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Maximizing Uptime and Reliability of IT Systems

Maximizing Uptime and Reliability of IT Systems

IT systems play a crucial role in the day-to-day operations of many organizations, and any downtime, interruption, or lack of oversight can have serious consequences. Case in point, Windows updates once cost a German professional basketball team a game, forcing them into a lower division (they officially won the game, but got penalised for the delay caused by the updates).

The actual cost of these IT mishaps varies depending on when and who you ask. Back in 2014, Gartner estimated the cost of downtime to be approximately $300K / £247 per hour. But they admit that these figures don’t really apply to everyone. Perhaps more apt is the more recent Uptime Institute’s 2022 Outage Analysis which suggests that “Over 60% of failures result in at least $100,000 in total losses, up substantially from 39% in 2019.” (Also worth checking out is this Trilio infographic.)

Uptime and reliability are closely related concepts where IT systems are concerned. Highly reliable IT systems are less likely to experience failures that would result in downtime. On the other hand, systems with low reliability are likely to experience more failures and therefore have lower uptime.

That’s stating the obvious, I know, but there’s a little more to it than meets the eye: an IT system designed with redundant components and a solid disaster recovery plan is likely to be both highly reliable and have high uptime. On the flip side, no redundancies or disaster recovery equals less reliability, less uptime, and much more worry.

Uptime is typically measured as a percentage, representing the amount of time that the system is operational and available for use, relative to the total amount of time that it should be available. For example, an IT system with 99.99% uptime is available for use 99.99% of the time, meaning that it is down for an average of just 4.38 minutes per month.

Reliability, on the other hand, refers to the ability of an IT system to perform its intended functions without failure. This includes the ability of the system to resist failure, recover from failure, and continue operating even in suboptimal conditions. Reliability is often determined by factors such as the quality of the hardware and software components used in the system, the design of the system, and the availability of backup systems and procedures.

A complex and ongoing process

But uptime and reliability aren’t exclusively related to redundancies or disaster-proofing strategies. It’s a complex and ongoing process that involves many moving parts and can therefore also be hindered by various challenges, including:

  1. Complex IT systems: Increased reliance on IT systems for improved operations and efficiency comes with the downside that these systems eventually become more complex.
  2. Limited resource availability: This refers to budget, staffing, and expertise, which can make it difficult to maximize the uptime and reliability of their IT systems.
  3. Aging infrastructure: Old hardware and software components can increase the risk of failures and downtime. Aging infrastructure can also cause compatibility issues with newer components, which can also negatively affect system stability and uptime.
  4. Cybersecurity threats: Cybersecurity threats, including malware, phishing, and ransomware, can have a major impact on the uptime and reliability of IT systems.
  5. Human error: Human error, such as misconfigured systems or incorrect use of software, can result in downtime and data loss.

Luckily many of these problems can be solved by leveraging a combination of best practices, technology solutions, and expert support

Let’s take a look.

Best Practices for Maximizing Uptime and Reliability

  1. Implementing a disaster recovery plan: Can you recover quickly and effectively from unexpected events such as natural disasters, power outages, or cyberattacks? A disaster recovery plan should include procedures for backing up data, recovering systems and restoring service as quickly as possible.
  2. Implementing redundancies: Implementing redundant systems and components can keep the wheels turning even if one component fails. This can include using redundant servers, network switches, power supplies, and storage devices.
  3. Regular software and hardware maintenance: Regular maintenance is critical for ensuring the uptime and reliability of IT systems. This includes regular software updates and patches to address security vulnerabilities. Routine hardware maintenance ensures that worn or failed components are replaced before they impact operations.
  4. Implementing security measures to prevent cyberattacks: Cyberattacks are a major threat to the uptime and reliability of IT systems, as they can result in both system failures and data loss. Implementing strong security measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption can protect against these threats.
  5. Regular monitoring and testing: Regular monitoring and testing of IT systems can help identify potential problems before they result in downtime. This can include regular system backups, performance testing, and penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities.

Adding cloud to the mix

Cloud computing isn’t just about virtual servers, but also includes virtual networking, file storage, and cloud-based desktops, to name but a few. It has matured over the years to deliver an environment capable of solving many modern challenges associated with continuity.

  1. Resilience and stability: It’s the cloud, which, by definition, means that it’s a group of servers working as one. If one server or hardware component fails, it doesn’t interrupt the service provided by the others.
  2. Infrastructure integration: The cloud comes in different flavours, ranging from the public cloud where individual tenants share the same hardware, to the private cloud which is hardware dedicated to one organisation. However, a cloud service can also be set up for seamless operation with on-premises infrastructure or cloud services hosted by other cloud service providers. In short, there’s enough flexibility to allow for truly customised cloud operation.
  3. Resource scalability: Applications crashing due to insufficient system resources are not uncommon on individual physical machines. The cloud provides resource scalability, allowing organisations to add or remove computing resources as needed – often in just a few clicks, or provisioned automatically when certain conditions are met (e.g. time of day or heavy loads).
  4. Disaster recovery: The cloud allows organisations to implement redundancies and disaster recovery strategies for their on-premises systems at a fraction of the cost of physical systems.
  5. Shared infrastructure management: Organisations are realising that they can offload many of their system management tasks to cloud service providers. Cloud-based services can now be fully managed by the service provider, which includes disaster recovery and security.

24/7 Expert Support

The shared management of IT infrastructure is becoming an increasingly popular topic as the managed services industry continues to grow. This is important, especially if we consider that monitoring of IT infrastructure plays a crucial role in ensuring and maintaining high levels of uptime and reliability. This includes the use of network monitoring software, system management software, performance monitoring tools, as well as log management and analysis tools.

But incorporating all these tools can become a headache. I’ve previously written about an Arlington Research study which found that more than 70% of UK & US respondents are fed up with the sheer number of tools needed to monitor and manage infrastructure.

In this context, incorporating an MSP into the mix effectively extends an organisation’s tech teams with those of the service provider. More importantly, infrastructure management and monitoring can then be offloaded to the MSP, which can also supplement support services related to those services or features it provides. This also solves skills shortage problems as well as human resource limitations, since it’s up to the MSP to ensure that the manpower required to provide an efficient service is in place.

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