What does it mean to be a business with high availability? Is it possible to avoid downtime altogether? If so, how much will it cost your company to keep it that way? We found a video that we hope helps to answer some of these questions for you. And if you’re looking for a computer network services in Columbia, TN, please give us a call!

High Availability Explained: Optimize Your Business Network

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Ask a business or technology leader how much downtime their company can tolerate, and they’ll answer none almost every single time, but what does none actually mean? More importantly, how much will none cost. In this video, we will talk about high availability from a business perspective, and provide a foundation for the development of an effective, ongoing strategy for your business.

Fact, IT hardware is going to fail. The ways in which a piece of hardware or system can fail is almost endless. Whether it’s a software bug, hardware failure, power outage, environment issue, a failure in the cable plant, or a natural disaster, all of these conspire to disrupt your IT systems and impact your business. So many of these threats can be mitigated, some can’t, and others may be too costly to remediate. What’s important is that we understand and address what can be mitigated, and have a plan of action for the items that cannot be mitigated. Before we get started on planning high availability, we need to ensure that there’s an actual business problem to solve.

The first step in developing a strategy for high availability is to understand what impact an outage of various systems would have on our ability to do business. Consider a small real estate company with lots of remote offices around the country supporting mostly virtual workers, and providing meeting space. The only thing they really use the network for is background checks, credit checks, and email. Facebook, YouTube, Snap Chat, and the others, they don’t count. So what happens if the network goes down? Today the workers can just use their smartphones to access their apps, make phone calls, and check email until normal operations are restored. Inconvenient? Yeah. Business impacting problem? Not really. Being able to restore operations by the next business day should be more than adequate for this scenario.

So on the other end of the spectrum, let’s consider a global call center where there are 500 agents receiving calls 24 by 7. If either the IP telephony or applications that the call agents are not available, the business stops and so does the revenue. Now we have clearly identified a business problem to solve. The potential lost revenue will serve as a guide of how much we can spend to mitigate a potential outage. This is critical. As technology teams can often get lost in the technology. So it’s important that the remedy is not worse than the affliction. So the question of how much availability do I need is kind of like asking how long a piece of string is. It completely depends on the impact the outage would have on your company.

Now let’s talk about how availability is measured. This table shows a widely accepted methodology for measuring downtime. Most have probably heard of the five nine’s as the standard for measuring availability. Now in order to claim five nine’s, all of the outages for a system added up can total no more than 5.26 minutes in a year assuming a 24 by 7 operation. If we can reduce the combine downtime for a system to no more than 31.5 seconds annually, we will move to six nines. Okay. So most companies would be thrilled just to achieve three nines or a total downtime of 8.76 hours for the system annually.

When I mention system, it’s shorthand for business system, and obvious a business system would be IP telephony. There are many supporting systems that combine to ensure the phone on your desk works. Therefore, it’s critical that we measure downtime in any component that affects a part of the system, or the entire system for our measurements. Some companies don’t count scheduled maintenance as downtime. Technically, this is cheating. Unless you are taking advantage of a business shut down, such as a holiday or holiday weekend. Yeah, certainly not one of the perks of being in IT. If your business truly runs 24 by 7, we need to be sure that the design allows for in-service maintenance and replacement of critical elements. For example, stacking switches are not going to support this, but a chassis will.

Did you notice that 100% uptime didn’t show up in the table? That’s because a transition from a primary system to a backup system takes time. Assuming we’re done in hardware, and considering the different architectures, design, and protocol available, a failover from a primary system to a backup system can take anywhere from never, to minutes, to milliseconds. Since there is no such thing as a system that will never fail, and we know it will take some period of time to restore operations, 100% is clearly not an option. In order to achieve more lines, we will need to leverage redundancy and resiliency in architecture, design, and protocols. Sure, this sounds obvious, but most focus on redundant servers, routers, firewalls, and switches, and miss the supporting layers that support these devices.

Consider the following. Are there two UPS devices with two power feeds that take two separate paths? Do we have batteries to buffer a power outage? What about an extended power outage? Do we have a generator that can supply power for an extended period? Can it be refueled? Power outages tend to be one of the most common outages, and these quickly reveal any misses in the system design bringing down our very expensive, redundant hardware. So now let’s dig a little deeper. Are the redundant devices kept in physically separate rooms, buildings, or even geographic areas? After a cement plug and water from a hole drilled in the ceiling took out two Catalyst 6500s in a wiring closet, it’s sure on my mind. We lost a quarter of the building for a day, and it was a mad scramble. Now I live in Florida. So planning for a hurricane often means ensuring that we have redundant systems in another geographic area that can provide business continuity if a hurricane or other disaster hits.

Finally, what about the cable plan. Do we have separate physical paths, both within and between the buildings? Why? Because construction, water, fire, squirrels, backhoes, and cable trenches are all intent on taking your cable plane out. I know at this point you’re probably wondering how do I sleep at night. We are really only scratching the surface, but this should give you an idea how critical it is to consider all the layers that make up a business system. It’s pretty embarrassing to see very expensive redundant IT hardware rendered useless due to a power failure, and it happens all the time. In fact, it’s one of the most common failures I ever see.

Here’s the moral of the story. We need to understand all of the elements that can impact our deployment, and then determine which ones we can effectively mitigate. So if we can’t afford or even get permitting to dig under the road to create a second physical data path to our building, we could rig a building to building wifi connection at considerably less cost. The reality is that budgets are limited. So when given lemons, make lemonade, and mitigate what we can, and understand what we cannot mitigate. This allows us to create contingency plans that work around these events. God forbid we have to use paper and pencil.

So you’ve heard me say it, design matters. The architecture, design, and hardware selected will have a tremendous impact on how available your final business system is. At the end of the day, thinking outside the box and leveraging creative solutions will deliver an optimal deployment with a minimal investment. So if you found this helpful, please make sure to give us a thumbs up and subscribe. We have lots of additional content coming, and that’s the best way to make sure you don’t miss any of it.

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If you’d like more information on minimizing dowmtime for your business, or are interested in aquiring IT services for your business, contact us here at Simplify Tech via phone (615) 375-6634 or by email at info@simplifytech.com.