Networking

The impossibility of perfect uptime

You might have read about the recent -- some call it annual -- BlackBerry outage in North America or reports of Amazon's S3 storage service being unaccessible for several hours just last month. As an IT professional, you may wonder how much downtime is considered acceptable or if perfect uptime is even possible.

You might have read about the recent — some call it annual — BlackBerry outage in North America or reports of Amazon's S3 storage service being unaccessible for several hours just last month. As an IT professional, you may wonder how much downtime is considered acceptable or if perfect uptime is even possible.

Larry Borsato, in his article "Communications: Why do we accept less than 99.999%?," didn't think anything less than 99.999% uptime is acceptable. According to him, the problem is that consumers have been inadvertently trained to accept mediocre standards where system availability is concerned.

We're so used to cable and satellite television reception problems that we don't even notice them anymore. We know that many of our emails never reach their destination. Mobile phone companies compare who has the fewest dropped calls (after decades of mobile phones, why do we even still have dropped calls?) ... Why don't we demand more?

Products and services are being rolled out as quickly and cheaply as possible, Larry wrote, and are designed solely for the benefit of maximizing profits. The unsurprising result is that they fail more often. The solution, he argues, resides in regulation, unpopular as it might be.

To a certain extent, I agree, though I don't believe regulation will prove to be the solution. For example, manufacturers in recent years have been packing electronics with cheaper components to cut down on cost, and they are getting away with it. The result is electronic gadgets or equipment that don't typically last much longer than their warranty periods.

However, the assertion does not necessarily ring true when it comes to services. In many cases, the fact is that consumers simply don't require that high level of quality or uptime. At the risk of opening the floodgates on this hot topic, let me draw a comparison to the selling of Internet connectivity by ISPs.

Now, everyone knows that ISPs oversubscribe their bandwidth. Guaranteed bandwidth is available though — if you are prepared to pay for it. Where I live in Singapore, all ISPs offer "business Internet" connectivity that deliver pretty close to advertised speeds round-the-clock. However, they can be priced up to 10 times or more than the price I can get as a consumer at home. Ditto to entry-level hosting plans with "shared" bandwidth.

Similarly, if you require five 9's of uptime, then be prepared to pay for it — be it in the form of redundant data centers, multiple Internet trunks, fail-over clusters, or even a couple of mainframe computers.

Does the operation of your company require 99.999% — or even "perfect"  — uptime?

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About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

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