Network infrastructure downtime is sometimes unavoidable. Even the most advanced networks in the world at places like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have gone dark for hours at a time.
There are lots of ways to prepare for downtime. Still, you need to have a great plan in place for when systems fail. In this article, we explore three plans you should put in place to prevent or reduce technology downtime.
Reduce technology downtime with redundancy.
Every part of your network should have a redundant counterpart. Whether you use in-house or outsourced tech partners, your IT staff should deploy and test your redundancies each month.
They should also be proactive with each of these scenarios, which could be the difference in your company being down for minutes, hours, or days:
Internet connection issues are easily the most common source of downtime. Since outages are typically area-wide (and not specific to you), getting updates from your internet service provider (ISP) support team is often a challenge.
Here's a great way to plan for the loss of internet connection. Have a second internet connection on standby. Your secondary connection doesn't need to be as robust as your primary mode. Still, it should be something that can get you by in the case of an emergency. For instance, a mobile hotspot with pay-as-you-go data could give you enough bandwidth to keep communications open. As long as each of your connections is through a different ISP, you will be prepared to continue working through most outages in your area.
Here's how that will work. All modern firewalls are equipped with network failover capabilities. This feature detects when your primary internet connection is down and routes your internet traffic through your second connection instead. Your firewall will continuously test your favored connection for activity. Then, it'll switch back to your primary ISP once it's restored.
Losing electricity at your location can stop the flow of communications. It can be dangerous for your infrastructure, too. PCs and servers that shut off unexpectedly can cause your employees to lose unsaved data and damage company hardware.
Avoid many of these problems with a battery backup system. Battery backup systems route and regulate all electrical sources to your systems—all while distributing power to charge its own batteries in case of emergency. If a power outage occurs, your battery backup system will automatically switch on and keep crucial systems running.
Battery-powered operations will typically last less than an hour, but the time they afford will allow your staff to close systems safely. Once electricity is restored, your battery backups can signal your machines to boot back up and resume operations.
Downtime due to data loss can come from many sources, including corruption, accidental deletion, malware, hardware failure, software upgrades, and more. Data redundancy can help you keep your intellectual property secure.
You can protect critical server data containing databases, file shares, and ERP systems with an enterprise–grade backup system. Companies like Rewind and Acronis offer complete backup solutions that differ greatly from simple file-level backup systems that run on PCs. These programs will take system snapshots hourly and provide file versioning histories, as well as bare metal system restores, a process that allows a crashed system to be restored to dissimilar hardware.
Physical-to-Virtual (P2V) is another feature of robust server backup solutions. It allows you to restore a hardware server to a software version that can run on any system you choose. When you install many servers to a single piece of hardware, you could greatly improve recovery time while also cutting down on capital needed for hardware.
Protecting from data loss on PCs doesn’t need to be quite so detailed. Still, backups should be performed daily to a program like Carbonite or synced to a cloud file service like Ionos, DropBox, or OneDrive. And importantly, all business–critical files on PCs should be sent to a server with enterprise-grade backup solutions.
Reduce technology downtime with planning.
Redundancies are important, but they don't prevent downtime—or help you work through it. You need a detailed playbook for downtime. Simple standard operating procedures can help you restore system use and cut down on the confusion that can set in when your network isn’t performing correctly.
This plan to reduce technology downtime should be in writing. It should also be easily accessible offline to anyone in your company who will help correct your outage.
Your plan should include the following parts:
One of the first steps you should take during downtime is to notify all affected users. Any news you can provide can help your employees to adjust how they operate through the outage. When you provide realistic timelines of restoration, you can keep your company's productivity high and cut down on the support calls your IT team fields when their focus should be on finding a solution.
A contingency playbook.
Your playbook should contain all necessary contingencies. These will include support contact information, passwords, and key troubleshooting steps. Again, it's critical that this playbook be stored physically in a secure location that won't be affected by an outage. It will be a crucial tool to regain access to your company's infrastructure.
Plan to document the steps you take while troubleshooting solutions to your outage. Here's why. Corrections to your outage often aren’t successful on the first attempt. Any changes made could potentially cause issues later on—before or after systems access is restored. Having complete knowledge of actions you take in restoration will help your technology staff when activity is less hectic.
There is more work to be done, even once a solution is found to your outage. Your IT staff should start examining the cause and formally reporting what went wrong to keep it from happening again.
You might involve managers, affected users, and customers as you explore what happened, how it was fixed, and how it'll be prevented in the future. In some cases, a post-mortem report will be simple. It might be a report of a power outage with a start and end time with no action needed. Other times, outages can be a direct result of negligence. Here, you might need to issue a corrective action to the parties involved.
Reduce technology downtime with upgrading and training.
Beyond redundancy and planning, you should invest in system upgrades and end-user training to prevent future downtime. Here's what that could look like:
You can move some of your hardware and software into the cloud. When you do, you can run important applications and hardware systems in an ultra-redundant datacenter that's managed by a technology partner. These cloud hosts will back up and replicate your data to multiple locations. They'll also dedicate entire workdays to managing your systems, a luxury most small businesses can’t afford in-house.
If you move your email to the cloud, you could eliminate your physical Exchange servers. Many owners get started with a subscription to a cloud email solution. Microsoft‘s Exchange Online is a popular choice. This move will likely give you the same or better email access your business already experiences. It'll also remove the overhead costs of hardware management and the need for backup systems and support policies.
Thinking of moving hardware to the cloud? You'll need to rent server space from a datacenter that routes connections to your workspaces. Cloud server providers like Ionos, RackSpace, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure allow you to choose a hosted server solution with as much storage space and bandwidth as your business needs or your budget allows. File servers, web servers, database servers, and more can all be hosted from the cloud for a monthly fee. The cost of the server itself is typically higher than owning a physical server in-house. Still, the security, uptime, and hands-off approach these offer can easily offset the monthly fee.
Software as a Service (SaaS) is a newer development of cloud computing that moves software to the cloud. Most ERP systems, CRM programs, and office productivity suites (including Office 365) offer SaaS versions of their software that auto-upgrade and are never outdated through a subscription model.
Avoiding downtime is no longer the sole function of your IT partners. Every employee in your business should be properly trained at regular intervals on ways they can contribute to uptime.
A working understanding of how to spot, avoid, and report malware is a must in today’s workplace. Malware is a leading cause of data loss and can potentially cause millions of dollars of damage to small businesses. Employees should be armed with anti-virus, spam filters, and ad-blockers. Further, they should know how to spot security risks to their systems through training and testing.
Employees should also be trained in data retention strategies. When they keep data safe through proper filing practices and proactive backup strategies, they'll make your company more effective at protecting and retaining critical information.
Finally, employees should understand the alternative ways to use the technology that’s offered to them:
Make it your goal to give your employees tools to continue working through disruptive events..
Key takeaway: Downtime is inevitable. It should be expected and planned for so that the disruptions it creates are merely a minor inconvenience. The playbook you establish to reduce technology downtime could save you countless hours and dollars as you get your business back to operating efficiently.
Need help implementing these plans? Consider working with a fractional IT manager. A fractional IT manager, like the ones we list here, can devote hours to your business each week, month, or quarter to help you take on essential technology tasks.
Check out our article, Safeguard Your Business From Modern Tech Threats, for strategies to protect your organization and essential data. Then, log into your owner’s portal for more articles and advice that will help you navigate the legal, financial, and technology risks of running a business.