How to Reduce IT Network Downtime: An In-Depth Guide to Efficient Operations

IT Services | November 8, 2022

Did you know that a quarter of businesses had their servers go down last year?

The most common culprit tends to be server maintenance and website maintenance. In some unfortunate cases, your servers go down as a result of a ransomware attack. Whatever the case, this is a huge loss to your organization because time is money.

Every second your IT network isn’t up, you can’t assist customers. That’s when you stand to lose profits and see your valued clients walk out the door.

Reducing network downtime is in your best interest, no matter what sort of IT services you employ. The cost of network downtime will be steep – and often in ways far beyond money.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to minimize IT downtime for efficient operations.

How Much Do You Stand to Lose During IT Network Downtime?

Our world is more interconnected than ever before. You might be surprised how much of the world depends on internet-enabled infrastructure. Not even things like traffic lights or oil pipelines are safe from bad actors.

The point is, the world relies heavily on online services. Your customers have come to expect your services to be available 24/7. Even a few short hours of planned maintenance might put a bad taste in some clients’ mouths.

The cost of network downtime varies from company to company. If you contract your services to a third party like Amazon, you may experience the occasional outage that could last for hours.

Estimates of losses depend on the size of your business and the sort of services you provide. You could be losing thousands of dollars or potentially millions.

Unavailable services deal a heavy blow to your reputation, too. Word travels fast in the era of Glassdoor and Yelp reviews. Discovering that your company does not deliver could set you back in your search for a new customer base.

What Causes Downtime?

The causes of downtime are varied, but the most common are these:

  • Scheduled IT maintenance, usually only for a few hours at most
  • Localized power outages that shut down nearby internet services
  • Unplanned outages from sabotage, such as DDoS attacks that lead to network failure
  • Long-term downtime, such as when mitigating a successful data breach

Downtime is inevitable. Your servers will require you to update them, patch them, and reboot them. Their hardware will age, necessitating occasional repairs.

Servers require a dedicated team to perform network management. As such, it’s no small matter to take your services offline. This must be a coordinated affair, often with all hands on deck.

But the perceptive reader may have caught onto something: your business often decides the length of downtime. And as we’ll see, proper planning can ensure that downtime is minimal.

The good thing about servers is you often have several of them. Servers are very adaptable, and in many cases, you can afford to take one or two offline as the need arises. This allows you to provide more or less seamless service.

Let’s discuss the most common ways to minimize downtime.

How to Reduce Network Downtime During Normal Operations

The keyword here is normal operations. We’re talking about downtime that does not occur as a result of a cyber-attack. These may be scheduled downtimes or unscheduled, but all of these are in your company’s control.

Protocol in the event of network failure from a data breach will require a different approach. Here, we’ll discuss important everyday routines to keep things in tip-top shape.

1. Avoid Downtime With Rolling Updates

What’s great about servers is that they’re flexible. Many big companies almost never go offline for scheduled maintenance. This is thanks to many of the key features that servers offer.

For starters, you can shift traffic to other servers. This allows you to take one–or several–servers offline to do IT maintenance. Users won’t notice the difference, especially if you do this maintenance during a low-traffic time.

Servers use a nifty feature called virtualization. This allows a server to fragment itself into multiple parts to handle the increased load. It allows them to run multiple services with higher efficiency compared to a server without.

This virtualization means that one server can take over while other servers are shut down for IT maintenance. It makes these rolling updates less painful.

While this method of deploying maintenance prevents most downtime, it does require planning. Having a skilled managed IT team will maximize this.

2. Schedule a Reasonable Downtime Window

No one likes to get the alert that a server is going offline. It often comes at an inconvenient moment and forces users to sit in wait for an hour or longer.

It’s in your best interest to schedule maintenance during times with the lowest traffic. In most cases, your demographic is all within the same country. It’s easy then to set maintenance hours during the graveyard shift when there’s little to no traffic.

This can be a bit tricky, however, if you have an international audience. You may have to select the time that has the lowest statistical traffic for your worldwide customer base. Downtime may be inevitable.

Prepare Well for Network Downtime

Make sure the scheduled network downtime isn’t too long. Most people can stomach 1 or 2 hours, as inconvenient as it may be. But if you stretch that window much longer, you risk inconveniencing valued customers.

Warn everyone (internal staff included) of business network maintenance well in advance. The earlier, the better.

This allows your customers and employees to plan ahead of time. Ramp up the reminders as the day draws nearer to make sure no one misses the memo.

Make good use of this window to get as much done as possible. In most cases, you won’t need the full hour or two hours.

Your IT services may only be hot-swapping hardware and then performing routine troubleshooting post-installation. Take advantage of that leftover time to run diagnostics and fix less-crucial hardware to maximize time use.

The more scheduled maintenance you have, the more you frustrate customers. If you can schedule fewer instances of IT downtime, you’ll be doing your business a huge favor.

3. Perform Routine Server Examinations

Maintaining your servers isn’t just about making sure they run smoothly. Cybersecurity is crucial when running a successful IT network – but so is treating the hardware well.

Servers are tough machines that can handle extreme temperatures and a lot of abuse. However, that doesn’t mean you should grow complacent.

There’s a lot you can do to improve your server’s physical condition without a shutdown. You can check that the wires are in good condition, that airflow is unobstructed, and that temperatures are within operational range.

Identify Future Problems

An astute floor manager will recognize things that could become a future problems. This might be cabling that’s exposed to rodents or human footsteps. There may be a budding issue with the cooling systems that could threaten to take the whole farm offline.

These can be daily, weekly, or monthly checks. They won’t take more than a few minutes. The result is that you may spot issues long before they lead to disaster.

Managed IT services deal with this every day. They’ve seen it all and will identify contingencies from a mile off.

4. Update Servers and Endpoints

Updates can seem like an enigma in the cyber community. They’re one of the most important things, and yet everyone (even the experts!) delays them.

Updates aren’t just to protect your system against malware. They include stability and efficiency updates. These often include necessary hotfixes and patches that solve extant issues in your business network.

In some rare cases, an update may lead to unforeseen system issues. These issues often only affect a small number of users, which could include you. Staying on top of updates gives you the latest patches.

Performing Updates Across Your Entire IT Network Landscape

Schedule rolling updates across all your systems. You have physical firewalls, SoC devices, and IoT devices. All of them run disparate OSs that, in some cases, require a unique update process.

Like with scheduled system maintenance, it’s best to communicate your intentions. While you may not take your services offline, your actions may affect employee productivity. Keeping everyone in the loop ensures there are no sudden logjams in productivity.

Any managed IT service worth its salt will stay on top of this without you asking them to.

5. Perform Backups and Check to Make Sure They Work

Backups, like updates, are no laughing matter. Everyone hates making them. But when crap hits the fan, everyone regrets not being prepared in time.

Backups need not be a painful, tedious process. In fact, most backup software is very easy to set up and runs automatically. Whether these are encrypted data backups or system state images, they’ll be a boon to your workflow.

If servers go down, you can flash a backup and run the server in safe mode. This makes it easy to get things back up and running. It will help your team to identify the culprit that brought things down in the first place.

Using Backups for Multiple Purposes

These backups are also a great resource to have if a server update causes issues. Say you boot a server and run into a mountain of system errors. Rather than reset the OS and start from ground zero, you can return to a previous state.

Then there’s the topic of ransomware. In a ransomware attack, hackers encrypt your data and hold it hostage until you pay their extortioner’s fee. This can bring your organization to a screeching halt.

Backups can be a means of overcoming this. You can take the server farm offline, flash the backups, and make it like nothing ever happened. Then your managed IT team can identify the issue, whether problems with cloud services or otherwise.

6. Perform Thorough Business Network Monitoring

Having a managed IT team that’s on top of inbound traffic and internal activity is essential. There’s a lot going on in your network at any given time. Complacency can lead to an attitude that’s not conducive to identifying threats.

There’s a lot that can go wrong. Your team may spot an abnormal spike in traffic, characteristic of a DDoS attack. They may discover suspicious behavior in areas with limited permissions.

A managed IT team knows all the tells when there’s trouble afoot. They may notice a large number of encrypted files, which can be evidence of ransomware in action. They may notice suspicious activity on ports reserved for elevated privilege activities.

Often, a skilled IT team can catch a data breach in the making. This requires a proactive approach that goes above and beyond standard filter lists and quarantines. 

Making Use of Data Analytics

Monitoring isn’t just to avoid breaches. It’s an essential tool when it comes to minimizing network downtime as well. Using analytical tools, you can gather valuable data on your IT network’s performance.

This information may make you aware of deficiencies in your IT network. You may need to bulk up your number of servers or deploy fixes to patch known vulnerabilities. It may alert you to poor employee practice that necessitates a training meeting.

Managed IT works to closely monitor your network at all hours of the day. There’s no one better when it comes to identifying problems in the making.

Find Managed IT Services

Your IT network is the linchpin for all your services. When there’s a network failure, you risk huge losses in profits and your reputation with clients. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize network downtime in almost all instances, provided you plan ahead.

The key to any successful business network is having the professionals to run it well. Managed IT bridges that gap and takes the load off your shoulders. Contact EMPIST if you’re in search of the best IT services in the industry.