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Highly Available (HA) vs. Highly Reliable (HR)

The other day I was working with my neighbor’s kid on his baseball fundamentals and I found myself repeating the phrase “Remember the Basics.”  Over the course of the afternoon we played catch, worked on swinging the bat, and fielded grounders until our hands hurt. As the afternoon slipped into the evening hours, I started to see that baseball and my business have several similarities.

My business is Cloud Computing, and my company, 2nd Watch, is working to pioneer Cloud Adoption with Enterprise businesses.  As we discover new ways of integrating systems, performing workloads, and running applications, it is important for us not to forget the fundamentals. One of the most basic elements of this is using the proper terminology. I’ve found that in many cases my customers, partners, and even my colleagues can have different meanings for many of the same terms. One example that comes up frequently is the difference between having a Highly Available infrastructure vs. Highly Reliable infrastructure. I want to bring special attention to these two terms and help to clearly define their meaning.

High Availability (HA) is based on designing and implementing systems that are proactively created to handle the operational capacity to meet their required performance. For example, within Cloud Computing we leverage tools like Elastic Load Balancing and Auto Scaling to automate the scaling of infrastructure to handle the variable demand for web sites. As traffic increases, servers are spun up to handle the load and vice versa as it decreases.  If a user cannot access a website or it is deemed “unavailable,” then you risk the potential loss of readership, sales, or the attrition of customers.

On the other hand, Highly Reliable (HR) systems have to do with your Disaster Recovery (DR) model and how well you prepare for catastrophic events. In Cloud Computing, we design for failure because anything can happen at any time. Having a proper Disaster Recovery plan in place will enable your business to keep running if problems arise. Any company with sensitive IT operations should look into a proper DR strategy, which will support their company’s ability to be resilient in the event of failure. While a well-planned DR schema may cost you more money upfront, being able to support both your internal and external customers will pay off in spades if an event takes place that requires you to fail over.

In today’s business market it is important to take the assumptions out of our day-to-day conversations and make sure that we’re all on the same page. The difference between being Highly Available and Highly Reliable systems is a great example of this. By simply going back to the fundamentals, we can easily make sure that our expectations are met and our colleagues, partners, and clients understand both our spoken & written words.

-Blake Diers, Cloud Sales Executive