus making less mistakes.
Adding redundancy at the staff level in these economic times will rarely be sanctioned, so reducing reliance on a single staff member thru cross training and task swapping supports high availability solutions. This needn’t be a threat to highly skilled staff, indeed their employability will increase.