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Building a Resilient Database System for Financial Applications

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In  general  terms,  resilience  is  the  ability  to  withstand  adversity  and  bounce  back  from  difficult  life events.  Regarding  database  systems,  it  means  having  your  database  always  available  or  recovering quickly  from  unexpected  business  disruptions  such  as  hardware  failure,  power  outages,  or  cyber-attacks.

Over the years, financial institutions worldwide  have experienced service downtime, some of which could be attributed to the level of resilience built into the system. It is, therefore, necessary to  ensure  that  databases  for  financial  applications  are  reliable,  scalable,  and  resilient  to  meet  the demands  of  the  users.

There  are  many  strategies  to  ensure  databases  can  withstand  unexpected events, and some of them are as follows:

Scalability

The database system should be designed with a growth mindset, which means the database size can start small but will not remain small. The database software for any application in a financial organisation should be able to scale to handle the growth of the data.

Having this in mind should guide the approach to adopt in the event of the requirement to scale up or down the resources allocated to the database system. The setup should allow resources to be increased with little or no  downtime.

To minimise the disruptions that could be attributed to adjusting resource allocation, such as CPU, memory, and disk should be configured to accommodate online adjustments where possible.

Workload Distribution

Most of the databases within the financial system are required to respond to user requests in real-time. These request thresholds can be as low as milliseconds, which means the database design should  ensure  the  thresholds  set  to  complete  part  or  all  transactions  are  met.

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It  is  crucial  to eliminate  some  of  the  activities  on  the  production  database  that  can  lead  to  performance degradation. Some of the approaches to adopt include identifying read-only activities running on the database that can be directed to a standby or reporting database system to reduce the impact of the query on the production database.

Also, backup operations are resource-intensive activities that  can  affect  the  performance  of  the  database,  and where  possible,  this  operation  should  be moved to a standby database.

Task Scheduling

Within a financial organisation, there are a series of simple and complex tasks that must be carried out  to  ensure  the  applications  work  seamlessly.  Some  of  these  tasks  can  be  in  the  form  of scheduling a job that will run at a particular period to initiate, pause, or complete a transaction.

The  sequence  or  timing  of  tasks  directly  impacts  whether  the  task  will  achieve  the  desired outcome  in  the  most  effective  way.  To  have  a  stable  database  system,  it  is  necessary  to periodically review automated processes versus real-time processes and adjust as appropriate to reduce impacts that can lead to service disruption.

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In addition, identify scheduled tasks running during  peak periods  that  can  achieve  the  same  result  if  changed  to  off-peak periods  to  prevent possible service failures.

Availability

The databases for financial applications are always expected to be available, which means that the database should be designed with the capability that will enable the system to run with little or no downtime in the event of any failure.

Several  strategies  can  be considered to  have  a database system that is highly available to withstand service disruptions. For high availability, the database system should have multiple nodes that can be active or passive at the same time or be available in the event of the failure of any of the nodes  within the setup.

This setup should also ensure  that the failure of any of the nodes of the database setup does not lead to prolonged downtime on the application.

An example of a high-availability solution that can be implemented for databases within a financial ecosystem is Microsoft SQL Server Always On, it has the capability to automatically switch from one node to another when one of the participating nodes is not available, and the application continues to run without the need to make changes to the application.

Disaster Recovery

This focuses on returning the database to its operational state after a disaster with minimal data loss. Like many organisations, the  integrity of financial institutions’ data is critical to enhancing customers’ trust and building credibility.

The disaster recovery approach to be adopted for financial system databases should have  minimal Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO). The  organisation should have a robust business continuity plan that captures various scenarios of downtime or disruptions and develop strategies to restore the system within a reasonable  timeframe. The disaster recovery scenarios should be simulated periodically to accommodate changes, leading to an efficient and effective process.

Cloud Adoption

Database systems’ resilience can be enhanced by the flexibility, scalability, and availability offered by cloud computing.

To guarantee the stability and dependability of their applications,  financial institutions can utilise cloud-based services like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and others for database creation or migration.

For most of their service offerings, cloud providers offer availability SLAs of above 99%, with redundancy built across many geographic sites.

In conclusion, databases are critical assets in a financial institution, and proper attention should be given to ensure that the databases are set up  to accommodate unexpected failures. Some of the strategies above may come with additional costs to the organisation. However, the outcome of implementing them can bolster their reputation as having a resilient system.

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Olutayo Awodele
Olutayo Awodele
Senior Database Consultant, Polaris Bank Limited

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