Over the past twelve months, we have seen an acceleration of digital transformation like never before. And it shows no sign of stopping. Businesses are driving digital programs that reduce the need for physical presence or human intervention. We are seeing a whole new layer of vital business continuity that strengthens systems enabling them to handle unprecedented human and technical challenges.
Modernizing legacy processes
Standard business processes that are stuck in older systems with little automation and too much human intervention to ensure the integrity of a transaction are an obvious starting point for digital transformation in the ‘new normal’. Often these processes create unnecessary business delays, create overheads and don’t live up to the “digital expectations” of customers.
It’s not that these business transactions aren’t going to be digitally “disrupted” into oblivion. They are essential processes intrinsic to the business. But by modernizing the underlying data infrastructure, you can catapult these processes to ensure they meet the performance expectations of the 21st century. With it you’ll see both delivery and efficiency savings while at the same time much-improved continuity and integrity of the transaction.
The banking industry provides an ideal case in point. According to Gartner one-third of banking CIO’s cite digital transformation as their top business priority. With modern digital payments systems like PayPal and Apple Pay, consumers expect instant transactions. Yet slow, sometimes manual and legacy data infrastructure is holding back many core back-end bank business processes including account changes and inter-bank funds transfers, etc.
So, what’s slowing these transactions down? Typically, it’s outdated technology components and business processes. While it’s fair to say time delays help to stop fraud and errors and allow for human intervention to physically confirm and approve transactions - but it’s not necessary. These processes could easily be replaced with modern approaches used by the likes of fintech companies such as PayPal.
Secondly it’s down to the underlying data infrastructure that often uses an active-passive (or even active/active eventual consistency approach) and wasn’t designed to meet the real-time expectations of digital-savvy consumers and applications. In active/passive (and active/active with eventual consistency) systems, the database is typically replicated across two or more geographically distributed sites but only one of them—the primary—takes application requests. All changes happening in the primary will be sent to the other site—the secondary—in an asynchronous manner. (The secondary site is sometimes described as a “hot standby.”) And here lies the issue. The asynchronous replication can cause conflicting writes that require all kinds of manual conflict detection and remediation thus slowing down the business process still further.
Active/active data infrastructure explained
In its most uncomplicated format, an active/active database implementation is an underlying data architecture that makes transformation possible, affordable and resilient. What’s important to understand is that there are many intricate configuration possibilities for an active/active database, so let’s look at the basics of how it works.
An active/active system is defined as a network of independent processing nodes, which each have access to a common replicated database that can all participate in a common application. Today, there exist active/active systems that can ensure synchronous replication across geographically distributed sites that are thousands of miles apart while at the same time preserving strong consistency (with no data loss) and 100 percent availability during site failures without the need for operator intervention.
Even with a potential increase in write latency (between 2 and 100 milliseconds), an active/active system is still able to support data-intensive applications with sub-millisecond read SLAs while making every change instantly visible and executing the transaction across multiple sites. It’s also important to note here that a system such has this can also provide lower cost and higher scale of operation without need to sacrifice any of the accuracy and safety previously available in semi-automated processes and systems. Configured in a rack-aware multi-site cluster, an active/active configuration that preserves strong consistency can guarantee that all writes will be replicated across sites without data loss. Should the entire site (rack) be lost a system can survive and continue to operate with no loss of data.
Here’s a practical example using the money transfer example I mentioned earlier. An active/active strongly consistent data infrastructure eliminates a lot of process friction and redundant systems. Rather than needing special electronic wallets or similar customers can use their own bank accounts for transferring funds to anyone else who has a bank account. For financial services companies it’s essential for them adopt this kind of transformation to remain competitive. We are seeing a greater prevalence of systems like the Zelle network and the TIPS offering from the European Central Bank as opposed to older money transfers, which can often end up taking hours and sometimes days.
Breathing new life into business-critical systems
The decision to modernize existing active/active systems with eventual consistency to use an active/active data infrastructure with strong consistency offers organizations many technical benefits. First and perhaps the most obvious is return on investment. Dramatically reducing the time to market for new features and services for existing clients, the ability to attract new clients as well as removing the costly debt of enhancing and maintaining legacy data systems. Forrester Research reports that over 70 percent of technology budgets are consumed by maintaining older applications that have not part to play in today’s digital economy.
Furthermore, many active/active data infrastructures with strong consistency can endure site failures without the need for operator intervention maximizing commodity hardware or the cloud. This reduces the up-front costs of switching even more.
While technology has a key part to play, the main advantage lies in business transformation. Automating essential, business processes ensures that they are delivered in line with the speed and expectations of the modern world. This digital transformation becomes increasingly important as more digital by design companies enter the market as it enables older companies to compete on an even playing field while maintaining the stability and experience that they have built up over time.
Geoff Clark, General Manager EMEA, Aerospike