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Delta System Outage: How to Minimize the IT Business Impact of Downtime

Nov 16, 2016, 18:17 PM by Trenton Baker

Imagine the following scenario.

It’s 11:30am on a Tuesday, and your company headquarters is humming along productively. Some employees are preparing customer reports on their desktops; others are standing by office printers awaiting collated hardcopy documents; still others are in conference rooms reviewing PowerPoint presentations on projector screens. A normal day at the office. Just imagine your entire team doing whatever it is they do on a typical workday during a peak hour of productivity.

Then, suddenly… blackout. Your facility experiences a building-wide power outage. Productivity grinds to a stop.

Now for the key question: What do you do? (Hint: Panicking doesn’t count.)

Would Your Company be Prepared for Such a Disaster?

To get an idea of your company’s readiness (or lack thereof) to continue operations amid a natural disaster such as a power outage, ask yourself these questions.

1. What business-critical systems — those tools and processes your company needs running at all times to fulfill your ongoing commitments to customers and partners — would be compromised by such a power outage? Do you have them listed somewhere? Can you name them immediately?

2. What plan, if any, do you have to shift execution of those business-critical systems to an alternate location (either a physical secondary facility, or to a cloud service) to ensure they are operating again quickly after this type of disaster strikes?

3. What plan, if any, do you have in place to communicate with your company’s other locations, with your remote or satellite employees, and with customers you will need to be in contact with while you deal with the disaster?

4. What amount of downtime could your business systems afford to experience before it began to cause major, permanent damage to your company’s operations and reputation?

If you had difficulty answering these questions, you are not alone. According to a study reported by the US Small Business Administration, about one in four businesses that experiences a major disaster never reopens. Clearly, the 25% of companies cited in that study had failed to develop, deploy and train their employees on a disaster recovery and business continuity plan that would ensure they’d be ready for something as serious as a companywide failure.

Indeed, the number of businesses with little or no disaster preparedness is much higher than 25%. A Symantec study, for example, found that 47% of midsized businesses and 57% of small businesses have no disaster recovery plan in place. Many unprepared businesses have simply been lucky — so far — in that they haven’t had to face such a company-threatening disaster.

But as you’ve no doubt heard, one such company that did face a major catastrophe recently was Delta Air Lines. As TechRepublic reported, a large-scale power failure at the airline’s Atlanta headquarters created chaos across the entire Delta organization.

The airline was forced to cancel hundreds of its flights around the world. But that was only the beginning of Delta’s troubles. As the Wall Street Journal reported, the outage also prevented Delta from alerting its passengers to the delays via the airline’s app. It also hindered Delta staff from updating the flight-information displays at airports. All of these systems, and many others, are of course run electronically on Delta’s main IT platform — which meant the power outage in a single location was able to hobble many of Delta’s communication channels, all around the country.

A Disaster Recovery Plan Could Have Minimized the Chaos Caused by Delta’s System Outage

So what caused the massive disruption in Delta’s service? The initial cause is undisputed: a power outage in Atlanta that affected Delta’s IT infrastructure, just one of those disasters no business can prevent.

But was the reason that Delta suffered such devastating and widespread business downtime was due to the power outage itself — or was it possibly a lack of preparedness by Delta for such an occurrence? Perhaps we can find the two real causes of Delta’s troubles in the titles of the two articles cited above…

TechRepublic: “Massive Delta Outage Highlights Need for Quality Data Center Power, Backup Plans.

The Wall Street Journal: “Delta Meltdown Reflects Problems With Aging Technology.

The TechRepublic title is referring to backup power, but this phrase could just as logically apply to data backup. Had Delta’s entire system been mirrored on a redundant cloud in another geographical location, one not affected by the power outage, could the airline have been able to switch its operations over to that secondary location and resume its business functions while, at the first site, the power-outage problem was resolved?

This means, for example, that Delta may have been able to alert passengers via its app of any flight cancellations or delays, as it would under normal circumstances — from the backup location.

And this, of course, would apply to any business — yours included. Keeping your data backed up offsite, and a disaster recovery plan in place so that your team knows how to move data operations over to that secondary location in an emergency, can mean the difference between rebounding quickly from a disaster — and perhaps not rebounding at all.

As for the Wall Street Journal’s title, another issue facing Delta was aging technology. This is another lesson that might apply to your business as well, if you are maintaining aging in-house servers and other hardware to manage your data onsite.

Bottom Line: Sophisticated Data Backup and Disaster Recovery Are Not Luxuries — They Are Business-Critical Systems Themselves

I hope this article convinces you at least to begin investigating protecting your corporate data and business-critical systems with a cloud-backup and disaster recovery expert.

I’ll leave you with a couple more key takeaways from the Delta outage, further reasons you should implement a trusted backup and DR solution as quickly as you can:

1. According to the Symantec report, system downtime costs midsized businesses a median of $23,000 per day, and $3,000 per day for small businesses.

2. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the outage incident will ultimately cost Delta millions of dollars in lost revenue, as well as damage to its reputation for reliability — and both problems could have been avoided or at least minimized with the proper backup and plans in place.

Of course, the crux of this whole episode was the importance of first having a Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity plan in place.

Equally important, however, is actually having your team trained on it and, like any sports play or NASA maneuver, so comfortable with it that execution is immediate, panic-free, smooth, flawless, and with the resources planned for and available when needed.

In fact, to that end you might wish to engage an expert, like KeepItSafe®, for assistance in first defining and then putting together your plan to meet your RTO – Recovery Time Objective. Allow me to also offer this resource – KeepItSafe®’s Recovery Time Calculator – as part of the larger blog outlining The Difference between RTO and RPO .

If you do not yet have a well thought out, and practiced, Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity plan in place, yesterday would be a great day to start on it!

KeepItSafe is an industry leader in cloud backup, disaster recovery and endpoint protection.

Contact us or one of our Partners to learn how we can protect your data — 24/7/365.

Resellers, join our Partner Program to help your clients better protect their data, systems and network infrastructure.

Peter Ely

Channel Marketing Manager, KeepItSafe

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