Retail organizations that have multiple branch sites are fighting a constant battle to maintain branch uptime. I’m sure you can appreciate the implication of a server, POS or computer going down at any retail branch as this often results in an inability to take any form of payments.
Depending on the severity, a branch can be dead in the water for a few hours or a few days depending on how quickly the systems can be brought back online. Many restaurant operations give out free coffee and food during these periods of down time to keep their customer happy and although this gives many customers a smile it hurts the company pocket.
There are solutions out there that can be implemented to help prevent or reduce the risk of these periods of downtime but are often overlooked as they can prove to cost you more than the expense of un-anticipated downtime.
The Need for Storage
Storage enables you to benefit from VMware features such as High Availability and vMotion, which in a nutshell enable a failover of business critical application/ data from one server to another if either should fail. The benefit of this is that you have continuous uptime. More information on High Availability and vMotion
Storage Area Networks (SAN) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) are typically used to keep guard and serve up business critical applications and data. This has proven successful in the past but at a very high cost as the storage solutions alone can cost anywhere from $10,000 – $100,000, but the buck does not stop there.
Physical Storage solutions (SAN/NAS) continue to cost you well past their implementation, in fact they will continue to cost you money until they eventually are outdated and are thrown on the scrap heap.
How do they continue to cost me money? Physical storage solutions “reduce” the possibility of down time, they do not prevent it. When the inevitable day come’s, due to the complex nature of a SAN/NAS you would require technically trained staff to get the hardware back up and running.
It’s clearly not an affordable option to have technically trained staff located at each site lying in wait for the systems to go down. It is equally unaffordable for Centrally Based IT administrators to have to travel long distances to resolve an issue as it would incur travel costs and lengthy down time.
Storage Virtual Appliances (SVA) leverage the internal disks of servers to present the unutilized space as shared storage. With 2 or more servers an SVA goes a step further as it mirrors the data between each so that if one server fails the data on the other is identical.
This shared storage and mirroring allows a user to unlock VMware features such as high availability and vMotion. SVA’s are very cost effective solutions and are available for as little as $2,000 but the benefits of an SVA go beyond initial costs.
Benefits of an SVA
Deployment of Multiple Sites
Achieving High Availability with SVA’s is typically a painless process, (that depends on solution provider) an SVA such as StorMagic’s SvSAN for example can be installed on both hosts, create the needed shared storage and enable high availability in less than 1 hour.
If a branch is already set-up with 2 servers this can be done from a central office, the only downside of this is that it may take some time to transfer the necessary SVA installation files but this is dependent on the bandwidth available to you. (But still better traveling)
The benefit of this is that business operations are not disturbed, IT Administrators are not required to visit the site (Again depends if servers are already in place) and no outsourced personal / additional training required.
Management of Multiple Sites
One of the biggest challenges IT administrators face in larger multi-site environments is management, how do you manage multiple sites effectively, especially when one server or SVA goes down.
Some SVA’s are integrated into VMware’s vCenter and enables the end-user to manage the SVA’s and the servers at any location from a single familiar interface.
Down time Resolution / Prevention
Every business is effected by down time at one point or another and in multi-site environments can cause some major headaches.
Physical SAN solutions essentially are a single point of failure, regardless of having high availability. A physical solution is holding all the data and business critical applications which is being served up to the server/s, if one server fails everything can failover to the other as the data is still available.
But what if that SAN fails? This would cause some very large headaches for your IT department, because it is very unlikely for you to have training storage professionals at each site it would require you to either hire someone or for you IT administrator to travel to the site to resolve the issue. This can lead to costly expenses and unnecessary Down-Time, both options are expensive and lengthy.
An SVA on the other hand resolves the single point of failure issue because an SVA mirrors data to both (or More) servers meaning that each server holds identical information so if one fails the other can rely on its own internal copies.
With an SVA integrated into vCenter,if a server or the SVA fails getting either back online can be done without any staff leaving the office. In a scenario where physical hardware needs replacing or maintenance then physical presence of IT staff would be required regardless of physical/virtual.
Connectivity to multiple sites is a major factor affecting the efficiency of central management, a very slow connection or no connection at all would prevent you from deploying and managing sites from a central office however an SVA would still be able to provide you the redundancy you need to keep business critical applications available until a failed server or SVA if repaired/resolved.
As mentioned before, SVA’s are very affordable and are available from around $2,000, the savings are very apparent when compared to physical solutions which can range from $10,000 – $100,000.
The financial benefits of an SVA go beyond the initial purchase and continue to save you money on:
- Support: SVA’s are considerably cheaper than physical solutions as are the annual support costs
- Maintenance / Upgrades: SVA’s are a software solution and do not require expensive maintenance costs. Supported customers are able to keep their SVA’s up to date with simple software upgrades which are included in the support agreement.
- Staffing and Training: SVA’s are typically easy to use and do not require any additional training or specially trained staff. Central management reduces the need for trained IT staff locally, IT travel or outsource It professionals.
- Depreciation of Hardware: Technology is a rapidly improving sector with hardware depreciating at a fast rate as technology improves. SVA’s are not affected by this as this as supported customer can keep with the time with simple software updates.
- Electricity: No additional hardware means no additional electricity
- Down Time Resolution: Prevention and fast resolution times ensure more business uptime.
Up-Coming Webinar: Achieve Stress-free Branch-office System
Date/Time: January 31 2011 / 11:00 am EST