Data must be readily available when it is needed. Not only is this essential to the efficient running of your business, but is also critical to achieving compliance with security regulations — like the GDPR. If data is not available this constitutes a breach under the GDPR. So, maintaining a high level of high data availability is vital to any business’s sustainable success and any compromise to data availability can have serious consequences, on many levels, for your business.
Data availability in a nutshell
Essentially, data availability refers to the capability to ensure that the data that your business needs to function is always accessible when and, where required, even when disruption occurs. It shows the level to which data can be constantly accessed by end users, applications and any IT system processes. The measures employed to safeguard data availability need to permit, manage, and sustain the accessibility of the data no matter the adverse circumstances that the organization may face. This is critical because if the data is not accessible, it’s really the same as not having the data at all. When users, tools, technologies, systems, and processes rely on data accessibility to function and the data is inaccessible, missing, or compromised in any way — including altered, incorrect, or out of date — failures will arise, often leading to accumulative damage, both directly to the business as well as to those that the business services.
Why high data availability is pertinent to business success
Depending on the organization, the services that it provides, the type of data that it relies on to function and how the data is used to service the organization as well as its customers and the wider community, the magnitude of the impact from unavailable data can vary greatly.
Inconsistent fluctuations in data availability could potentially have catastrophic implications for some organizations — even life-threatening effects or public wide disruption. Just consider the impacts of data not being accessible to hospitals or doctors, for example, and the impact that this could have on its patients. In most cases, not being able to access critical data when needed will cause business operations to come to a standstill. So, the ability to maintain high data availability should be a top priority for any business.
Not only can low levels of data availability impact your organization financially but the inability to function and provide your services to your customers, clients, patients, the community and so on will result in the loss of their trust in your business or service and could have long-lasting damaging effects on your business’s reputation.
By ensuring your data is always available and of good quality, you can avoid many damaging outcomes.
Consequences of not having data available when needed
If you are providing services that rely on data to drive them and the data is not available this will have a direct monetary impact on your business. Also, people and systems use data to fulfil their job function and if data accessibility is obstructed this will impact how productive they can be which may result in financial implications. A lot of the time the effects can disrupt all connected business channels too, moving throughout the organization, leading to accumulative damages.
A number of compliances require businesses to ensure the proper handling, transfer, storage, and security of data at all times. This involves data availability and data quality too.
When processing personal and sensitive information the GDPR, for example, has requirements for data availability. Health-care regulations like HIPAA as well as compliance requirements for any organization that handles card payments both require measures to be taken to ensure the correct and safe processing of data.
If data is not handled appropriately and is not available or accessible when and where it is needed, you will be accountable under the various legislations that your business must comply with.
Damage to potential prospects
If data is not available or not visible, you are unable to benefit from all the potential opportunities available to your business. Without clear visibility of the real data that you process — up-to-date data of good quality and integrity — you are unable to see the real picture and use the data to offer better products or services to your customers. By failing to devise appropriate solutions and improve your offerings your future business prospects are limited.
Measures should be put in place to allow the data to be made securely available when and where it is needed and rather access to it should be appropriately monitored and controlled. A system that is good for one organization may not be the same for another.
Brand and reputation damage
A large part of business success is built on brand and reputation that an organization nurtures over many years. It takes a very long time to shape and grow but it can be destroyed instantly. More often than not, a tarnished brand and reputation is very difficult to bounce back from and can cause lasting damages or even the end of many businesses.
If your business model depends on data and the services that you deliver are reliant on data, it is vital that the data is available to allow your business to function and to maintain reliable offerings.
Generally, we are finding that customers are more unforgiving when it comes to customer service and any lapse in a positive service will not be taken lightly. The same can be said for their data — any misuse of it or loss of it will not go unnoticed. With the prevalence of social media usage, customers are sure to quickly and easily share (and spread) their annoyance and unhappiness and this will have severe repercussions for your business brand. This could lead to the unravelling of everything that you have taken the money, time, and effort to build.
Maintaining data availability
Businesses make critical decisions regarding their data infrastructure. Some entrust their business data with third-party providers. Some use their own physical infrastructure and others may have completely virtual environments or opt for hybrid setups. The chosen data infrastructure depends on the unique requirements that the business has. However, no matter the data solutions an organization chooses to use, the data that they rely on to function needs to be highly available, all of the time, for them to continuously thrive.
Continuously maintaining high data availability can be challenging as the extent to which data is available is easily impacted by common factors. As data can be stored and processed over multiple environments and is not always under the complete control of the organization this adds to the challenge of ensuring its continuous availability.
Understandably in these instances (where data is dispersed throughout environments and with third parties), strict contractual agreements exist between the parties to ensure the highest data availability at all times, but as with anything else, things do not always go to plan.
When an organization entrusts its data to a third party, a service level agreement usually guarantees an uptime performance level, but any level of downtime, even just one hour per year (which at a glance does not seem bad at all), is a lot if that hour coincides with a moment in time when access to the data is needed.
Generally, to ensure the best data availability, services, products, processes, and policies are enlisted to achieve this. So that data can be available all of the time including during normal everyday situations as well as during times of disaster.
By implementing measures like data security, data management and data storage management technologies, host server management and optimizing networks and systems, for example, high data availability is encouraged.
Properly securing and managing the data helps to optimize both data availability and data durability. Data security and management tools exist that allow you to secure and manage your data in such a way that you know that it cannot be accessed or tampered with without your knowledge and consent, thus ensuring its reliability and integrity. Also, you can restrict data to locations of your choice so that it is readily available to the users and systems when and where it is required. This will ensure the highest levels of data availability.
Data durability is just as important as data availability. It is no good to have high levels of availability but your data is not durable — accurate, up to date, reliable and secure. The data must be kept accurate, its quality must be maintained and it must be guaranteed as reliable all of the time. Ultimately, this is only achievable if it is properly managed and secured. So, essentially, data durability goes hand in hand with data availability.
Managing data availability should be a primary part of your disaster recovery and continuity plan. Having backup copies of your data ensures that you will not lose your data when stored data is damaged in any way. Data redundancy measures are key. Another way to encourage high data availability is by employing multiple access routes to the data so that if one part of a system fails you have another way to access the data. So, multiple data copies and multiple access routes are helpful. Automatic failover is important when disruption occurs so that continuous access to data is always assured.
Knock down the barriers to data availability
Designing and building a business infrastructure with data availability as a key component can help to solve some of the barriers to data availability. By considering the common barriers, solutions can be found and implemented to encourage high data availability.
For example: If a server goes down, data will be inaccessible unless measures to accommodate this failure have been employed, such as enlisting automated failovers to a backup operation. If there is a data storage failure, having multiple redundant storage options available is suggested so that a single failure does not hinder all access to the data. A network’s involvement with data availability must be a primary consideration during the network design process because if a network goes down, data is usually made unavailable. Data Compatibility should be considered. If data compatibility issues exist, the data may not always be accessible when needed. Last but not least, if data is of poor quality (not up to date, inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent) it is basically useless. So, implement measures that support maintaining data’s durability for the long term.
By carefully incorporating procedures that distinctively secure and manage data as well as control the access to it, you will encourage high availability. When done properly, the data is highly accessible to those with the access rights when and where it is required, yet highly inaccessible to adversaries.
With careful design and planning, you can achieve high levels of data availability as well as data durability — even in challenging environments and at times of disaster.
Featured image: Shutterstock