Network downtime refers to a span of time when your network and systems can no longer perform their core functions.
For many, this is the worst case scenario: your point-of-sale terminals are down, a client portal is inaccessible, phone systems are offline, communication failures are rampant… Whatever it looks like for you specifically, network downtime can quickly grow from a minor inconvenience to a major catastrophe. It’s an expensive one too, especially as you tabulate the cost of lost revenue, lost productivity, frustration on the part of your clients, and the overall cost of repairs to get you back online.
Taking it a step further, having your core functions knocked out can also open the door to viruses and cyber security vulnerabilities. It’s a little like having your shields down (from any sci-fi movie you like), leaving you open to attack until they’re restored.
No matter how you slice it, network downtime is a risky, expensive, aggravating experience. The good news, however, is that it can be avoided once you understand the underlying causes.
What is planned network downtime?
Before we dig into those causes, let’s take a look at one other type of downtime that’s worth considering.
Planned downtime is a scheduled event during which your IT team intentionally takes your network offline for a specific maintenance purpose.
- Reconfiguring or updating network applications
- Repairs to your network
- Replacing malfunctioning hardware
- Preparing for a natural event (like a storm-related power outage)
Is planned downtime always required?
Not always. In some cases it’s the most efficient way to implement an upgrade or repair, but other times you can mitigate the need for a full shutdown by utilizing a rolling downtime schedule. Your IT professionals would work on just a portion of your network for a little while (even if it’s just an hour of downtime), like closing off one floor in an office building for maintenance work, rather than closing the entire building and doing it all at once.
Whether planned or unplanned, it’s essential that your IT team does what they can to strategically reduce the impact.
What causes unplanned network downtime?
Here are just a handful of common examples of downtime and/or network failures:
- Hardware failure. Despite built-in redundancies in newer hardware, breakdown can and will happen if components aren’t routinely inspected and maintained. Reaching your capacity limit, overheating, internal or mechanical failures, viruses, firmware corruption… any of these can cause a hardware failure that triggers an outage.
- Problems with routing configurations and settings.
- Bugs. Just like you need to repair a hole in your window screen to keep pests out, a “patch” protects your server’s operating system from performance bugs and vulnerabilities. Your IT team should keep your OS updated at all times, and install any necessary patches immediately. This process also needs to be approached knowledgeably since updates and patches can knock out your network if you have incorrect (or outdated drivers), or your hardware is incompatible.
- Old software. And by “old” we mean only a few years old, in many cases. Time moves quickly when it comes to technology, and components age-out at a rapid rate.
- Power outage. You might have backup power in the event of a power failure (via a generator or uninterrupted power supply), but businesses sometimes take these systems for granted and never troubleshoot or test them. Then, in a time of crisis, there’s a failure that nobody is prepared for.
- Security attacks. A number of clever, nefarious tactics are used to gain insight into your network infrastructure, then access information and crash your network. Ransomware is also an increasing threat: hackers will hold your sensitive data hostage until paid.
- Human error. It could be an error on your IT department’s end, but it also could be due to an employee opening an email they shouldn’t have, making a mistake because they simply don’t know better, or maybe they unplugged something accidentally. Mistakes happen, and they account for a large portion of unplanned network downtime.
How do you avoid unplanned network downtime?
If you look back through the various threats and risks mentioned above, you’ll see a common theme start to emerge: hardware failure, old software, missed network patches, a need for inspections and testing…
Having a skilled, equipped IT team in your corner is the best way to lower your risk and drastically reduce unplanned downtime. It’s easy to see a dedicated IT team as a luxury, or a “someday” item that can be put off, but in reality ignoring IT warning signs can cost you a substantial amount of time and money.
After partnering with an IT solutions provider, here’s what we recommend:
- Schedule routine updates and maintenance as part of your service level agreement, ensuring that your hardware and software systems are healthy.
- Test your servers, including backups (in case of a server failure).
- Check your facilities, looking for threats like pest damage, water damage, fire hazards (faulty wiring), etc.
- Implement network monitoring for a top-level view of your network and all its components.
- Make a downtime response plan, outlining exactly what steps would be taken during an outage, and how it would be addressed for the most efficient repair possible.
At the end of the day, being proactive makes all the difference. Have a plan, work the plan, and improve the plan as your IT capabilities grow over time.
Have more questions about how to develop your own IT strategy and protect your network? Contact us today with any questions and to discuss the right solutions for your business or organization.