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Definition

network downtime

What is network downtime?

Network downtime refers to inaccessibility to part or all of a network due to the failure of hardware, software or some combination of the two. It can involve internal failure or a connection to the external network.

Network downtime can cause more than just lost revenue, including the following:

  • lost productivity;
  • lost files;
  • angry customers;
  • damaged brand reputation;
  • anxious employees; and
  • excess pressure on IT staff to get systems back up and running.

And, after the network is back up, it can take 20 minutes or more for employees to regain focus and get back to work.

The differences between planned and unplanned downtime

Downtime falls into two categories: planned and unplanned.

Planned downtime is notable because it offers advanced warning and gives users a chance to prepare. Planned downtime is usually done for upgrades or maintenance to the network infrastructure. It is often done during off business hours to minimize the effect on work and operations. Planned downtime also often has a specific length of time and predicted return of service.

Unplanned downtime is the opposite in all things. It strikes with no warning, can occur at any time and often does not have a recovery time -- at least initially. There are many reasons for unplanned downtime, and the effect of such interruption varies from one outage to another. It all depends on the organization's size, network complexity and scope of failure.

Read more here about the nine most common types of network issues.

Common reasons for unplanned network downtime

There are many reasons for unplanned network downtime:

  • Human errors. These are the most common errors. Typos, accidentally pulling a plug or entering incorrect information can all be factors -- so can cutting corners and ignoring documented procedures or applying illegitimate shortcuts.
  • Understaffed IT department. Few IT departments can say they have enough staff. When staff is spread too thin, that can create problems with monitoring resources, managing upgrades and responding to system failure alerts.
  • Incorrect configurations. System configurations are inherently complex. Misconfiguration, for whatever reason, is a common cause of all types of system errors, which can lead to IT downtime.
  • Equipment failure. Hardware is typically well engineered and durable, but it can still fail. Common triggers of equipment failure include overheating or cooling failure; outdated firmware; viruses and malware; and improper care or maintenance, such as allowing cooling to fail or dust to accumulate.
  • Power failure. A company network can collapse quickly during a power outage if there isn't sufficient power backup, such as an uninterruptable power supply. Besides downtime, power outages can result in the loss of sensitive data and damage to network inventory.
  • Security attacks. Malicious attacks, such as hacks, man in the middle, phishing and denial of service, can crash or slow a network. All of these are also designed to breach networks and steal information.
  • Natural disasters. Calamities such as earthquakes and tornadoes can damage or destroy network devices, power backups and communication systems without any prior alerts.

How to prevent network downtime

Frequent server outages or service interruptions can be damaging to a company's image, leading to bad publicity and a higher customer churn rate.

There are several tactics businesses can take to help minimize network downtime, both before and after the fact, such as the following:

  • Perform regular stress tests. Network outages are frequently the result of networks being overwhelmed. It helps to do a regular network test to see what breaks and where.
  • Maintain network facility. One of the most common problems to strike data centers and network rooms is neglect. Dusting and cable management are a must. Dust buildup can easily bring down a switch.
  • Invest in the best equipment. There is a lot of network gear on the market and not all of it is as good as gear from top-end vendors. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
  • Check for firmware updates regularly. IT professionals need to stay on top of hardware updates as much as software updates. These updates can be significant, so it's important to keep on top of them, enable push notifications wherever possible and keep that hardware patched.
  • Perform frequent backups. Frequent snapshots may consume storage space, but they also ensure quick restoration of network operations after a failure. IT pros need to test backup servers to ensure they're working as intended. Having both on-site and cloud backups ensures maximum coverage in the event of a server failure.
  • Perform root cause analysis. Identifying the cause of the problem is the only way to ensure it doesn't happen again. There are plenty of logging, network diagnostic and monitoring tools to help businesses quickly get to the bottom of a failure.

How costly is network downtime?

The cost of network downtime can be considerable. The average cost of IT downtime is $5,600 per minute -- or $336,000 per hour -- according to Gartner. Because there are many variables, downtime can range from $140,000 to $540,000 per hour. One-third of businesses surveyed said that one hour of downtime costs them $1 million to $5 million.

The cost of downtime is so high because it affects many parts of a company:

  • It can affect everyone from an entry-level staffer to the C-suite.
  • Network outages often restrict employees from performing their daily tasks or duties. They will not be able to reach Salesforce if the network is down. But employees are still being paid to work.
  • Even when the network comes back, it takes time for employees to get up and running. It takes employees an average of 23 minutes to refocus and get their head back in the game after an interruption, according to a study by the University of California, Irvine.
  • Recovery costs, such as employee overtime charges, equipment repair, maintenance fees and data recovery costs, can add up -- and there is no return on investment on that.
  • Other intangible costs can include damage to a company's reputation and poor public relations. A company experiencing frequent downtimes will lose customers, and they won't be coming back.
This was last updated in February 2022

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