The downside of downtime

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Here’s an industry cliche:  downtime is a terrible sin.  And lately, there’s been plenty of sinnin’.  We’ve all heard the recent stories about the Amazon Web Services outage in late April and Sony’s giant data hemorrhage on the PlayStation network last week (over 100 million user accounts were compromised).  These large-scale outages and security embarrassments are reviving fears about putting organizational data—or applications—online into the cloud.  Is it worth it?  Is the technology mature enough for your business? What options do I have?


In my opinion, today’s fears about the cloud are ultimately variations on classic worries that organizations have always had about IT.  Sometimes they worry about the cost of maintaining internal expertise, and so they outsource their IT management to an MSP.  Sometimes an organization is highly risk-averse, and so they refuse to trust anyone but their own team.  But wherever the data and apps are stored, and regardless of who manages them, the worries always remain.  I’ve been around long enough to know that when it comes to IT … things break and  shit happens!

These worries are getting amplified with our growing reliance on corporate networks and the popularity of web-based tools for business operations.  When you rely on e-commerce, internet traffic, or web-based authentication to access business applications and data, mere minutes of network downtime can cause irreparable damage.  Missed sales opportunities and lost productivity are the clear downsides; but in my opinion there is a far worse consequence: broken trust.

Client facing downtime bruises your reputation quickly.  Just consider the trauma that Sony is going through right now.  Nobody wants to do business with an organization that can’t keep the lights on or keep credit card info safe.  But internally, the bruising of downtime can be just as damaging.  A few performance hiccups can easily sabotage the hard-earned trust that people have in your ability to manage an IT environment, but also their confidence in the technology itself.  This will make innovation next to impossible as time marches on.  On the one hand, executives won’t trust your purchasing decisions any more.  On the other hand, new rollouts will be forever met with skepticism and discomfort on the user side.

The real measure of your IT partner or internal team is how they react to downtime.  Fair-weather friends are easy to come by, and relationships are simple to manage when things run smoothly.  But true colours get exposed when shit hits the fan.  The value of what you pay for gets crystal-clear demonstration.  If you’ve got a team with fast response times who exhibits a genuine sense of urgency for your problems, then you’ve got a partner you can trust.

This has always been my biggest worry when clients ask our team about the virtues of moving apps and data to big public clouds.  Does anyone at Amazon or Google really care if your SMB in Brampton suffers downtime?  Do the tech support people in Palo Alto really understand your business?  I doubt it … And the evidence suggests this too.   The reality is that your business operations are nothing more than a line item of code in a vast sea of information.  But hey, the service is cheap, right?  Ask yourself:  How much is trust worth?

When it comes to deciding what to do with your IT systems, where to put them, and who should manage them … The real task of the CIO or Director is to find your organization’s comfortable balance between 3 things:

  1. Performance
  2. Cost
  3. Risk

Just remember that you’ve always got someone to help.

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