Downtime is something no business wants to deal with. It can not only be costly in terms of lost productivity or sales, but also make your firm look poor to potential customers.
However, sometimes this is unavoidable. Whether through natural disasters, power or hardware failures or malicious activity such as hacking, network downtime is something every business needs to have a plan for. And while an effective recovery strategy is an essential part of this, the best solution is to take proactive steps to boost a network's resilience to ensure the risk of any failures in the first place is kept to a minimum.
The costs of poor network resilience
Availability is increasingly a top priority for many businesses. It doesn't matter whether you're providing software services to customers or building in-house applications for your employees, even a few minutes of downtime can quickly translate into significant financial and reputational losses.
Research by Information Technology Consulting, for example, suggests that 85% of major corporations expect a minimum of 99.99% availability for mission critical hardware, operating systems and essential business applications. However, while a downtime of 0.01% may only translate to less than an hour of downtime a year, this can still be costly.
Gartner, for instance, calculates that the average cost of network downtime is $5,600 per minute. This means that if you are offline for an hour, you can face losses of more than $300,000.
5 steps to ensure a highly-resilient network
While factors such as power outages and natural disasters may be unavoidable, there are other types of downtime that you can prevent with careful planning - and even if there is something that's out of your control, a highly-resilient network infrastructure can ensure you keep disruption to a minimum. Here are a few essential steps for ensuring your systems are as prepared as possible.
1. Conduct a thorough audit for vulnerabilities
The first step must be to have a full picture of your entire network, so you can identify which systems may be most vulnerable to disruption. Conduct a complete audit that looks at every connection, how likely it is to fail and what the consequences will be if it is out of action. Be sure to include all switches and routers, power supplies, wired and wireless connections in this, and use live network data to see where your hotspots are.
2. Prioritize your systems
Once you have a clear map of your entire network infrastructure, it's time to sort them by priority. Applying uniform policies across your network can quickly get expensive, and will be highly impractical if used for less mission-critical systems.
Sorting your network into categories should be the first step. However, even within these, there can be differences. For example, how 'critical' is a critical system in practice? IT analyst John Fruehe breaks this down into three sub-categories, which are:
- Critical: If these services go down, you might have unhappy users
- Business-critical: If these services are unavailable, it means you can't deliver a certain aspect of your business, and it will start directly costing you money
- Mission-critical: If these functions become unavailable, the business becomes entirely unable to function until services are restored
Recognizing which categories each of your applications and network connections fall into is an essential first step when it comes to investing in your backups and contingencies.
3. Put power backups in place
Power outages may be one of the most challenging issues, and could be a growing problem in the future - especially as issues such as climate change put more pressure on electrical grids, as has been seen in places such as Texas in recent years.
However, there are steps you can take to prevent this. Deploying technologies such as a battery-based uninterruptible power supply for your most critical hardware and connectivity can provide an instant backup in the case of a short-term loss of power. In the event of longer outages, adding additional generators may become necessary.
4. Ensure you have multiple connections
Adding redundancies to your networking infrastructure ensures that traffic can be rerouted and applications remain accessible in the event of a partial failure. Segmenting your network effectively and having multiple paths between subnets, which should be connected to multiple routers, is vital.
In addition to this, adding effective automation tools is also important in maintaining constant connectivity. These tools can ensure that traffic continues to flow as soon as an interruption occurs, rather than having to wait for network administrators to put contingency plans in place.
5. Test your incident response plan
Finally, drawing up an incident response plan, then thoroughly testing it on a regular basis, will be essential in keeping any network disruption to a minimum. This should ensure that everyone understands what the next steps are in the event of an emergency, such as how to access and restore backups, and who in the organization will take on specific responsibilities.
An incident response plan should also be able to see at a glance exactly where any outage has occurred. By reducing the amount of time taken to identify and troubleshoot an issue and reroute away from damaged assets, you can ensure your network is as resilient as possible and minimize the time - and therefore cost - of any loss of availability.
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