On September 23rd, we held our September Advantage Lunch at Edgewood Country Club. (If you’re not familiar with the Advantage Lunch, learn about it at advantagelunch.com). The topic this month was “Destroy Downtime on your Network” and I along with systems engineer, Anthony Ross, gave a presentation that has been very well received. In case you didn’t make or just want a refresher, I want to give you a recap of what we discussed.
First, what is downtime? Downtime is simply when your network is not delivering data for some reason. This could be because some software crashed, there is a power outage, or a piece of hardware has failed. When your programs can’t run, or you can’t access your data, then you’re experiencing downtime until the problem is resolved.
Even if the event is non-catastrophic, you still experience downtime. For example, if you have a server that crashed but you have it backed up, then it’s a non-catastrophic event. However, for the hours it takes to restore that server from the backup, you are experiencing downtime because you are unable to access that data.
There is no way to totally eliminated downtime, but you can manage it very effectively and greatly limit its impact. To do that, we took a look at three technologies; virtualization, storage area networks, and Advantage Remote Monitoring. Let’s look at each one individually.
Virtualization is when you take a physical computer and turn it into a virtual computer. What this does is allow you to run multiple virtual computers on a single physical computer. The reason we do this is to take advantage of physical hardware while still dedicating each server to individual tasks. For example, rather than having a single server running Microsoft Exchange, files sharing and Active Directory we would have three virtual servers where each only hosts one service.
How does this destroy downtime? By isolating the server to a single task, it can be managed more effectively. Say, for example, an update to Microsoft Exchange causes it to crash. If every service were on one server, then they would all go down while you attempted to fix Microsoft Exchange. With dedicated virtual servers, you would only need to take down the Microsoft Exchange server to repair it. The other servers continue to operate as normal.
Using an advanced virtualization solution like VMware, you can also take advantage of snapshotting, high availability, fault tolerance, and vMotion. Snapshotting allows you to save the current state of a server and return immediately to it; this gives you the ability to make changes without fear of rendering the server useless. High availability, fault tolerance, and vMotion allows you to run a virtual server across networks and hardware so that if a physical server goes down, the virtual server will continue to function.
Storage Area Network (SAN)
Virtual servers exist as very large data files that have to be stored where they can be accessed across the network. This is where a Storage Area Network or SAN comes into play.
A SAN is an array of hard drives that appear as a single storage location on the network. The SAN’s hardware balances the data load across the array of hard drives to protect the drives and prevent data loss due to hard drive failure. If a hard drive does fail, it can quickly and easily be replaced without the data on it being lost and without shutting down the SAN, the server or any part of the network.
Advantage Remote Monitoring (ARM)
Advantage Remote Monitoring, or ARM, is a remote monitoring service provided by Advantage Technology. ARM monitors a variety of parameters like CPU usage, available storage space, network status and server room temperature. It also mines data sources like operating systems logs, network switches, printers, and firewalls. If anything goes wrong, both the user and the Advantage Technology staff are alerted so they can begin repairs immediately.
In addition to the alerts, ARM provides the Advantage Technology staff with direct access to your systems via remote control so that repairs can be made, even when no one is in the office. And Because of its data mining features, ARM also serves as a proactive tool for network maintenance.
Monitoring and remote access are included in the price of ARM. Any repairs performed by Advantage Technology staff will be billed at standard hourly rates.