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Technological resilience is essential for ensuring uninterrupted service delivery in today’s digital landscape, especially those mission-critical systems. One prime measure of such resilience is High Availability (HA). Achieving HA can often be complex, but with the right strategies and tools, it is highly attainable. In this article, we delve into the fundamentals of high availability, its workings, and how TiDB aids in achieving it.


High Availability (HA) refers to a system’s capability to remain operational and accessible for an extended period, minimizing downtime. HA is often quantified by the “availability percentage,” representing the proportion of time a service is up and running without interruptions.

A system boasting “five nines” availability, for example, claims to be operational 99.999% of the time, translating to roughly 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. Achieving such levels involves meticulous design, resilient infrastructure, and robust operational practices.

How does High Availability Work?

HA works by eliminating single points of failure within a system and implementing mechanisms for fault detection, automatic failover, and redundancy. Here’s how it typically functions:

  1. Redundancy: Duplicate components (servers, storage, network links) are maintained to ensure that failure of a single component does not disrupt the service.
  2. Failover Mechanisms: Automatic processes detect failures and switch operations to standby components without human intervention.
  3. Load Balancing: Distributes workloads across multiple servers or nodes to ensure no single component is overwhelmed and to minimize downtime.
  4. Data Replication: Copies data across multiple nodes or locations to ensure it is always available and can be quickly restored in case of any failures.

Importance of High Availability

High availability is crucial for several reasons:

  • Business Continuity: Minimizes the impact of failures on operations, maintaining the seamless availability of services and applications.
  • Customer Trust: Consistent reliability enhances customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Certain industries require adherence to stringent availability standards to ensure data integrity and availability.
  • Financial Impact: Reduces potential financial losses associated with downtime, such as lost sales in e-commerce or missed transactions in banking.

How to Measure High Availability?

High availability is primarily measured by two key metrics:

  1. Recovery Time Objective (RTO): The maximum acceptable amount of downtime following an incident before the service is restored.
  2. Recovery Point Objective (RPO): The maximum acceptable amount of data loss measured in time, defining the point to which data must be restored following a disruption.

Using these metrics, organizations can evaluate their HA strategies and make necessary adjustments to improve resilience.

Best Practices

Achieving high availability involves a combination of design principles, technologies, and operational practices. Here are eight best practices to enhance system availability:

  1. Redundant Hardware: Use redundant servers, storage, and network components to eliminate single points of failure.
  2. Geographic Diversity: Deploy services across multiple data centers or regions to protect against localized failures.
  3. Automated Failover: Implement automatic failover mechanisms to switch operations to standby systems without manual intervention.
  4. Regular Backups: Perform frequent backups of critical data and systems, ensuring the ability to restore operations quickly.
  5. Load Balancing: Utilize load balancers to distribute traffic across multiple servers, preventing any single server from becoming a bottleneck.
  6. Monitoring and Alerts: Continuously monitor system health and performance, using automated alerts to identify and address issues proactively.
  7. Capacity Planning: Regularly assess and plan for capacity needs to ensure the infrastructure can handle peak loads without degradation.
  8. Testing and Drills: Conduct regular failover drills and test scenarios to ensure systems and processes are ready for actual incidents.

High Availability vs. Fault Tolerance

While both high availability and fault tolerance aim to enhance system reliability, they differ significantly:

  • High Availability: Focuses on minimizing downtime by quickly recovering from failures. It allows for some downtime but aims to keep it minimal.
  • Fault Tolerance: Involves designing systems to continue operating without interruption, even in the presence of failures. Fault-tolerant systems are more complex and costly, ensuring zero downtime.

High Availability vs. Disaster Recovery

High availability and disaster recovery are complementary strategies:

  • High Availability: Proactively ensures systems remain operational through redundancy and failover mechanisms.
  • Disaster Recovery: Aims to restore systems and data following significant disruptions, such as natural disasters or large-scale outages. It primarily focuses on data recovery and business continuity planning.

What are High Availability Clusters?

High availability clusters are groups of servers working together to ensure that service remains available even if one or more servers fail. Components of an HA cluster include:

  • Primary and Standby Nodes: The primary node handles active workloads, while standby nodes remain ready to take over if the primary node fails.
  • Heartbeat Mechanisms: Regular checks between nodes to ensure system health and initiate failover if a failure is detected.
  • Shared Storage: Storage accessible by all nodes to ensure data consistency and availability across the cluster.
  • Cluster Management Software: Tools like Pacemaker and Corosync manage the nodes, detect failures, and coordinate failover processes.

How TiDB Helps Achieve High Availability

TiDB, an advanced distributed SQL database, brings multiple features to achieve high availability virtually seamlessly:

  1. Raft Consensus Algorithm: TiDB uses the Raft protocol to replicate data across multiple nodes. Changes to data are only committed when a majority of nodes acknowledge the change, ensuring data reliability.
  2. Automatic Failover: TiDB automatically fails over to standby nodes in case of node failures, ensuring continuous service availability.
  3. Scalability: TiDB allows for horizontal scaling, dynamically adjusting to increased loads by adding more nodes without downtime or service disruption.
  4. Geographic Redundancy: TiDB supports deployment across multiple regions, ensuring robust disaster recovery and minimal data loss.
  5. Multi-Region Deployment: TiDB’s architecture supports multi-region deployments, providing enhanced resilience against region-level failures.
  6. HTAP Capabilities: By separating transactional and analytical workloads (with TiKV for transactional and TiFlash for analytical), TiDB minimizes performance bottlenecks and enhances availability.

In a Multi-Availability Zone (Multi-AZ) setup, TiDB spreads its components (TiDB, TiKV, TiFlash) across different availability zones. This not only provides high availability but also ensures data durability and access redundancy.

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Case Study: TiDB at Shopee

Shopee, a leading e-commerce platform in Southeast Asia, relies on TiDB to maintain its platform’s high availability and scalability. With millions of users and transactions daily, ensuring the uptime and responsiveness of their database is paramount. TiDB’s distributed architecture enables Shopee to handle massive transactional workloads efficiently without experiencing downtime.

By implementing TiDB, Shopee benefits from:

  1. Automatic Failover: Ensuring that any node failure within the system does not affect the overall service availability, TiDB quickly switches operations to standby nodes.
  2. Scalability: Allowing for horizontal scaling, Shopee can seamlessly add more nodes to the database to handle peak shopping periods without any service disruption.
  3. Global Deployment: TiDB’s support for multi-region deployments ensures that Shopee’s database remains resilient against regional failures while providing low-latency access to users.

The robustness provided by TiDB’s architecture and features like Raft consensus and HTAP capabilities has enabled Shopee to sustain high performance, reliability, and user satisfaction even during the most demanding times, such as major sales events.


High availability is a critical aspect of modern database management, ensuring that services remain uninterrupted and resilient in the face of failures. By understanding HA’s principles and implementing best practices, organizations can significantly enhance their service reliability. TiDB provides a robust solution for achieving HA through its distributed architecture, automated failover capabilities, and seamless scalability. These features make TiDB an excellent choice for businesses aiming to offer relentless service availability and superior performance.

As we continue to navigate an increasingly digital world, investing in high availability strategies and technologies like TiDB will undoubtedly drive operational excellence and customer satisfaction. Try TiDB Serverless Now!

Last updated June 13, 2024

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