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System Outages: Top 8 Causes and How They Affect IT Operations


System Outages: Top 8 Causes and How They Affect IT Operations


This content is brought to you by Evolven. Evolven Change Analytics is a unique AIOps solution that tracks and analyzes all actual changes carried out in the enterprise cloud environment. Evolven helps leading enterprises cut the number of incidents, slash troubleshoot time, and eliminate unauthorized changes. Learn more

“High outage rates haven’t changed significantly. One in five organizations report experiencing a ‘serious’ or ‘severe’ outage (involving significant financial losses, reputational damage, compliance breaches and in some severe cases, loss of life) in the past three years, marking a slight upward trend in the prevalence of major outages.”1

Many enterprises have dealt with a system outage at some point. Such events can occur for a number of reasons. However, in any scenario, IT teams are put to task to get systems back up and running and minimize the impact on business operations, customers and reputation.

Any IT downtime can be costly for a business, so you must take measures to minimize the risk of outages occurring. Some of the greatest impacts of IT downtime include:

  • Operation Disruptions and Reputation

    High-performing organizations that maintain a tight schedule in delivering products to customers stand to lose the most when an outage occurs. A simple system outage can disrupt operations and prevent delivery of products as promise

    If not resolved quickly, an outage may impact the organization’s  reputation and even cause them to lose business in the future. This can be a significant problem for large enterprises that attract customers based on their reputation for delivering high-quality products on schedule.

  • Loss of Productivity

    It’s easy to understand why a system outage would negatively impact team productivity at an enterprise. After all, teams can’t complete their usual duties if their systems are not operational. However, few realize that this loss of productivity extends beyond this scope.

    In addition, it  takes time for staff to refocus their efforts on their duties once the system comes back online. This implies the loss of productivity isn’t limited to just the period when the system is down,but extends into reengaging back into activity once systems become operational again. 

  • Increased Costs

    System outages can also increase costs for your organization.  These added costs can occur for a number of reasons. For example, IT teams may need to work overtime to resolve an outage. Third-parties may need to be hired to help resolve the system outage. Whatever the case, this becomes an additional expense for the enterprise that is already suffering from lost revenue from the outage, as well as potential damage to reputation and customer loyalty.

Top Causes of System Outage

System outages can occur for a number of reasons. Some of these are easy to prevent while others must be anticipated and tackled using quick recovery strategies. Some of the most common reasons for system outages include:

1. Errors Caused by IT Workers

Human error is responsible for a large number of system outages Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, this includes experienced IT workers. As one Director has put it, there is Billy and there is Boris, and typically you have Billy who is just trying to do the right thing.  There are ways to prevent such errors from causing system outages, however, or at least reduce the likelihood of workers making a mistake that results in an unauthorized change that causes a P1 outage.  For example, you can create a set of best practices for configuration and change management to ensure that staff are familiar with the right operating procedures.  Enterprises can also provide ongoing personnel training to ensure everyone in the IT department is up to speed with the latest practices and understands vital control points to monitor. 

“The overwhelming majority of human error-related outages involve ignored or inadequate procedures. Nearly 40 percent of organizations have suffered a major outage caused by human error over the past three years. Of these incidents, 85 percent stem from staff failing to follow procedures or from flaws in the processes and procedures themselves.”2

Lastly, you can implement technology that helps to detect ‘fat-finger’ mistakes or risky changes, and ensures that these changes are escalated before they cause an outage. 

2. Software Failures

Software failures can lead to system outages at your enterprise as well. Maintaining system and software compatibility has long been the crux of IT. In fact, legacy systems running old software can bring unwanted risk to any enterprise. Proactive assessment of hardware and software can help to avoid some of this risk.

Business applications and  failures however are seeing more and more visibility as cloud deployments have gained popularity. Applications such as billing systems,  payment systems and even advertising solutions  have seen their systems go down and impact thousands of businesses in addition to  their own. Such failures could be caused by software issues or risky changes to code that passed through their CI/CD pipelines and software delivery. In some of these scenarios,  it can take  vendors hours, even days, to access the root cause, remediate the issue and get their software up and running again.

The same can occur for any enterprise that develops their own applications. And with the push for agile development, the need to understand risk in your software delivery process, catch issues early, and prevent them from production deployment is paramount.

3. Hardware Failures

Hardware failures are an inevitable occurrence that must also be considered and taken into account. Made from physical and mechanical parts that fail due to regular wear and tear or natural degradation, a hardware failure can easily spiral into a  complete system outage.

Old and unstable server hardware can cause havoc. Servers can crash due to a variety of reasons: power supply issues, damage to a hard disk platter, firmware upgrades and more.

IT teams may be able to anticipate hardware failures using regular quality and performance checks. Networking monitoring tools can also be used to predict when to do timely maintenance to avoid downtime.

4. Power and Internet Failures

Power failures are another cause for system outages. Power outages occur for a number of reasons. For example, construction workers, mother nature, and even auto accidents etc. These are likely the most unpredictable and sometimes the hardest outages to recover from depending on the severity of the cause.  Mother nature has been known to be quite an opponent.

Arming your enterprise with a backup power supply that activates as soon as a power outage is detected, as well as failover capabilities and redundancy are great defenses to keep your company in operation.

5. Misconfigurations

Per Gartner - Through 2023, “99% of firewall breaches will be caused by misconfigurations, not firewalls.”

Enterprises also experience system outages due to misconfigurations across systems, applications, infrastructure, and yes security. Apps become easy targets when security settings aren’t properly defined or default values aren’t maintained.

As an example, such misconfigurations can occur when the system administrator or developer hasn’t configured the application security framework and has inadvertently created an open pathway for hackers.

Enterprises are especially vulnerable to misconfiguration-related security issues during the cloud migration process.

You can reduce miconfigurations by adopting configuration and change management practices. For example, setting up a change review group can significantly reduce the change of misconfigurations occurring. Such enterprises can also use tools such as Evolven to detect system changes, detect unauthorized changes and correlate risk. This enables administrators to act accordingly if a misconfiguration occurs.

6. Expired Certificates

According to Ponemon, 81% of Enterprises have experienced at least two or more disruptive outages in the past two years due to an expired certificate.

Expired certificates are a leading cause of  system outages at many enterprises. Organizations  with large operations typically have hundreds of SSL/TLS certificates. And, every certificate has an expiration date that must be tracked, typically using a spreadsheet.

An easier solution may be to use a digital solution such as Evolven that is designed to keep track of every configuration detail, including certificate expirations. This solution alerts IT teams when a certificate is set to expire so that they can update it and prevent a system outage from occurring.

7. Usage Spikes or Surges

An unexpected app usage spike or surge may cause the entire system to fail. This occurs when the enterprise did not anticipate the surge and therefore did not put enough resources in place to facilitate such an event. This is when you basically overload your systems.

IT teams can prevent such outages by monitoring app usage and seeing when usage is approaching levels that the current system cannot handle. You can then  increase capacity as appropriate  to facilitate usage spikes and surges.

8. Security Failures

Security failures are another major source of system outages. Enterprises that do not adopt strict or up-to-date security measures for their network are susceptible to DDoS attacks or ransomware attacks. Such attacks are capable of taking down the whole system and causing long outages.

For example, in 2016, a major domain name service provider called Dyn experienced a large DDoS attack where it was hit by a 1 terabyte/second traffic flood. The attack knocked the system offline, which impacted many high-profile websites such as Netflix, Reddit, PayPal, and AirBnB that relied on the domain name service provider. This attack proved that even large companies are susceptible to such attacks.

Large enterprises can safeguard their networks from such security threats by adopting measures such as spam filters, file encryption, fraud detection software, file integrity monitoring and multi-factor authentication.

How Evolven Can Help Prevent System Outages

As you can see, system outages can be caused by a number of factors. Some of these are preventable while others - well, they can be slowed down or can be given an early warning system.  IT teams must prepare for such outages and find ways to get their systems back up and running as quickly as possible to minimize operation downtime and costs to the enterprise.

AI-driven, Evolven detects configuration changes across your hybrid enterprise and informs IT teams of any concerning changes, based on the risk to your enterprise. Resolve issues before they spiral into a full blown system outage with Evolven. Contact us to find out more.

Please contact us to learn more about Evolven and how it alerts you to possible system outages before they occur.

A system outage can be costly for large enterprises that need to keep their activities on schedule.

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Contact Evolven here to see the Evolven Change Control technology in action.

About the Author
Kristi Perdue
Vice President of Marketing