They say there’s only two certainties in life: death and taxes. We’d like to add another to the list: IT outages during the holiday season.
Ulta Beauty’s website crashed just hours into its Black Friday sale this year. Amazon, which declared “its biggest ever” Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping weekend gave brands a scare when its advertising platform suffered a reporting outage, leaving marketers “flying blind,” unable to get a clear picture of how their ads were doing. Given the intensity of online traffic during this prime shopping period, we’re surprised there weren’t even more incidents.
Adobe Analytics reported a record $9.12 billion in online sales on Black Friday in 2022 — up 2.3% year over year — while online shoppers spent $11.3 billion on Cyber Monday, nearly 6% more than the year before. This trend is expected to continue for the remainder of the holiday season, with global e-commerce transactions projected to increase 15% from October to December 2022.
This brings us back to those aforementioned certainties: With the holiday season being so busy, especially this year, IT outages are almost inevitable. And that spells trouble for businesses that haven’t put enough stock in availability.
The price of downtime and disruption
The cost of downtime is bad —- and it’s getting worse.
In 2014, Gartner estimated that each minute of downtime costs an average of $5,600. A year later, that figure jumped to $9,000, per the Ponemon Institute. Recent data is even more discouraging.
Uptime Institute’s latest Outage Analysis found that more than 60% of outages lead to a minimum of $100,000 in total losses, up from 39% in 2019. In the same period, the number of outages that cost at least $1 million in total losses jumped from 11% to 15%. Uptime data also reveals that over the past three years, one in five businesses suffered a “serious” or “severe” outage that resulted in substantial financial and reputational damages and breaches in compliance.
A study from Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) — recently acquired by 11:11 Systems — found that consumers’ reliance on technology has only grown since the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, their tolerance for outages has diminished, while their willingness to walk away from companies that experience tech troubles has gone up. Fifty-five percent of consumers have changed providers or lowered service levels because of technical problems.
While this information can be disconcerting, the reality is that downtime is unavoidable and the cost to your brand can be hard to predict. So, instead of concentrating on the “if,” IT and security leaders must shift the conversation to the “when,” and focus efforts on reducing the frequency, duration, and impact.
Tackling disruptions during the holidays
At this stage of the game, it’s doubtful that organizations, particularly retailers, can make substantial alterations to their IT environments to accommodate a traffic surge. But there are still things you can do to ensure you’re better prepared to respond to disruptions.
Start by assessing your capacity. The holiday rush brings high volumes of traffic. You need to know that your environment is capable of handling fluctuating workloads.
By properly testing your capacity, you can determine if your applications and cloud platforms can scale up to meet the heaviest of traffic spikes and scale down when the mad dash is over. This should, hopefully, give you enough time to rectify any issues you uncover, limiting any downtime and damage.
Of course, as we’ve pointed out, outages happen quite frequently, so it is important to consider what needs to happen in an outage situation by creating business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) plans. These outages come not just from overloaded systems, but from natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and winter storms, as well as the pervasive threat of cyberattacks. Ultimately, you need to consider all the possible operational challenges and opportunities for IT failure that could be detrimental to both your users and customers.
How quickly can you get back up and running if your site goes down? Do your employees know what steps to take (or who to talk to) when catastrophe strikes? You may think you have all your bases covered, but you won’t know until you do your due diligence.
The next step is testing your BC and DR plans to ensure you’ve effectively mapped out your application interdependencies and updated plans based on changes to your production environment. This will also help you discover any gaps in your plans and make changes as needed. Additionally, it will give your people the practice (and confidence) to react quickly when disaster strikes.
Spread holiday cheer, not holiday fear
With the holidays nearly upon us, there’s only so much that businesses can do right now to ensure they remain available. But it’s not too soon to think about next year. After all, the most resilient organizations plan ahead.
At 11:11 Systems, we know the tools and solutions that exist to better prepare for, and respond to, downtime. But because of the sheer number of internal and external variables at work against us, IT teams must now accept that downtime is inevitable and turn their attention to lowering the frequency, duration, and impact of downtime. In our view, this is accomplished through a multi-layered approach to technology, security, protection, and recovery.
There is no hardware or software silver bullet to eliminate downtime (or guarantee uptime), so achieving the highest levels of data access and availability requires several physical, logical, process-oriented, and compliance-based systems working in parallel.
Security itself is multi-layered. Protecting the data, should the security layers be defeated, is a critical third step. This means that a copy of the data is waiting in a safe, “air-gapped” location inaccessible by anyone but a trusted partner.
Finally, while downtime can never be fully eliminated, combining all the above layers into a comprehensive, remote DR strategy can ensure that the effects of it can be limited as much as possible. That would be a holiday present for not only your customers, but also your IT staff.