Time is money – and nothing costs a business more time or money in the 2020s than the dreaded downtime.
With a stunning number of cyberattacks (over 55% of businesses face security breaches every year) aimed at companies as varied as Nestlé and your local sandwich shop, no business is safe from the colossal costs of a potential takedown of part or all of your IT systems.
And cyberattacks are only a microscopic portion of the things that cause IT downtime. When you look at all the combined factors that can cause your IT to falter (and the costs that accrue with it), it’s a certainty that you will run into issues with your IT systems failing.
With that in mind, how can you best minimize the amount of time your IT systems are down (and therefore, minimize the monstrous costs associated with it)? Here’s some ways you can maximize your IT to minimize downtime.
Common Causes Of IT Downtime
To understand how to minimize downtime, it’s important to understand the most common ways that your systems can go down. While we often think of cyberattacks as the main reason for IT systems failing, in reality, that’s just a part of the whole picture.
In fact, cyberattacks are pretty low down on the list of reasons for downtime – the usual suspects are extremely mundane (like when the IT intern spilled coffee on the main servers).
Here’s a list of the most common ways your company’s IT could go down.
- Network Outages: Problems with the network, such as connectivity issues or bandwidth limitations, can cause systems to become inaccessible. This is the most common downtime issue – accounting for roughly 50% of downtime causes.
- Human Error: The second-most common cause of downtime is mistakes made by employees, such as accidentally deleting important files or causing a system crash.
- Hardware Failures: This can include server crashes, hard drive failures, or any other type of physical damage to the hardware. Very common.
- Server failures in particular are a huge issue here, usually due to a lack of proper maintenance or overuse.
- Software Failures: Right alongside hardware, software bugs, glitches, or incompatibilities in software can cause systems to crash or become unresponsive.
- Power Outages: If a business loses power, all IT systems can go down until power is restored. This is fairly common and will continue to become more common as we face energy issues across the globe in the face of the climate crisis.
- Cyberattacks: Finally – we’ve got cyberattacks. Attacks such as ransomware, DDoS attacks, or – most commonly – phishing attacks give bad actors access to your systems, which usually results in serious downtime.
- Natural Disasters: Events like floods, fires, earthquakes, or storms can cause physical damage to IT infrastructure, leading to downtime.
- Maintenance and Upgrades: Scheduled maintenance or system upgrades often require systems to be taken offline temporarily.
- Overloads: If a system or network is overloaded with too much traffic or data, it can become slow or unresponsive, effectively causing downtime.
The Eye-Watering Cost of IT Downtime
Before we delve into how to minimize IT downtime, we should probably take a look at how much it costs you – and boy, does downtime cost businesses dearly.
How dearly? Well, according to a study by Gartner, the average cost of IT downtime is approximately $5,600 per minute1. That’s right – an hour of downtime costs businesses $336,000 on average.
We don’t have to explain it to you – as MacGruber once famously said: “That is a whole lot of wampum!”
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Proactive IT management is the first step towards minimizing IT downtime. We can talk about this until we’re blue in the face, and if you’ve been reading these blogs, you know that we have. Constantly. We can’t emphasize how important it is to be ready to react – and the only way to do that is to be proactive in your IT management.
The reality is that good IT management is never reactive. You hear downtime and you think “react to problems”, but – and we’re gonna blow your mind here – reacting to IT problems is actually part of a proactive plan. Before you can fix the issue, you’d have to know what the issue is and where it is – which means knowing and understanding your IT systems in the first place.
Regular system checks, software updates, and hardware maintenance are all part of proactive IT management, but so is training, planning and procedure. Making sure you know every inch of your IT network – and having the plans and methods in place to address any issues with any part of that process – is the most basic element of downtime mitigation.
Disaster Recovery Planning
One of the key elements of being proactive is defining and establishing a fully-scoped disaster recovery plan. This is exactly what it sounds like: a detailed plan that outlines every step that should be taken in the event of downtime. As we said earlier, making sure you a) know the issues you could face and b) have a guide to fix the issue immediately will make a massive difference in limiting system downtime – and therefore saving you thousands of dollars.
This involves creating a detailed plan outlining the steps to be taken in the event of a major IT failure or disaster. A robust disaster recovery plan can significantly reduce the duration of IT downtime.
Now that we’ve got the overarching mindset and approach of always being ahead of the curve down, now we can get into the nitty gritty. So you’ve got your whole network mapped out, with possible failure points – what’s the next step?
Obviously, that would be redundancy. Redundancy is something you probably already know – it’s your plan B in case plan A fails. It means having a backup that can step in in case your initial system is compromised in some way.
Redundancy can be as simple as having an extra server on standby or as complex as setting up a geographically separate data center. It could mean having multiple backups both locally and remotely. It could simply mean having an extra laptop. It could mean a lot of different things, depending on your business.
The important takeaway is that any secure system that doesn’t have a backup is not a secure system. By making sure you have backups for any possible point of failure in your IT infrastructure, you are ensuring that downtime isn’t only minimized, it’s eliminated, as you’ll automatically have something in place that can step in while you fix your primary system.
Use The Cloud
When it comes to redundancy, cloud solutions can be a big boon to businesses who are looking for cost-effective solutions to having backups of backups of backups.
Cloud solutions allow you to not only backup your data remotely, but it can also minimize the load on your servers and access that hackers would have to your primary data. It’s often much harder for anyone accessing your data to go through various local and remote databases – so by splitting your data between the cloud and local storage, you can minimize your exposure.
Moreover, cloud providers often have robust disaster recovery and backup solutions, further reducing the risk of prolonged IT downtime. This also means you spend less time detailing and outlining recovery plans – which saves even more on the costs associated with the time and energy spent on planning and execution of those plans.
Train Your Employees
Last but not least, employee training plays a crucial role in minimizing IT downtime. Considering most cyberattacks are routed through humans or human behavior, having a well-educated and well-trained workforce who are ready and able to respond to any downtime is critical.
Employees should be trained to identify the potential IT issues facing your business – and be given the tools to respond to the issues themselves to avoid any downtime.
Simply training your employees can have a massive knock-on effect – by preventing minor issues from escalating into major problems that cause significant downtime, you can save more money in the long run.
Detailed Strategies to Minimize IT Downtime
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s delve into more specific strategies for minimizing IT downtime. These are tried and true methods that anyone can undertake in order to minimize the astronomical costs of inevitable downtime.
Plan for Recovery
As we’ve said one billion times before in these blogs, the best way to ensure a fast recovery is to plan ahead and make sure you are ready to handle any downtime at any time. A disaster recovery plan is absolutely crucial to minimize downtime.
This involves setting your recovery time objective (RTO)—the length of time you can live without access to your data—and recovery point objective (RPO), which defines the amount of data you can afford to lose in a disaster.
Once you have these objectives in place, you can put together a proper plan to address them (working with your internal IT department or with an outsourced IT professional). Once you have your plan in place, it’s time to test – not once, but regularly, to make sure that the plan itself works, but that it’ll work in a real-world scenario. Regular testing of your plan is crucial to ensure it will work when you need it.
Keep Everything Up to Date
As always, keeping every aspect of your IT systems up to date is the easiest way to minimize downtime.
Updates and patches for operating systems, hardware, and applications are often pushed out to meet new security threats and block existing vulnerabilities. Your IT team or outsourced IT partner should make preventive maintenance a priority, with scheduled updates limited to off-hours and notice of any updates well in advance (neglecting to inform your users will mean downtime for them!).
Educate Your Workforce
Cyberattacks like ransomware can be a nightmare. Sophisticated social engineering and phishing attacks let bad actors sneak into your network simply by clicking on a malicious link or downloading an infected PDF by an employee. So train your people to be wary about every email they receive.
Install a Backup Power System
One of the most common outages is a loss of power in the area where your IT systems are located (usually on-site).
While an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can help in the immediate term, a backup generator system is almost always worth it to protect your business. In the grand scheme of things, a generator is a cheap investment that will pay huge dividends in the case of a power failure.
Consider Disaster Recovery as a Service
No matter how prepared you may be, there’s always a chance that something can happen that takes your systems down. Say a hurricane strikes, and your data center is leveled completely, or a careless employee clicks one wrong email and your entire IT infrastructure is locked down.
Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) lets you recover quickly, even if a site-wide disaster strikes. This is essentially a combination of outsourced IT services and cloud computing services – combining both into a service that exists for just this occasion.
Save Money With An Effective IT Downtime Plan
The reality is that companies worldwide are facing threats to their network operability at pretty much every minute of the day, and considering the gargantuan costs of a network outage, most companies are realizing that taking steps to minimize downtime is an absolute necessity in our tech-addicted world.
The reality is it’s not all that difficult to minimize the effects of your IT system going down. Like everything else in IT, it requires effective foresight, planning, testing – and most importantly, the IT expertise to craft and execute such a plan.
We can help you save money on your IT! Our experts are standing by to aid you in protecting your business from any potential issues (and all the insane costs that go along with it!).
TechTarget. (2023). What is proactive IT management?
IBM. (2023). The importance of IT redundancy
Microsoft. (2023). Disaster recovery planning
Amazon Web Services. (2023). Benefits of cloud solutions
Infosec. (2023). The role of employee training in preventing IT downtime
Arcserve. (2021). 6 Strategies to Minimize Unplanned Downtime