Mission Critical Computing Blog
Your source for the latest insights on HP Integrity, mission critical computing, and other relevant server and technology topics from the BCS team.

Measuring Uptime

How do you measure uptime? Is it becoming more important in your environment? Is downtime costing your company more or less today when compared to a  few years ago?


For many customers, the amount of downtime that they experience is increasing, often due to the complexity of new systems. In addition, the cost of downtime is also increasing, usually due to the businesses increased reliance on IT systems. In short, for many customers, downtime is a bigger issue than in the past.


 


Coming from a business that spends a lot of time working with mission-critical customers, I've seen some interesting changes over the past few years, especially where uptime measurement is concerned.


 


I've seen that with virtualization, many workloads that each have lower uptime requirements are consolidated onto fewer platforms. Often, this means that the uptime requirements for platform actually increase compared to the individual workloads. However, virtualization also provides benefits, such as moving workloads online which allows maintenance to be completed without bringing down the application -  a great way to reduce planned downtime.


 


I've also noticed that as systems get more complex, and vendors build in more availability into the applications, that the overall uptime of the application increases. However, the uptime of an individual node in a cluster may not be as high as a single node of the application. Why? Because the increased complexity of the cluster results in higher overall availability, but at times it sacrifices the ease of management, configuration, and maintenance that may be available in a single node version, resulting in more downtime.


 


So, how do you measure uptime in your environment? Do you measure it based on the uptime of the server? Does that change if you can move a virtual machine workload from one system to another to handle planned downtime?


 


Do you measure uptime based on the OS availability? I can move my virtualized workload from one server to another, and the OS stays running. This is wonderful, and definitely helps reduce planned downtime. If you are running a cluster of virtual machines, and the clustering only measures whether a server is running (for unplanned downtime) or if the administrator needs to manually start an online migration (for planned downtime), it is hard to get OS level availability or application level availability measurements.


 


Do you measure uptime based on the application availability? This is easy in a clustered environment when the cluster understand the applications, such as with HP Serviceguard . While this works well for mission critical applications, it does take some effort to get that level of application integration. And then, how do you measure uptime on a multi-node solution, such as Oracle RAC? Do you measure the uptime of each node, any of the nodes, or all of the nodes?


 


So, how do you measure the uptime of your environment, or do you use different measurements for different systems or parts of your environment? How do you navigate vendor uptime claims, especially since different solutions may offer similar claims (ex. 99.9% uptime), but often measure different things (ex. Application uptime versus physical server or virtual machine uptime)? Do your uptime measurements include  planned downtime for maintenance, or just unplanned downtime? Comments or thoughts on how this plays out in the real world are always appreciated.


 


Jacob

Are you paying all year for a holiday spike in traffic?

 


Over the years, I've met with many customers who have spikes in their holiday traffic. I've spoken with a southern hemisphere beverage company, who has a huge spike in orders the last Monday morning before Christmas. I've spoken with a customer who's busiest day of the year is the final Friday before Christmas. I've spoken to numerous retailers who have their busiest shopping days at this time of the year. Often, these spikes are 10 times or more higher than the average demand.


 


How do these customers adapt to the high levels of seasonal demand? The first, and most obvious technical way is to provision their systems to handle the peak demand. Of course, that means they are paying for excess capacity for the rest of the year. Having said that, they meet their business requirements, customers are happy, and the IT department keeps their jobs.


 


The alternative of reducing the peak size of the systems, so that they can't handle all the demand, will save a little money on the IT budget. However, every year, there are IT infrastructures that get a surge of demand that they weren't designed to handle, and the company ends up losing customers, their reputation, and a lot more money than the extra capacity would have cost in the first place.


 


Having said that, more and more customers are looking at this environment, and with reduced budgets, they want the best of both worlds. Customers need to handle their peak capacity, but also take advantage of lower costs. At the end of the day, there are two ways that virtualization can help in this situation.


 


First, and perhaps the easiest way, its to take advantage of some sort of flexible financing so that you only pay for additional capacity when you actually need it.  This is the idea behind offerings such as Instant Capacity and Temporary Instant Capacity on HP Integrity servers all the way to truly flexible cloud computing offerings such as Amazon EC2.


 


The second way is to run additional workloads on the systems to use up the extra capacity. This works well, as long as those additional workloads can be released to provide resources for the primary workload when the demand spikes come along. Dynamic hard partitions (nPars), dynamic vPars, virtual machine, and application stacking technologies all make this possible . Freeing up resources can be everything from manually shutting down low priority workloads to automatically shifting resources between partitions to migrating workloads off of a system. I've even come across some unique ways of tackling this problem:



  • locking down the environment for a few months, and shutting off all development and test systems;

  • running on a single node of Oracle RAC for most of the year and expanding to multiple nodes for the holiday rush;

  • migrating production workloads to larger or dedicated systems for a period of time

  • and more.


The good news is that virtualization technologies, such as Insight Dynamics - VSE , whether on HP Integrity servers, HP ProLiant servers, or HP BladeSystem, create an environment where this is not only possible, but relatively easy to do.


 


Actually, these customers have it relatively easy. They know that they will have a holiday spike. They even can generate a reasonably accurate estimate of the workload that their systems will see on those days. They can plan to lock down their environment in advance to free up test or development systems. They can manually resize partitions days or weeks in advance. And since the holiday season is reasonably predictable, they can make there plans well in advance.


 


The nice thing about Insight Dynamics - VSE for HP Integrity is that while it makes it easier to handle the predicted fluctuations, it actually excels in handling the unpredictable spikes and troughs in demand equally well. Since it is automated, tools like the HP Global Workload Manager component in Insight Dynamics - VSE for Integrity can observe and react to changes in the environment in seconds-  not minutes or hours. It automates the rest of the portfolio, including the partitioning, clustering, and instant capacity products to automatically react to changing workloads.


 


At the end of the day, automation of a flexible environment provides the best of both worlds - high levels of utilization (and therefore lower total cost of ownership), but with the ability to handle peak workloads - whether predictable peaks like the holidays, or an unpredictable peak. The best of both worlds - and a less stressful holiday season for all those who work in IT.


 


Jacob

UNIX and Linux in the Datacenter

 


A number of years ago, I was working booth duty at Linux World in San Francisco. I believe that I was showing off the HP Virtual Server Environment for Integrity servers running Linux, now Insight-Dynamics - VSE for Integrity servers


 


At one point during the day, after a customer demo, one of the two people watching the demo started asking about HP-UX 11i, and UNIX in general. We talked about server virtualization for HP-UX for a bit, and then came the big question. Does UNIX have a future? Isn't Linux on x86 going to wipe it out?


 


My answer then, much as it is now, was that UNIX is a large, mature market, and that the existing vendors were going to keep innovating in that market for years to come. The revenues on non-x86 servers, at least back then, were roughly the same as for x86 servers, although the x86 server market was and is growing faster. Linux is going to grow, especially for new workloads.  However, UNIX will still deliver mission critical environments, especially for existing workloads, better than many of the operating systems typically found on x86 servers. I used server virtualization as a proof point: the UNIX environments were offering a variety of mission critical virtualization technologies that were not available on Linux at that time (such as dynamic hard partitions and instant capacity), and indeed, are still not available today. In other words, Linux was small and growing, but UNIX was big and stable, and would be around for years to come.


 


After the customer walked away, satisfied with the answer, the other person watching the demo spoke up. She worked on AIX, and commented that she was glad I got to answer that question, since she also had to answer it many times! We shared a laugh, and went our separate ways.


 


Now, years later, I still get the question on a regular basis, and my answer is still much the same. I keep speaking with sales reps, who are still making a living selling UNIX. I keep speaking with customers, who definitely want more UNIX servers, and are often wondering not whether or not to keep UNIX, but which UNIX vendor they should buy from (HP of course, since that is where I draw a paycheck <grin>).


 


In addition, we have the Gabriel Consulting Group reports on UNIX preference . Their report on UNIX is title UNIX: Alive, Well, and Strategic . In short, the report states something that many of us already know: In the datacenter, UNIX is still a go to choice for mission critical workloads, especially for large enterprise customers.


 


I look forward to working with those customers and sales reps for years to come.


 


Jacob

Transatlantic Training and Remembrance Day

Well, I'm at 36,000 feet and coming up on Fort McMurray (yes, I've been to Fort Mac) on a flight back from London on Remembrance Day .


As a Canadian, now living in the US (San Jose), I miss the minute or two of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. While I had just boarded the plane in London at 11 am and personally observed a few minutes of silence (with no one to talk to, it wasn't hard), it was great to see the whole terminal come to a halt for a few minutes from my window seat on the plane. We should never forget those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.


Why am I on my way back from London? November is the start of a new fiscal year at HP, and after a tough 2009, we're getting out at least a little to provide training for our sales forces around the world. There are two main goals - inform and invigorate! If you are a HP customer, ask your specialist sales rep what they learned, what's new, and perhaps even what is coming up this year.


As always, spending time with sales reps from around the world is always a lot of fun and a great way to share, but also a great way to learn about what is happening with customers. While I get to speak to a dozens of customers every year through the HP Executive Briefing Center, the opportunity to speak to dozens of sales reps gives me a much broader understanding of what is happen with our customers.

Not a surprise after this past year, many of our customers are doing what HP did - do what you need to to survive 2009. However, there seems to be optimism that 2010 will be a much better year.


One of the other themes that came up time and time again was productivity, and helping customers move from spending a lot of time and effort on maintenance to spending the majority of their time and effort on new development and enhancements which make their business more productive. Whether it is through management (ex. HP SIM -http://h18013.www1.hp.com/products/servers/management/hpsim/index.html), further server automation of both physical and virtual environments (ex. Insight Orchestrator - http://h18004.www1.hp.com/products/solutions/insightdynamics/provision.html), capacity planning (ex. Capacity Advisor -http://h18004.www1.hp.com/products/solutions/insightdynamics/optimize-capacity.html), or many other ways, the biggest inhibitor tends to be that people are just too busy maintaining their existing systems to invest the time to implement the technologies that would make them more efficient. In many cases, our customers have even purchased the licenses or HP has provided it as an update to an existing license, such as with the enhancements to the HP-UX 11i v3 Operating Environments .


One example: I asked our sales reps how long it took their customers to provision a new server once a request was received. Many of the sales reps said weeks to months. One sales rep said 5 minutes. His customer is using their time much more efficiently than most of the customers the sales reps in the room work with. I'm sure it took the customer an investment of time and energy to get to that point. I know that it took HP a significant investment in process re-engineering to go from provisioning 1 server a day to being able to do ~100 per day, with the same number of people. However, that effort makes the customer, as well as HP in our case, more competitive.



So, if customers don't have the time to invest in the technologies and processes that would reduce their maintenance efforts, how can we help them get there? Should we provide more compelling business cases (although we try to do that already)? Do we bring in HP Technology Services to help our customers implement these technologies? Or do we just let our customers use their existing processes, even if they aren't efficient? Or is lack of time just an excuse for other reasons that they don't want to implement additional management technologies? Your thoughts and ideas are appreciated.


Jacob

Farewell VSE; Hello ID-VSE

It is announcement day here at HP , so there are a large number of new and updated products, services, and visions to take a look at. Many people in the Business Critical Systems group, and actually across Enterprise Servers and Networking, have been working on the new Converged Infrastructure Architecture .


Converged Infrastructure, in a nut shell, is about switching the IT budget from mostly maintenance and operations to mostly innovation and upgrades. Normally, this means moving to a shared service model, and naturally, with the announcement, there are products and services to help you get there. BCS, and all the OSes that we support, are part of the Converged Infrastructure strategy.


However, there was one little tidbit that I knew was coming that particularly hit home. Many years ago, on a Friday afternoon, I was speaking with my manager about her idea of bundling a bunch of our server virtualization products together, at least from a naming perspective. From that and a few other discussions, the HP Virtual Server Environment (VSE) was born. Virtualization became popular in the industry shortly thereafter, and I was busy for many years speaking with the sales force and many customers around the world about the VSE.


The idea around the VSE became popular enough, and the products effective enough, that we ported some of the management products to the x86 side, where they were named Insight Dynamics - VSE. While the product suites were somewhat different (ex. utilized VMware and MS Hyper-V on HP ProLiant servers and the HP Partitioning Continuum on HP Integrity servers), the reality is that we had two similar names for two similar suites of products on two separate product lines, and I can tell many firsthand stories about how much confusion it caused! I would be asked to do an ID-VSE presentation, and when I was prepared to speak about managing VMware, someone would mention that they only HP-UX servers, and vice versa.


So, with today's announcement, the HP Virtual Server Environment on HP Integrity servers is going away, and being replaced with HP Insight Dynamics - VSE for Integrity servers . While it is with a feeling on melancholy that I say goodbye to that Friday afternoon idea that grew bigger than any of us imagined, it is with great relief that I welcome the simplicity of one name - Insight Dynamics - VSE - onto the HP Integrity server family. The fact that ID-VSE has grown beyond what the VSE started as, is more capable, and is a key part of HP's Converged Infrastructure, makes this an exciting day for the many people who have worked on and often still are working on server virtualization and management technologies.


Jacob

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About the Author(s)
  • I work as a Master Architect in HP Servers R & D group. I work with teams spread across the lab and outside to build solutions which are highly available on HP-UX, OpenVMS and Mission Critical Linux platforms. In particular I contribute to develop HP Serviceguard clusters, HP-UX Security and Middleware products. I have been with HP for last 17 years and have exposure to HA/DR field from both R & D and customer perspectives.
  • Kirk Bresniker is the Vice President/Chief Technologist for HP Business Critical Systems where he has technical responsibility for all things Mission Critical, including HP-UX, NonStop and scalable x86 platforms. He joined HP in 1989 after graduating from Santa Clara University and has been an HP Fellow since 2008.
  • I’m the worldwide marketing manager for HP NonStop. I’ll be blogging and tweeting out news as it relates to NonStop solutions – you can find me here and on twitter at @CarolynatHP
  • Cynthia is part of the HP ExpertOne team. ExpertOne offers professional IT training and certifications from infrastructure refresh to areas that span across the datacenter like Cloud and Converged Infrastructure.
  • Hi, I work on the HP Servers team as HP-UX worldwide product marketing manager. I´m interested in how customers use our technology and will be blogging about their stories and on how our products evolve to help their businesses be always on.
  • I have worked with NonStop systems since 1982. I am a Master Technologist for HP and am part of the IT SWAT organization, the Cloud SWAT and work with HP Labs. I report into the Enterprise Solutions and Architecture organization.
  • Joe Androlowicz is a Technical Communications and Marketing manager in HP’s NonStop Product Division. Joe is a 25 year journeyman in information systems design, instructional technologies and multimedia development. He left Apple Computer for Tandem Computers to help launch G03 and hasn’t looked back yet. He previously managed the program management team for the NonStop Education and Training Center and drove the development and growth of the NonStop Certification programs.
  • Hello! I am a social media manager for servers, so my posts will be geared towards HP server-related news & info.
  • HP Servers, Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and ExpertOne
  • Luke Oda is a member of the HP's BCS Marketing team. With a primary focus on marketing programs that support HP's BCS portfolio. His interests include all things mission-critical and the continuing innovation that HP demonstrates across the globe.
  • I am the Superdome 2 Product Manager. My interest is to learn how mission critical platform helps customers and would also like to share my thoughts on how Superdome has been helping customers and will continue to do so.
  • I work in the HP Servers marketing group, managing a marketing team responsible for marketing solutions for enterprise customers who run mission-critical workloads and depend on HP to keep their business continuously running.
  • Mohan Parthasarathy is a Technical Architect in the HP-UX lab. His primary focus currently is in the core kernel, platform enablement and virtualization areas of HP-UX. Mohan has worked on various modules of HP-UX, including networking protocol stacks, drivers, core kernel and virtualization
  • I’ll be blogging about the latest news and enhancements as it relates to HP Moonshot.
  • Greetings! I am on the HP Enterprise Group marketing team. Topics I am interested in include Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and Management, and HP BladeSystem.
  • As a Managing Consultant for HP’s Enterprise Solution & Architecture group, I collaborate with client business and IT senior management to understand, prioritize and architect advanced use of data and information, drawing insights required to make informed business decisions. My current focus leverages event-driven business intelligence design techniques and technologies to identify patterns, anticipate outcomes and proactively optimize business response creating a differentiated position in the marketplace for the client.
  • Wendy Bartlett is a Distinguished Technologist in HP’s NonStop Enterprise Division, and focuses on dependability – security and availability - for the NonStop server line. She joined Tandem in 1978. Her other main area of interest is system architecture evolution. She has an M.S. degree in computer science from Stanford University.
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