Archive 26 July 2006 #53
FOR SOLID HIGH AVAILABILITY
START FROM THE GROUND UP
by William A. Flanagan
Still digesting the input from GlobalComm in Chicago in early June. Not a huge attendance, which left exhibitors with time to talk to this inquiring consultant. As a telco show, the floor included a lot of "carrier grade" products designed for five-nines availability. In this issue we'll summarize, then come back for more details in later issues.
In thinking about HA, phone companies really do start from the ground up. Several aisles were filled with outside plant equipment designed for direct burial. Not new, but in more varieties than a few years ago, were large plastic moldings that replace pre-formed or poured-in-place concrete. Not usually a concern of enterprises, but possible components in a campus network.
Buried vaults benefit from an almost constant ground temperature below 3 or 4 ft from the surface, but the humidity can be high. Into those spaces go many of the devices that enterprises use in LANs, such as data switches, but built to different specifications. In the arguably better conditions of the average wiring closet or communications room, these telco-oriented devices should show very high reliability.
Part of that reliability comes from the time for testing that carriers give their vendors during the sales cycle--probably not intentionally. The traditionally slow sales cycle isn't necessarily good for starting the vendor's revenue stream but priceless in letting them deliver a product that doesn't need software patches the first month after it's installed.
Jim Ewel, CEO of GoAhead Software, commented on his company's middleware for high availability computing platforms, but with applicability for most software. Their development process has many gates for each release to pass through, to help ensure a stable product. His firm generally runs a beta test for about six months for a new version, perhaps half that for a minor change--longer than some tests we've seen for enterprise premises equipment.
GoAhead helps more than phone companies and their vendors. Their software offers an API to applications that is independent of the underlying operating system and provides services to deal with many specific hardware configurations. We'll look at this market space that includes the new Windows clustering feature and the Linux Beowolf project, among others.
Higher up the protocol stack we saw routers with non-stop forwarding features from Alcatel that reflected a telco-like attitude toward availability, but will be marketed to enterprise customers as well. Cisco, among others, has had a similar feature for some time.
Storage is playing a larger role in HA. The range of network attached storage, storage area networks, and RAID devices is growing in variety, features, and importance. Not only are regulations and laws mandating an archive of certain information, these systems are key to HA and disaster recovery strategies.
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