Network Management

Is Five Nines Feasible for SMBs?

The concept of five nines availability has its roots inserver deployment. That standard demands that the IT department orthe service provider hired by an enterprise deliver access toapplications and data 99.999 percent of the time.

Even with today’s migration to cloud storage and SaaS (Software as aService) product delivery, much can happen to extend downtime to morethan the remaining 5.26 minutes of every year. Is that small window ofdowntime a pie in the sky for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), whetheror not they rely on cloud computing? Is it possible for SMBs to gainenough system backup to avoid a damning outage?

Depending on the nature of an SMB’s business operation, the fivenines gold standard might well be a goal just too costlyto reach. However, five nines uptime may be less of an issue thanguaranteeing data protection. The bigger question is, which part of thebalancing act does an SMB IT staff need more — data protection or dataavailability — to ensure business continuity?

“Business continuity is extremely important — but that does not meanapplication availability. Availability means five nines of uptime.Continuity means that when all else fails, you can get your data in areasonable time frame. That’s where judgment comes in to define areasonable time period and then chart a solution to achieve it,”Greg Donovan, CEO of Alpheon, told TechNewsWorld.

A Bridge Too Far?

Alpheon is a managed services provider (MSP)that designs, deploys, maintains and monitors systems for SMBs andlarger companies with a business-critical dependence on technology.The company is a strong proponent of data protection, which is not thesame as paying for five nines reliability, according to Donovan.

Five nines uptime is not something with which SMBs should struggle, heargued. While that goal is technically attainable for SMBs, it is almostimpossible to find an SMB willing to spend the time and money requiredto guarantee it.

What matters most to SMBs is access to their data. Even though anoutage is painful, it is not usually fatal. What is more harmful is a lackof an excellent backup system, he noted.

“A big balance has to go into place. For some people it is literallymaking sure that the backup and maintenance system is infallible,”Donovan said. “It depends on what the access needs are, the time frame,and the scope of the business — but one size doesn’t fit all.”

Balancing Act

A fairly simple cost analysis can help an SMB determine its idealsolution. The analysis includes factors such as how the data isclustered, how many data centers are involved, and what types of dataneed recovery. At issue is how much an SMB is willing to spend to getcloser to five nines uptime.

“I would argue that you don’t always need five nines of reliability.It’s a cost-benefit consideration. It is important only if access tocustomers is always required. There is a point where cost doesn’tbenefit,” Justin Moore, CEO of data protection and online backup firmAxcient, told TechNewsWorld.

Most important for many SMBs is a recovery strategy — how longit takes to get back up and running. It does not always make sense foran SMB to chase the five nines uptime standard, defined as less than six minutes ofdowntime per year, he explained.

The majority of small businesses do not need that kind of availability. What they doneed is a high availability of applications and reasonable continuityso they can literally run their businesses without it, he said.

Space Computing

That prescription for crash survival and recovery may not fall within the comfortzones of high-value warehouse operations and retail stores and officestethered to branch locations. Some small businesses can trade thefive-nines availability dance for hardware appliances and always-connected dataservice products that provide customers with resiliency andredundancy. Those SMBs needing the five-nines mantle can pay thehigher costs of other solutions.

“It comes down to what happens when the outage occurs. I don’t knowtoo many large enterprises that require 99.9 percent reliability,” DougMedina, senior director for SMB and enterprise marketing for HughesNetwork Systems, told TechNewsWorld.

One option Hughes offers is an overlayed DSL backupwith its satellite connection. However, that solution usually does not fitSMB clients in smaller spaces because of its cost, according to Medina.

However, “it makes a lot of sense for retail store chains,” he said.

Adding Appliances

SMBs, like larger enterprises that do need five nines reliability, also need anarchitecture to provide it. 3Tera’s AppLogicappliance solution offers individual user portals andmultiple servers from around the globe to guarantee access to data andapplications.

“The system is capable of self-healing. If the human being getsinvolved, by definition, you’ve missed five nines. It is not possibleto achieve five nines by trying to make sure nothing goes down. It ispossible by insuring that when the system does go down, things stillwork as expected. That’s where redundancy comes in,” Bert Armijmo,senior vice president for sales marketing and product management for3Tera, told TechNewsWorld.

With a plan and technology in place, achieving five nines availability is indeed possiblefor SMBs, according to Armijmo. Cloud computing makes world-class IT available to everybodyon an SMB budget, he said.

What It Takes

3Tera’s approach measures system availability through a full meteringsystem. A front-end component constantly tries to access thecustomer’s system. When it cannot, it gets logged as down time. Thena replicated replacement is put online.

Axcient’s three services are designed to protect and restore data.RapidRestore Data Backup Services offers network-speed restoration sosubscribers can reach their recovery time objectives (RTO).SmartArchive Data Retention Services provide flexible scheduling forlong-term online data retention and the capability for point-in-timerestoration to reach recovery point objectives (RPO). SmartDR DisasterRecovery Servicesmakes possible a rapid return to business in the event of a site failure.

Alpheon’s managed care services provide around-the-clock systemmonitoring and remote tech support. The company’s managed IT providesa subscription service with performance-based service level agreements.

Hughes Network Systems offers specialized satellite broadband backupplans for SMBs that provide automatic failover in the event of alandline outage. This type of system could be a solution forthose SMBs whose livelihoods depend on a 24/7 reliable networkconnection. The company has two plan options, depending on the type ofprimary landline service, Internet access or private network thecustomer uses.


  • Most hardware vendors and systems consultants defined 5-nines as being 100% certainty that you will achieve 99.999% uptime. This is because a single piece of equipment or system can achieve 99.999% uptime over a limited time window, but still not be a 5-nines system. So, to assure true 5-nines, you need geographic diversity as well as fully redundant hardware/software. This is what Bert Armijo from 3Tera was alluding to when he spoke of having a "plan and technology", since high availability systems have to be designed from the ground up to achieve 5-nines. Important parts of the plan are providing for failover at every level of technology, proper monitoring and maintenance of all systems, and choosing technology that is failover-ready, as well as the softer goal of having a culture of quality and reliability in your organization.

  • "While that goal is technically attainable for SMBs, it is almost impossible to find an SMB willing to spend the time and money required to guarantee it."

    Yes, this used to be the case but there are firms out there that strive to to actually service the SMBs of the world and to give them the support they need. There is a regional IT Services firm called Trigon Technology that provides these services at a price point all organizations can afford. Check them out at . If you know of any small businesses in the Philadelphia area they can surely help them with five nines at a more than bearable price point.

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