How to Protect Your Company from a Disaster?

Don’t let the fear of system failure keep you awake at night, enjoy high availability by leveraging your cloud provider capabilities to prevent data center disasters.

A data center failure could have serious consequences for you and your company

What if the electricity you rely on every day became more costly or unstable? That’s the nightmare scenario that we worked hard to prevent. Our systems measured, monitor, and manage the renewable electricity supply and demand. They used weather data to forecast future production and avoid any imbalances. A failure in our systems could cause blackouts, price spikes, or environmental damage. Therefore, our team had a huge responsibility for ensuring the reliability and efficiency of our systems.

However, this was not an easy task because complex systems are prone to failure. Our team was dedicated to success. We constantly improved our systems and prevented any failures that could harm the energy market and society.

Failure is a normal state of systems, as engineers we have tools and apply best practices to reduce failure but its complete elimination is not currently possible. 

This article explores the factors that trigger failure, why software errors are so common, and how to avoid them by incorporating best practices and building systems with high availability by leveraging your cloud provider infrastructure.

What are the main factors for failure?

Failure is a certainty and experienced engineers embrace it and mitigate its consequences by anticipating failure and identifying the factors that could trigger it to minimize its effects.

Some of the factors that can cause failure in IT systems are:

  • Faulty hardware: This can cause physical damage, malfunction, or degradation of the system or its components.
  • Poor development practices: This can lead to software bugs, security vulnerabilities, performance issues, or compatibility problems.
  • Incorrect system requirements: This can result in a system that does not meet the needs or expectations of the users, stakeholders, or regulators.
  • Poor usability: This can affect the usability, accessibility, and satisfaction of the system or its users.
  • Inadequate user training and documentation: This can result in improper or inefficient use of the system or increase the risk of user errors.
  • Cyberattack / Ramsomware: This can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of the system and cause financial, operational, or reputational damage to the organization.
  • Network interruption: This can affect the connectivity or speed of the system or cause data loss, delay, or corruption.
  • Virus: This can infect or damage the system or its components or spread to other systems or devices.
  • Organized attacks: These can target specific systems or organizations for political, ideological, or personal reasons.

Human error can cause failure in IT systems as evolution introduces new risks as every change can affect the functionality or stability of the system. Moreover, lack of maintenance and evolution is as dangerous because dependencies like operating systems and libraries require constant patching to be secure as new vulnerabilities are exploited every day.

Why software errors are so common?

Software development is a modern engineering discipline that has advanced very fast. Most of the failure factors and best practices are well-known, yet software and its underlying infrastructure are still often developed poorly. Why is that?

One reason is that developing software has a low barrier to entry, with free training and access to powerful hardware making the profession available to a range of people who do not necessarily have proper education on software architecture or experience building high-quality systems.

Another reason is that software development teams require specialized management and leadership to prioritize and balance functionality, requirements, cost, and engineering best practices.

A third reason is that writing documentation and testing software are not tasks that many developers are passionate about, even though they are essential for ensuring the reliability, usability, and maintainability of software products.

To avoid these pitfalls, best practices include applying consistent development methodologies, writing clear and comprehensive documentation, automating tests, and having multiple equivalent environments with updated hardware and software to test each new release and deploy using high-availability architectures.

Achieving high availability

High availability is not only desirable but essential for many IT systems in today’s world. As more industries and consumers rely on electronic systems for their daily operations and transactions, the cost of failure can be significant and damaging.

Achieving high availability is not an easy task, as it requires careful planning, design, and replication of all the components that can fail or malfunction. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the trade-offs between the benefits and costs of high availability for different types of systems and applications.

High availability is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but a complex and dynamic challenge that requires constant innovation and adaptation.

Some of the techniques for high availability are:

  • Design systems with low coupling interfaces and communication mechanisms, such as queue messaging.
  • Reduce dependencies and plan for redundancy and failover in those that can not be removed.
  • Achieve redundancy by having all or critical system elements duplicated.
  • Have an automatic or manual failover plan like an additional data center ready to take over.
  • Use load balancing to distribute the work between multiple systems or data centers.
  • Use autoscaling to accommodate for changes in resource load and utilization.
  • Apply data synchronization techniques to distribute up-to-date copies of the data between multiple instances and data centers.
  • Deploy external monitoring and alerting capabilities in all your systems and have updated and documented procedures for system failure and disaster recovery.
  • Automate backups and store them in unmutable or write-once-read-many (WORM) devices.
  • Test your backups and disaster recovery strategy frequently.
  • Set risk mitigation as a top priority and involve all the team members.
  • Apply Chaos engineering to test system resiliency and identify weak elements to improve (for example by using AWS Fault Injection Simulator).
  • Use CI/CD workflows for automated continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment of software.
  • Define and automate all your infrastructure using Infrastructure as Code (IaC).

Obtain high availability at a fraction of the cost

Achieving high availability requires:

  • Duplicating infrastructure (data centers, servers, firewalls, databases, storage)
  • Decoupling systems and increasing the number of elements needed.
  • Automating as much as possible.
  • Having ready-to-use hardware available.

The public cloud has been designed with automation, redundancy, and autoscaling in mind, offering access to geographically distributed data centers and an extensive set of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) options to accommodate any need.

Cloud computing’s pay-as-you-go pricing model switches from the traditional capital expenses (CAPEX) model of the on-premises data center to an operating expenses (OPEX) model.

Companies using the cloud reduce the need for costly upfront investments while increasing the flexibility to adapt to changes in strategy and usage.

Your company can enjoy high availability by leveraging its cloud providers’ capabilities. Some examples are:

  • Deploying or falling back to multiple data centers around the world.
  • Local zone redundancy for databases and computing.
  • Shipping automated data backups and snapshots to different geographic regions.
  • Redundant and high-speed connectivity between data centers and the Internet.
  • Private cloud and connectivity (VPNs or Direct Links) for customers requiring managed services or private SaaS.
  • Security compliance inheritance.

Don’t let the fear of system failure keep you awake at night. You can take control of your infrastructure and leverage the cloud to mitigate the risks and ensure high availability. The cloud offers you the tools and services you need to duplicate, decouple, automate, and optimize your system components. With the cloud, you can enjoy the benefits of lower costs, higher flexibility, and greater reliability. The cloud could be the solution for your high-availability needs.

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Picture of Javier Ruiz

Javier Ruiz

Awarala Insights are based on the rich and diverse experience of Javier Ruiz, who founded and bootstrapped a SaaS company in the energy sector. His company, which was later acquired by a NASDAQ traded company, managed over €2 billion per year of electricity for prominent energy producers across Europe and America.

Javier has more than 20 years of experience in building and managing IT companies, developing cloud infrastructure, leading cross-functional teams, and transitioning his own company from on-premises, consulting, and custom software development to a successful SaaS model that scaled globally.

See About > leadership.

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