Data Availability 101: What Data Availability Means and How to Achieve It

What is data availability, and what does data availability mean for your business? Keep reading for an overview of data availability and best practices for achieving it.

What Is Data Availability?

Put simply, data availability refers to the ability of data to remain accessible at all times, including following unexpected disruptions.

You could think of data availability as the data equivalent of application uptime. Software vendors and service providers like to talk about how they guarantee an extremely high level of uptime (Amazon famously promises “eleven nines” of availability, for example) for their applications and services. They do this because they want to emphasize how much effort they put into keeping their software up and running even when unexpected events — like a disk failure, cyber-attack or natural disaster — occur.

Data availability is similar in that it is a measure of how long your data remains available and usable, regardless of which disruptions may be occurring to the infrastructure or software that hosts the data.

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Why Does Data Availability Matter?

Ensuring data availability is important for a number of reasons. Some of them are obvious, and some less so.

Most obviously, if you depend on data to power your business, you want to keep that data available so that your business can continue to operate normally. Lack of availability of a database that contains customer email addresses might prevent your marketing department from conducting an email campaign, for example. Or the failure of a database that hosts account information might disrupt your employees’ ability to log into the applications that they need to do their jobs.

Data availability matters beyond your own organization, too. In many cases, your relationships with partner companies depend in part on the sharing of data, and if the data you are supposed to provide is unavailable, it could harm your partnerships.

In some cases, licensing agreements with vendors or customers may also require you to maintain certain levels of data availability. So could compliance frameworks; for example, article 32 of the GDPR mandates that companies retain “the ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner.”

Achieving High Data Availability

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Guaranteeing high rates of data availability requires addressing a number of factors that impact whether data is accessible:

The physical reliability of infrastructure

Are your servers and disks designed with data availability in mind? Is your data distributed across clusters so that it will remain available even if some parts of the infrastructure fail? Do you have tools and procedures in place to alert you to and help you resolve problems with the infrastructure? Are loads properly balanced across your infrastructure so that wear and tear is distributed evenly in order to maximize the longevity of the infrastructure as a whole? Are you prepared to handle disruptions like DDoS attacks, which could prevent access to your data?

Server and database recovery time

If your infrastructure does fail and you need to recover data, how quickly can you get your servers, disks and databases back up and running? The answer to this question depends not just on how quickly you can set up replacement hardware, but also how long it takes your software tools to perform tasks like rebooting operating systems and restarting database services.

Repair of corrupted data

Data can become unavailable not only when the infrastructure hosting it disappears, but also when the data becomes corrupted, and therefore unusable. How effective are your tools and processes at finding and repairing corrupted data?

Data formatting and transformation

Data that is not available in the correct format, or that takes a long time to transform from one format to another in order to become usable, can also cause data availability problems. Do you have the tools and processes in place to streamline data formatting and transformation?

Data Availability and Disaster Recovery

In most cases, data availability should be one component of your business’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan. Disaster recovery and business continuity involve making sure that all of your infrastructure, applications, and data are protected against unexpected disruptions.

When forming a disaster recovery plan, you should take into account the factors described above that impact data availability. You should also calculate metrics like Recover Time Objective (RTO), which measures how quickly you need to restore data in order to maintain business continuity, and Recovery Point Objective (RPO), which measures how much data you can afford to lose permanently following a disaster without causing a critical business disruption.

Learn more about the latest in high availability in our on-demand webcast.

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