Failover is a backup operational mode in which the functions of a system component (such as a processor, server, network, or database, for example) are assumed by secondary system components when the primary component becomes unavailable through either failure or scheduled down time. Used to make systems more fault-tolerant, failover is typically an integral part of mission-critical systems that must be constantly available. The procedure involves automatically offloading tasks to a standby system component so that the procedure is as seamless as possible to the end user. Failover can apply to any aspect of a system: within an personal computer, for example, failover might be a mechanism to protect against a failed processor; within a network, failover can apply to any network component or system of components, such as a connection path, storage device, or Web server.

Originally, stored data was connected to servers in very basic configurations: either point-to-point or cross-coupled. In such an environment, the failure (or even maintenance) of a single server frequently made data access impossible for a large number of users until the server was back online. More recent developments, such as the storage area network (SAN), make any-to-any connectivity possible among servers and data storage systems. In general, storage networks use many paths - each consisting of complete sets of all the components involved - between the server and the system. A failed path can result from the failure of any individual component of a path. Multiple connection paths, each with redundant components, are used to help ensure that the connection is still viable even if one (or more) paths fail. The capacity for automatic failover means that normal functions can be maintained despite the inevitable interruptions caused by problems with equipment.

This was last updated in September 2005

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