Product Review: Vision's iTera High-Availability Managed Services

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For many IT departments, there is an ongoing conflict between the critical needs to improve systems availability and to focus on core competencies. This is why several new and valuable managed-services offerings have emerged recently from high availability (HA) and system management vendors.

For decades, management gurus have advised companies to focus on their core competencies—processes and proficiencies that are the fundamental drivers of competitive advantages in their particular enterprises and industries. Unfortunately, because maintaining consistent application and data availability is a basic requirement shared by all companies in all industries, it rarely falls into the category of "core competencies" as defined by management experts.

The Benefits of Using an Expert

Well-designed HA software should require little ongoing maintenance and monitoring in the average System i environment. "Little," however, is not a synonym for "none." Yet because these tasks consume so little time each month, only a fraction of an expert may be needed to manage the high availability infrastructure. Consequently, this role may be assumed by someone whose primary responsibilities lie elsewhere.

While ongoing maintenance requirements may be few, readiness for a switch-over (the ability to move users and processes to the synchronized backup machine) needs to be tested on a regular basis, preferably monthly. And that testing can be a little challenging for companies unfamiliar with it. The same goes for the infrequent live switch-overs that need to be executed in the event of planned or unplanned downtime. Because switch-over tests and live executions are done infrequently, the person who manages the HA system often has to relearn the necessary skills each time. That's where iTera HA Managed Services from Vision Solutions can benefit many companies.

One might think that iTera HA Managed Services would appeal only to small- and medium-sized companies since large enterprises with several production servers might support a full-time (or almost full-time) HA expert. This is not the case. At least one company near the top of the Fortune 100 list uses iTera HA Managed Services because it recognizes that HA management is not one of its core competencies. It has a complex IT environment and acknowledges the difficulty in providing the resources necessary to periodically test the switch-over process. Consequently, this company's management believes it is appropriate to contract with people who are exposed to and resolve a wide variety HA issues on a daily basis. These professionals are able to develop a level of expertise difficult for an organization's in-house staff to acquire, considering their more limited HA activities.

Staff turnover also can be a problem. When the demands on a particular technical area are light enough to be handled by a single expert—possibly one with other responsibilities as well—it poses a problem when that expert leaves, since the expertise leaves with her. The nature of availability issues is such that you can never predict when you will need to call on that expertise. Disasters don't wait for a new expert to come on board. Continuity of HA skills is therefore essential.

Finally, iTera HA Managed Services guarantees that in the event of unplanned downtime—a time when chaos typically reigns supreme in the IT department—there will be an HA expert available who knows your systems' environment and can help you switch to your backup environment quickly so your business processes keep running with little interruption.

Components of iTera HA Managed Services

The iTera HA Managed Services offering allows companies to offload all of the monitoring, management, and testing of their HA infrastructure, with Vision Solutions experts assuming responsibility for the completion of those tasks. As part of this service, Vision performs the following:
  • Monitors the HA software as frequently as required
  • Completes and documents daily and weekly, monitoring checklists
  • Receives and responds to any alerts issued by the HA software
  • Runs HA audits
  • Resolves primary/backup system synchronization issues should they occur
  • Ensures that all iTera PTFs are up-to-date
  • Reviews and replicates any new libraries as required
  • Addresses all open HA issues on a timely basis
  • Performs system role swap tests as requested or on a regular basis, as defined by the services contract
  • Assists in any role swaps required to accommodate planned maintenance or to maintain operations during an unplanned outage
  • Conducts regular client meetings to discuss ongoing requirements and issues

All of these activities can be performed remotely by Vision staff. This helps to lower the cost of the service, while still delivering all of the benefits that a team of full-time HA experts can provide.

Test Role Swap Without Disruption

When running a test of the HA environment, Vision HA professionals can simulate a role swap. When doing so, all of the activities performed during a real role swap are completed, but the primary system is not taken offline. The Vision professionals then verify that the secondary system is ready to act as the primary server even though it never does assume this role. Thus, even if the test discovers a problem, production operations are not disrupted in any way.

For companies of all sizes, the iTera HA Managed Services offering takes the worry out of high availability. It ensures that all required maintenance, monitoring, and testing is performed as required to ensure a switch-over-ready environment. Eliminating the need to hire and train in-house HA professionals offers savings that helps offset the cost of the service. Possibly most important, iTera HA Managed Services guarantees that in the event of unplanned downtime, an HA expert is at your disposal. For many companies, this extra peace of mind is very welcome.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm, and author of BYTE-ing Satire. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Solutions, Inc.
17911 Von Karman
Irvine, CA 92614

Tel: 949.253.6500
Fax: 949.253.6501
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