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Do You Have What It Takes To Truly Be 24x7x365?

By: on June 30, 2012 in Disaster Recovery, High Availability, Uptime

If I had a dime, penny, or nickel every time a customer told me they needed/wanted 24×7 systems, I’d be retired by now. I know you think you really need that, but I’ll play bad cop here: you probably don’t. And if you do, I doubt you realize the commitment it takes to achieve that on many, many levels.

Just yesterday, Netflix was down for a bit. It appears they are using Amazon’s EC2, and whatever servers they were using were down due to weather in Virginia. That brings us to another point: know your points of failure. If you’re relying on someone else’s services to be up and running, you better assess the risk and make smart decisions or have mitigation/disaster recovery plans (which also drives up the cost of the solution). Today, your competitors can snag your business in seconds. Think about that.

Today, we take a lot of things for granted. You young’uns may not remember (and I’m only 40), but there was a time before the Internet and even cable TV where you only had a few major broadcast channels here in the USA (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) and a whole bunch of UHF channels (where do you think the title of Weird Al’s movie came from?), and they didn’t run programs past about 12:30 or 1AM, if that. Somehow we lived in those dark days (the horror!) and made it through unscathed. Now? We can shop, watch videos, and do whatever we pretty much want 24×7. Can’t run to a store at 2AM? Not on cable? It’s probably on the Internet somewhere (legal of course – I’m not advocating going into pirate land). That difference in under 40 years is truly amazing.

Many of you think I’m a luddite in some ways – for example, using my cellular phone as just a phone, hating texting, etc. So I’m old fashioned in some ways, but very forward in others. I love technology and gadgets, and I’ve totally bought into being able to say, shop over at Amazon at 2AM and have stuff show up on my doorstep mere days later. Some of that has to do with convenience, other bits of it pricing, but much of it for me to be honest is the lack of selection in physical stores today. But that’s another conversation for another time. We’re talking 24×7 here.

This access we’ve all come to expect now that mobile devices are ubiquitous truly changes perception of what is theoretically possible. When you’re sitting in a restaurant or bar ignoring your dinner partner while surfing on the phone or checking e-mail, are you even thinking of the backend infrastructure or amount of people and/or process it takes to make that happen? I travel the world, and whether I’m in Tokyo (can’t wait to go back), at home here in the Boston area, or somewhere in Europe, I can get my e-mail (personal or work) whenever, wherever I choose. Why do you think that mobile carriers are snapping up bandwidth and adding frequencies? Because those of you who walk down the street staring at your devices bumping into me and then looking at me like I’ve got two heads or turning them on the second you touch down to see if the world blew up at work without you so you feel self-important are sucking it up like no tomorrow. Remember the strain the iPhone first put on AT&T’s network here in the USA? Don’t think they’re not passing those costs onto you … and you need to do the same in your day-to-day job, too.

In the same way you expect to be able to communicate when you want, so your company wants you to make your systems 24×7. Why? The same perception you now have with things like the Internet – since Amazon can do it, why can’t we? And therein lies the problem. Your bosses now think you can put up the equivalent of Amazon right in your own backyard. You know you probably can’t (or shouldn’t which is a different talk altogether). Do you want to be tethered to your job 24×7? No. Few of us have what we would call decent work-life balance as is. In the days before cel phones when many admins had pagers (remember those?), those were the old electronic leashes. But now I’d argue we have probably leashed ourselves.

As I mentioned above, have you ever even remotely thought about the massive amounts of hardware and plumbing it takes to keep an Amazon, Facebook, or Twitter up and running? It’s not a single server sitting in a data center somewhere, that I can tell you. It’s hundreds, if not thousands, of servers with massive amounts of redundancy with applications architected properly as well as probably balanced across a few data centers. All of those servers (and data centers) will take lots of care, feeding, and monitoring … and it’s not cheap. Then there’s the human aspect of that: do you have the skills to deploy, maintain, and administer such an environment? I bet most of you don’t. There are very few, even large businesses, who can, and those who can, it all starts with people and process – not technology. Oh, and deep pockets. For a business, downtime is money, so the spend has to be proportional. You can’t do 24×7 on a shoestring budget no matter what you think.

When I work with customers, a big part of what I do is help them understand when they need to actually be up and running, and architect to that. For a business based here in the USA who has offices coast-to-coast, you’re probably looking at core hours of 6 or 7AM Eastern to about 6 or 7 PM Pacific (9/10 PM Eastern). That’s vastly different than midnight to midnight every day. Again, I will say some may truly need 24×7 (or as close to it as possible); I’m not dismissing the idea. For those companies, especially if they don’t have the money, they’re going to have to figure out tradeoffs and compromises. Are you willing to compromise at all, and if not, are you truly ready to make that commitment to 24×7 and all that it takes? If the answer is no to either, better get back to the drawing board. You’re probably not ready to be mission critical. That sounds harsh, but it’s also the reality of things. Sure, I could sugar coat things for you and tell you it’s possible no matter what. It’s not. Sorry to be bad cop.


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