What is data availability?

Data availability is when an organization ensures that all of its business-related data is available to the organization, partners, or end-users at any time of the day, whenever and wherever required.

Businesses can run without interruptions with 24/7 data availability. Data accessibility and continuity of information supply are key components of data availability. Inaccessible data is comparable to having no data or inaccurate data. If a business cannot access its data easily, it cannot run efficiently.

To avoid the ever-present possibility of technical interruptions in data management, businesses should design a robust data management system that can work around potential problems—without hampering the flow of data.

If data is compromised, inaccessible, missing, or incomplete, it can adversely affect an organization and its stakeholders.

Why Is data availability important?

Data inaccessibility can adversely impact a business, depending on what the business provides, the type of data it relies on, and the use of data by clients. There can be a huge adverse impact if data is unavailable or difficult to access.

Data availability is critical for an organization’s reputation with clients. For example, if customers are unable to access their online data (such as a portal for paying invoices or purchase history), they are likely to become frustrated and lose trust. They may go to a competitor who can offer better services or experiences. This can lead to lost market share and profits in competitive industries.

Without accurate, high-quality data, a business cannot benefit from potential data opportunities. Every minute that data is unavailable, businesses lose potential customers and their reputation, which can impact the business financially. And the business may experience operational inefficiency as employees can struggle to get work done without access to data.

Besides financial losses, businesses face legal repercussions from unavailable data. Organizations need to fulfill compliance obligations, which require thorough security, storage, transfer, and data handling protocols. Some common examples are the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Businesses that handle card payments, sensitive customer data, or financial processing are also regulated by strict data laws. Data unavailability can impair an organization’s ability to meet legislative or legal requirements.

Inconsistent data or lack of data can also lead to life-threatening situations in some industries. For example, in the healthcare industry, if the correct data is unavailable or inaccessible, it can seriously affect a patient’s well-being and quality of life.

Data availability is critical among application users. The more data is available for use in the app, the more user-friendly the application is. Also, as users switch devices, they often expect that the application updates across all devices, which can only be achieved if data is easily available and transmissible. Additionally, if a device is lost or destroyed, users expect that its data can be restored from the cloud.

Business can come to a standstill if data cannot be accessed when needed, so data availability should be a priority for any business.

Challenges when ensuring good data availability

While ensuring data availability, organizations face a number of problems and challenges.

Host server or storage failure

If the server hosting the data crashes or fails, data becomes unavailable or inaccessible. Physical storage devices can fail, leading to data unavailability. Organizations must take this into account when choosing between self-hosting data or an external provider.

Network failure or crash

If an organization’s network crashes, businesses can no longer access their data, so they should always ensure to use the best available network and redundancy options.

Poor data quality

If data is inconsistent, incomplete, or redundant, it is useless. Organizations must ensure that all data is up to date.

Compatibility issues

Data that is easily accessible and usable on one platform might not function on another. It is always recommended that businesses test data on different platforms before making it live. Businesses can also consider installing an alert system to monitor application program interfaces and advise if software changes or bug fixes will cause systems to break.

Security alerts

There is always a possibility of ransomware or malware attacking a data storage unit, leading to a security breach. Constantly monitoring security alerts and warnings is a must, as is the presence of strong and effective firewalls and anti-virus software. Businesses should be aware that an application may run perfectly while data or intellectual property is being stolen in the background. Therefore, organizations need stringent security processes in place such as an alert system that promptly acts if it detects a breach.

Slow data retrieval or exchange

Idle connections may indicate a problem in the database configuration. Also, idle connections can congest the network, fill the database pool, and drain resources.

Long-running commands or jobs indicate poor system health, slow speed of disks and CPUs, or other systematic problems. If data transfer is slow, it leads to a loss of time for both businesses and clients.

Constant memory monitoring is a must to keep track of how much space is free or used. It also helps businesses identify improperly sized systems, understand loads, and identify leaks. Additionally, memory tracking can also help anticipate availability demands.

Disk input and output are the operations related to disk activity. Tracking inputs and outputs can help identify a poorly tuned disk, unfit disk size, or poor hardware configuration. Disk space monitoring can help businesses avoid the last-minute costs to add more space.

How an organization can create good data availability

Every business has different data management systems, depending on its requirements. While some businesses entrust their data with third-party providers, some use their own physical infrastructure. Some businesses opt for all virtual management systems while others prefer a hybrid setup that relies on physical and virtual management systems.

Whatever the management mode, businesses need to plan ahead to ensure continuous data availability.

Have a business-as-usual and disaster recovery plan

The central element of any business continuity or disaster recovery plan should be maintaining data availability. This may include recovery time objective (RTO) and the recovery point objective (RPO) targets. These targets define which data needs to be stored and when, so operations can resume easily in the event of a disruption.

Back-up data

Having a backup ensures that data is not lost permanently, can be re-uploaded, and is quickly made available in case of a memory drive or storage failure. A data backup should be stored in a different storage device in a different geographical location than the one being used to transmit data. Storage devices can be set up in a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) configuration. Also, it can be useful to employ a system wherein in case of storage failure, the system automatically switches to the backup storage drive to ensure smooth data availability even in crisis situations.

Avoid single points of failure

Apart from having multiple copies and backups of data, businesses should also have multiple access routes. This way, in case of failure of one access route or network component, other networks continue to provide data.

Use the correct tools

Using the correct data loss prevention (DLP) tools can help protect against a data breach or damage to a data storage center. Most data loss prevention tools use cloud-based or third-party storage to prevent data loss. Some of the common features of these tools include monitoring, forensic analysis, and threat blocking.

Use software-based infrastructure

Businesses should try to use software-defined infrastructure and storage wherever possible, as it helps enhance data availability. Hosting data on software—instead of hardware—makes data movement easier and faster.

Remove unnecessary data

If certain data is outdated or not needed, businesses should archive them in a different storage system or securely dispose of it. This will reduce clutter in the primary storage center and ensure that only the necessary data is reaching users.

Erasure coding

Erasure coding is a process in which data is broken down into a number of pieces and encoded with redundant data to be stored at various locations or storage devices. If data is stored using erasure coding, then in case of data corruption or loss, it can be reconstructed using the other segments stored elsewhere. Additionally, it protects the data from attackers: even if malware gains access to the data, assembling it is difficult.

Establish recovery time objective

Depending on the type of business or the amount of data being collected, an organization can either continue functioning for many days or may have to stop operations immediately in case of data availability failure. Recovery time objective (RTO) is the duration in which a business can continue to function after a disruption in data availability.

Businesses can figure out their RTO by running periodic drills to establish how much time is taken to recover data from backup storage, or how much time is needed to switch or update data. This can help businesses develop a faster solution to data restoration and be prepared for any crisis.

Using cloud storage for data

To make data more available, many businesses opt to move their data either entirely into the cloud or into a hybrid model where some data is stored on-site and some in the cloud. However, there are a number of factors an organization needs to consider while using cloud storage. When selecting a cloud provider, businesses must define the value of this service for them.

With the changing times, many companies today are adopting a hybrid cloud approach. However, managing the complexity of a hybrid infrastructure becomes a struggle for many businesses, preventing them from optimizing network performance.

Resource modeling

Resource modeling helps visualize resource data. Businesses can use resource modeling tools to understand their resources and network needs to create a better deployment system. It can also help in making plans to manage network changes and upgrades for better service. Resource modeling also helps businesses understand what infrastructure resources, services, and devices are in place, their coverage, and how they are connected. This helps businesses make better decisions, optimize data availability, and easily detect system glitches.

Traffic management and automation

To link various devices, networks, and access points for data availability management, businesses need traffic management and automation strategies. If they are not integrated—and traffic is directed across different clouds and data centers—the system becomes slow and is at risk of crashing. Through traffic management, accessing data becomes easier, whatever the storage center. It also helps in rolling out new infrastructure as traffic can be gradually introduced to the new system, giving businesses time to identify and work on bugs.

Network observability

Businesses relying on cloud storage need to analyze data and learn from existing data to make better decisions. Tapping into existing data streams and analyzing them in real time can provide business insights, identify security weaknesses, and also help debug problems.

Best practices for cloud data security

Businesses must consider safety when using the cloud for storage. Non-compliance with data regulations can lead to financial loss and reputation damage. Data protection can be done through encryption, endpoint security, access control, and monitoring. Some best practices for cloud data security include:

Evaluate built-in security

The cloud vendor should have good internal controls, have robust data security tools, and offer service agreements that ensure protected systems. Also, businesses should verify vendor policies to make sure they meet compliance regulations.

Utilize file-level encryption

Many of the cloud providers offer both in-transit and at-rest encryptions. Businesses should also consider adding file-level encryptions which can be done by encrypting the data before transferring it to cloud storage. Also, data can be fragmented and stored in different locations. This way, even if the attackers are able to gain access to the data, it will be difficult for them to reassemble it.

Restrict access

Businesses can implement strict access permissions and strong credential policies so that users can access only the data they need. Also, businesses can audit permissions to access data from time to time and revise the passwords over a certain period of time.

Ensuring data availability is vitally important to ensure successful day-to-day operations. It avoids employee downtime and helps to reduce customer churn. An organization must plan for the worst-case scenario at all times and have robust data management systems in place.

Data Availability diagram