Last week there were several of outages that got me thinking more about the cost of downtime. I get this question a lot: what is the industry average cost of downtime? I hate answering "it depends," but that's the truth. So much depends on the organization, the industry, the duration of the downtime, the number of people impacted, etc. And not all of it is about dollars and sense. Reputation, customer retention, employee satisfaction, and overall confidence can be shaken by even a short outage. Take, for example, the New York Times' mysterious outage on August 14, 2013, of around two hours. While two hours might not seem like much, in the middle of a news-heavy weekday, it made a lasting impression. The stock dropped, twitter exploded, and the Wall Street Journal dropped their paywall to try and capture readers. In this case, I argue the biggest impact of downtime was not the drop in stock price, but the loss of confidence and loss of competitive advantage.
Right now, the internet probably seems like the Wild West. Hackers are roaming around, seemingly attacking websites on a whim. Most recently, groups like Anonymous, the Jester, and Lulz Security (LulzSec – now supposedly disbanded) have been attacking and successfully taking down web sites of all types. Government and corporate, public and private, anybody seems as though they can be a target for these attacks. While their reasons for attacking a site range from political statement to simply for the fun of it, hacktivists and black hat trouble makers alike, the end result is that hacking is now a real cause of downtime.
We live in a time when customers expect services to be delivered non-stop, without interruption, 24x7x365. Need proof? Just look at the outrage this week stemming from RIM's 3+ day BlackBerry service/outage impairment. Yes, this was an unusually long and widespread disruption, but it seems like every week there is a new example of a service disruption whipping social networks and blogs into a frenzy, whether it's Bank of America, Target, or Amazon. I'm not criticizing those who use social media outlets to voice their dissatisfaction over service levels (I've even taken part in it, complaining on Twitter about Netflix streaming being down on a Friday night when I wanted to stream a movie), but pointing out that now more than ever infrastructure and operations professionals need to rethink how they deliver services to both their internal and external customers.