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5 Minutes

One of the frustrations when dealing with vendors is actually getting real availability figures for their kit; you will get generalisation,s like it is designed to be 99.999% available or perhaps 99.9999% available. But what do those figures really mean to you and how significant are they?

Well, 99.999% available equates to a bit over 5 minutes of downtime and 99.9999% equates to a bit over 30 seconds downtime over a year. And in the scheme of things, that sounds pretty good.

However, these are design criteria and aims; what are the real world figures? Vendors, you will find are very coy about this; in fact, every presentation I have had with regards to availability are under very strict NDA and sometimes not even notes are allowed to be taken. Presentations are never allowed to be taken away.

Yet, there’s a funny thing….I’ve never known a presentation where the design criteria are not met or even significantly exceeded. So why are the vendors so coy about their figures? I have never been entirely sure; it may be that their ‘mid-range’ arrays display very similar real world availability figures to their more ‘Enterprise’ arrays…or it might be that once you have real world availability figures, you might start ask some harder questions.

Sample size; raw availability figures are not especially useful if you don’t know the sample size. Availability figures are almost always quoted as an average and unless you’ve got a real bad design; more arrays can skew figures.

Sample characteristics; I’ve known vendors when backed into a corner to provide figures do some really sneaky things; for example, they may provide figures for a specific model and software release. This is often done to hide a bad release for example. You should always try to ask for the figures for the entire life of a product; this will allow you to judge the quality of the code. If possible as for a breakdown on a month-by-month basis annotated with the code release schedule.

There are many tricks that vendors try to pull to hide causes of downtime and non-availability but instead of focusing on the availability figures; as a customer, it is sometimes better to ask different specific questions.

What is the longest outage that you have suffered on one of your arrays? What was the root cause? How much data loss was sustained? Did the customer have to invoke disaster recovery or any recovery procedures? What is the average length of outage on an array that has gone down?

Do not believe a vendor when they tell you that they don’t have these figures and information closely and easily to hand. They do and if they don’t; they are pretty negligent about their QC and analytics. Surely they don’t just use all their Big Data capability to crunch marketing stats? Scrub that, they probably do.

Another nasty thing that vendors are in the habit of doing is forcing customers to not disclose to other customers that they have had issues and what they were. And of course we all comply and never discuss such things.

So 5 minutes…it’s about long enough to ask some awkward questions.


  • A

    Tip from the coach, make sure you have a good relationship with your presales guy! ;)

  • http://NetAppTechnicalAnalyst Mark

    Thank you for writing this. It is excellent. I feel strong enough about this subject that someday I may dedicate part of my career towards this.

    IT systems are used to run government, manage global trade, govern transportation, develop medicines…..
    Its a tragedy that the current state of IT does not have a mandated method to understand uptime.

    Im sorry, but Boeing or Airbus could not build and sell an airplane with only a “designed not to crash up to 99.999% of the time” on a spec sheet.

    Someday, IT is going to have to mature and accept that if the world wants to be automated and trusted with an IT backbone, that it needs to be scrutinized every bit as much as an airplane or a bridge.