There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting in front of a computer and waiting for a webpage to finish loading. While there might be browser issues, one of the most common reasons behind the endless spinning wheel or beachball is a network outage.

The term “network outage” or “downtime” is used to refer to time durations when a system is unavailable owing to technical or mechanical issues. Outage duration or downtime refers to a period of time in which a system fails to provide or perform its primary function. This term is commonly applied to servers and networks. There are numerous kinds of outages and several possible reasons behind each outage.

In this article, we’ll discuss

  • about network outages,
  • how they can impact your business,
  • and how you can bounce back when needed.

What is a network outage?

A network outage is an issue where there is no actual defect with your server, however, there is an issue with the internet connection somewhere between your computer and the server itself. Such outages are commonly caused by routing problems that are out of control of most service providers. In such cases, even though the servers are running fine, website monitoring services report your website as being offline, and no points for guessing how that impacts your business! A few seconds of website downtime and you could witness the loss of traffic, loss of potential deals, and a decline in online reputation. Thus, the smartest move is to find out as much as you can about such issues and do whatever you can to steer clear of them.

Types of Network Outages

There are several ways of dealing with network outages, which largely depend upon the kind of outage it is. As per industry standards, the below-mentioned classification should be used to avoid conflicts in contract execution:

  1. Maintenance and Upgrades

Regardless of the Operating System running on the server, a certain amount of downtime for maintenance and upgrades is unavoidable so as to maintain security and provide you with the current technology. Such outages are usually planned but occasionally, unplanned maintenances also can take users offline. Such unplanned maintenance routines are generally carried out when service providers are trying to fix an immediate issue.

  1. Server-specific problems

Usually, for any service provider, all servers are consistent but the users on each server are obviously different. Also, the number of users per server varies. Thus, even if the servers have similar configurations, they can experience different problems. Additionally, all servers run on hardware, and all hardware is susceptible to component failure. Server-specific problems are bound to happen occasionally. While that is true, every service provider takes some steps to prevent unnecessary issues:

  • Extensive monitoring of the live servers
  • Controlling and balancing density
  • Retiring all hardware that is past a certain age

All these steps are taken to ensure that your data runs on a server, which has a life expectancy of many years and doesn’t fail except in extreme situations.

  1. Malicious attacks

When we talk about malicious attacks, the first thing that springs to the mind is DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attack. Under this kind of attack, extensive amounts of data are sent to a site or server such that they are effectively knocked off line. Traditionally, large DDoS attacks would throw MBs of data at a site every second and that would be sufficient to bring it down. But now, with higher bandwidth botnets in the picture, the situation is worse. So much so that in some cases it is impossible to measure how much traffic the DDoS is sending.

As important it is to understand the different types of network outages, it is equally critical to nail down what causes such technical disasters.

Known causes of network outages

According to a survey sponsored by Veriflow, a California based network startup, network outages are reported hours after they actually happen and they take even longer to resolve. Most resolutions are manmade and thus error-prone, but none-the-less, they are resolutions that get things up and running. The same survey points out that a majority of network outages are caused by:

  • Human Errors – 97% of people agree that human errors are the cause of network outages. Whether it is accidentally turning off a switch or inadvertently causing a short-circuit in the wires, the human element cannot be undermined in this situation.
  • Network Changes – Every network undergoes frequent changes for the sake of maintenance and upkeep. However, changes that are not properly evaluated and accounted for can cause outages that can hurt. Such outages since are not anticipated cause a huge impact on the business.

 
  • Standard Compliance Problems – Although most business houses have standards in place to ensure that the network policies are followed, most employees remain doubtful that they are actually followed the way they should be.
  • Hardware Failures – This is the number one reason for a network outage. There are so many interconnected components in a network that even if one fails it can cause an outage. And it can originate anywhere, router, gateway, controller, etc.
  • Incompatibilities – Though it happens rarely, incompatibilities between firmware and hardware devices can also be the source of a network outage. Add to that failed software patches and firmware updates and you can be sure that it will lead to a disaster sooner or later.
  • Natural Disasters – If you though fire, flood, etc were the only disasters you couldn’t predict, think again. Sometimes even though you have all the necessary measures in place to protect your network from natural disasters, things you never thought of, like rodents chewing on cables can cause network outages. What to do!

 

Highest Impact Industries

While some corporations may be able to afford the few hours of downtime resulting from a network outage and subsequent resolution, there are many mission-critical industries which absolutely cannot let such an event pass by without causing a havoc first.

  • Medical informatics
  • Nuclear power and other infrastructure
  • Banks and other financial institutions
  • Aeronautics, airlines
  • News reporting
  • E-commerce and online transaction processing
  • Persistent online games

In these industries, outages can have a  serious impact on the business and users of such systems. Corporations can lose business due to network outages or they may default on a contract, resulting in financial losses. Those people or organizations that are affected by downtime can be more sensitive to particular aspects:

  • some are more affected by the length of an outage – it matters to them how much time it takes to recover from a problem
  • others are sensitive to the timing of an outage – outages during peak hours affect them the most

The most demanding users are those that require high availability.

Dealing with network outages

There are several techniques of preventing network outages or at least minimizing their effects by resolving them quickly. Here are a few:

  • Manual Hit-and-trials – After each network change, ensure your IT team performs several manual checks to verify that the network is functioning properly. Inspecting devices via the command line interface, inspecting configurations, and performing manual traceroutes or pings are all good methods.

 
  • Continuous Network Monitoring – This is by far the most effective method of keeping tabs on network issues. Network monitoring helps you gather data about the status of a network by polling network devices for availability and performance statistics. Once polled, you can use the data to infer what caused the downtime, which device, in which location, and when.
  • Automated Network Monitoring Services – There are a ton of automated software available online that can help companies detect outages and send quick alerts and notifications if things aren’t working the way they should. Some even let you know where the problem lies so that you don’t have to worry about figuring it out and can just concentrate on fixing it.
  • Risk Management – If an organization invests some time in putting some practices in place to determine the impact of network outages and what actions must be taken if that happens, they can minimize their risks and impact by a large measure. Having contingency plans never hurts. So does having redundant systems, regular upgrades, and reliable components.

How network outages impact your business

Most network outages take 1-5 hours to resolve, and that loss of time can mean a lot of things to a lot of businesses:

The cost of an hour of downtime

If your systems are down even for an hour, your business is going to suffer unless you have a disaster recovery plan in place. How much impact it has on a business’ profits can only be estimated roughly:

  • $8,000 to a small business
  • $74,000 for a mid-size company
  • $700,000 for large enterprises

These amounts are rough estimates of the loss of 1 hour of downtime! Imagine what the numbers will be if the durations were longer.

Loss of productivity

If you want to take an honest look at how much an IT system outage will impact your business, just factor in how much you are paying idle employees each hour that goes by.

Diminished Reputation

If you are a company that allows a faulty network to cause a halt in normal operations, in addition to losing out on employee morale, what you’re losing out on is your hard-earned reputation. Numerous surveys point out that the number one workplace frustration is a slow internet as it leads to a spike in customer complaints, lost productivity and low morale.

Thus, always keep yourself afloat

In order to keep your business protected from the risks of network outages, you need a technology partner who can monitor your network from time to time and ensure everything is running as it should be. Even better would be a firm that can offer disaster recovery plans so that you can bounce back quickly even if caught in the midst of a mishap.

Written by Ibrahim Massri
Ibrahim Massri is General Manager at ICTechnology, an IT services provider based in NSW . He has more than 7 years of rich experience in IT management services. Working since 2010, he has expertise in project management, business strategy, business development, Microsoft Office solution selling, and software related projects. He loves to pen down new industry insights and his experience in this field to help solve challenges related to IT issues.