IT downtime | What causes it and how to prevent it

A photograph of a woman in an orange shirt staring at her laptop. She holds her hands to the side of her face in frustration.

What happens if your business productivity comes to a grinding halt?

For every hour of downtime, your company loses money and, sometimes, its reputation.

How would you minimize the downtime to come back online? How could you prevent this from happening in the future?

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent downtime, lost revenue, and damaged reputations. Understanding your technology and its limitations, training employees, and planning for possible crises can stop network outages before they occur.

WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of clients create IT strategies and prepare against IT interruptions for over 25 years.

By reading this article, you will learn about the chief causes of IT downtime and how to prevent them.


Downtime affects profits and reputation

Downtime occurs when your IT systems become inoperable. A downed system halts productivity if your business relies on your IT system to deliver goods or services.

Your business loses profits and productivity for every hour your system is down. Tasks freeze until your system is back online.

In addition, downtime can damage your reputation. Downtime can result in missed deadlines. While some customers may be understanding of a single delay, consistent delays will try their patience and lose their loyalty.

If the downtime results from a cyberattack and poor cybersecurity practices, customers may not trust you with their information in the future.

How much downtime can you afford?

If you calculate the cost of downtime, do you know how long you can afford to be down before your business accrues damaging losses?

Are you all right with an hour of downtime? Or a week?

Your comfortable downtime range is your acceptable risk level. Those who want shorter downtimes have low acceptable risk or "risk appetite." On the other hand, those who are comfortable with more extended downtimes have a high acceptable risk level.

The amount of downtime you can afford will determine your responses, plan, and investments in backup or continuity systems.

For example, those with low risk appetite may invest in redundancy (duplicate pieces or services, i.e., owning multiple pieces of critical hardware or a paying for a secondary internet provider) or IT continuity systems to keep downtime at an absolute minimum.

However, other companies may be more comfortable with a higher risk setting. In this case, they would not invest in redundancy but would make sure their hardware, software, and systems are well-maintained and replace them when necessary.

The second group of companies may have longer downtime if a crisis occurs, but it is a risk they are aware of, are comfortable facing, and can afford.


What causes IT downtime?

Downtime can be attributed to various preventable factors through proper planning, effective IT practices, and an IT incident response plan.

The top factors for downtime include:

  1. Hardware and network failure
  2. Software issues
  3. Third-party service failure
  4. Human error
  5. Disasters

1. Hardware and network failure

Hardware failure and network failure are often intertwined. This is because "hardware" includes not only computers but servers and switches, which are vital to network communication.

If an individual laptop fails, that is inconvenient, but it usually does not affect the entire company.

However, servers and switches connect business devices, allowing them to communicate with each other and share data. Therefore, if a switch or server suddenly dies, all the devices connected to that network cannot connect.

A downed switch or server can shut down an entire operation until a replacement is activated.

Servers are often customized, so it can take days or weeks to build and obtain the server and then more time to install and activate backups.

The best way to prevent hardware and network failure is to care for your equipment and replace it when it shows signs of age. In addition, practice regular maintenance checks and updates to maintain functionality and check for errors.

If any hardware is labeled End of Life (EOL), it is time to replace it, as the manufacturer will no longer cover it. This is because EOL hardware has reached the end of its productive lifespan.

Another way to prevent significant downtime is to practice IT redundancy.

For example, you could have two or more switches for your network. If one fails, the second is ready to go instantly.

However, redundancy is an additional expense. Examine your risk level comfort and your IT budget to see what kind of redundancy you can utilize and afford.

You should also ensure that you have system and file backups on physical servers or cloud storage. Quality, available backups allow you to reinstall data and systems quickly if a server fails.

2. Software issues

You may experience downtime if critical software fails. Therefore, it's essential to maintain and manage your software to be sure it's running smoothly.

Software failure can be due to the age of the software. Older software may be considered end-of-support and stop receiving security updates or manufacturer support.

It's important to update software within 30 days of an update release to help maintain functionality and security.

You may also consider having a software expert within your internal IT team or an IT provider.

3. Third-party service failure

A third-party service failure can include an internet connection or Cloud-based software.

If your company does not use the internet or any Cloud-based system, this kind of failure will not affect your productivity. However, if your company relies on the internet or a Cloud-based program, you will want to verify service guarantees.

For Cloud-based services and software, verify their downtime guarantees. What is their contingency plan in the face of downtime?

If your budget and needs allow, you may consider a second internet provider to avoid downtime created by an internet outage. Otherwise, contact your provider to ask what they can guarantee if outages occur.

4. Human error

Human errors can attribute to system failures.

Failure can occur through poor cybersecurity practices and subsequent cyber-attacks.

For example, if an employee knows nothing about phishing emails and social engineering, they may create a breach, letting in viruses or ransomware that can crash your systems.

Failures can also result from accidental misuse and a lack of technology education.

For instance, if employees know nothing about servers or switches, they might turn one off unwittingly. This will lead to network failure until the system can reboot. Furthermore, any unsaved data may be permanently lost.

The best way to prevent human error is to train employees thoroughly. In addition, have effective internal IT compliance policies and cybersecurity practices.

5. Disasters

Unfortunately, users can do very little to control disasters, but you can plan for them as best you can in your IT incident response plan.

Disasters can include natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes.

Disasters could also include accidents or events that destroy your IT environment or cause upheaval.

For instance, your building may catch fire, destroying your office and equipment.

While you cannot plan for every possible disaster, you can take steps to protect your data and prepare.

This may include housing some backups or equipment off-site or using Cloud storage.

Preparation may also include making sure you have adequate insurance coverage.

Your IT and insurance providers can help you create your incident response plan to protect your business data in case of a disaster.


Next steps to preventing downtime

IT downtime can damage your profits and reputation.

IT system failure can often be caused by the following:

  1. Hardware and network failure
  2. Software failure
  3. Third-party service failure
  4. Human error
  5. Disasters

Planning for each instance is vital to minimize and prevent system downtime and loss. Responses and prevention include:

  1. Replacing old equipment or practice redundancy using multiple hardware pieces like essential switches and servers.
  2. Maintaining software updates and replacing EOS software for functionality and security.
  3. Checking third-party services for guarantees and practice redundancy where possible (i.e., use two internet providers instead of one).
  4. Training employees in good IT and cybersecurity practices.
  5. Creating a thorough IT incident response plan to address worst-case scenarios.

To learn more about your risk of system failure, speak with your IT provider about your current risk profile and how to address each concern.

Your provider should perform a quarterly risk assessment. It will tell you what technology is aging or requires updates and if there are vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity practices.

Your provider can then create a response plan to address each risk. This plan includes hardware or software recommendations within your IT budget and expectations.

If your IT provider has not performed or discussed a risk assessment in the last three months, this is a red flag for poor service. As a result, you may consider reevaluating your IT partnership.

WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of clients in the greater Chicago area over the last 25 years.

If you are looking for a new IT provider, schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see if WEBIT can help.

If you're not ready to make a commitment but would like to learn more about proactive IT practices, we recommend the following articles: