Downtime: Planned versus unplanned (part one)

There are several crucial factors that determine the success of a company. However, having reliable systems is in the current digital economy a key factor. Downtime of systems seriously affects business success, depending on the frequency and duration.

Despite the efforts invested in a company’s IT infrastructure, many IT organizations continue to face downtime incidents. Downtime is the time that a system is not online or available. Downtime can relate to databases, hardware and software. This downtime can only last a few minutes, and in some extreme cases a few days, with major consequences. When one of the components of the business-critical equipment or applications goes down, a part of the company completely shuts down. This can result in a huge loss. Every minute a business unit is down, it costs money.

Different types of downtime

Planned downtime
There are various causes that cause downtime. A distinction is made between planned and unplanned downtime. Planned downtime occurs due to maintenance or an update to the software or server. This is necessary downtime. This downtime will be announced in advance so people can prepare for it. The impact can be kept to a minimum by running applications on a different server. Maintenance can also be planned at a convenient time, so that it impacts as few users as possible. The production environment can also be replicated with backups, so it can continue to run when an upgrade or maintenance is carried out.

Unplanned downtime
In addition, there is also unplanned downtime. Unplanned downtime occurs unexpected due to a crash of systems. One cannot prepare for this. The main causes of unplanned downtime are hardware errors due to defective components, software crashes (for example due to viruses), natural disasters, power failures, disruptions at the internet provider, or due mistakes humans make when performing maintenance. According to the Visible Ops Handbook of the IT Process Institute, 80% of unplanned failures are due to poorly planned changes, or incorrect configurations, made by IT administrators.

Unplanned downtime also happens when a DDoS attack occurs. DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. With a DDoS, hackers send large amounts of bandwidth to a server so that it becomes slow or unreachable for legitimate traffic. We see more DDoS attacks nowadays. Research by the NBIP, a collaboration between internet providers, has shown that in 2018 15% more DDoS attacks took place compared to the year before. Well-known examples are the DDoS attacks on ING and ABN-AMRO. The servers became overloaded, which meant that customers could not use internet banking for a while. Not only the consumer, but also webshops and other online businesses and services were affected because no online transactions could be carried out.

The consequences of downtime

Disruptions and downtime are still a major threat to the IT world. The consequences can be huge. The entire organization suffers from the financial pain caused by the effects of downtime. There are noticeable direct effects such as loss of turnover and reputation damage, but also indirect effects such as productivity loss. Loss of production occurs when employees are unable to work because they are unable to access the systems and therefore cannot help customers.

Downtime of an internal business application can lead to different types of losses:

  • Loss of the application service: the impact of downtime varies depending on the application and the service that depends on it. Business processes come to a hold, and certain activities cannot be carried out.
  • Data loss: a system failure can result in data loss. This has significant legal and financial consequences.

Downtime of a website influences the customer’s purchasing process, and affects:

  • Profitability: this is the most direct effect; the web page is not available so no transactions can take place.
  • User confidence and loyalty: if a webpage is not available and there are other options, the customers or users go to another supplier. This also reduces confidence.

Financial consequences
It is very difficult to quantify the impact of such disruptions in terms of costs. However, it is a fact that downtime is becoming more and more expensive because we have become increasingly dependent on online systems. The costs of downtime vary and depend among other things on the company size and industry. The role of IT systems within business operations is also crucial. For companies that depend solely on delivering to customers from IT and network services, such as telecommunication service providers or e-commerce companies, downtime can lead to particularly high costs.

Internal business applications can go down, causing internal processes to come to a halt, but it can also be a website that is down so that customers cannot make purchases. When Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp went down globally for a few hours in early 2019 due to configuration on a server, the price of the shares fell by 1.4% the next day (the Street, 2019).

In addition, the repair costs must also be taken into account. This can be regarding repairing the equipment, but also recovering from the profit that was lost. One can also think of potential overtime for employees to recover lost work.

Overall, it is important for the organization to identify what the bottlenecks are and what the consequences are of downtime. It is important to calculate the costs of downtime, and what direct and indirect consequences it can have for your company. Then you can work on a solution to minimize downtime as much as possible.

In the following blog we will further discuss how downtime can be minimized.

Behr, K., Kim, G., & Spafford, G. (2005). The Visible Ops Handbook: Implementing ITIL in 4 Practical and Auditable Steps, Information Technology Process Institute., (26 april, 2019). ‘Aantal cyberaanvallen op bedrijven afgelopen jaar flink gestegen’. Retrieved from:
Wang, N., (March 14, 2019). Facebook Shares Fall as Outages Persist; Firm Says Systems ‘Are Recovering’. The issues accessing Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp continued into a second day on Thursday. Retrieved from: