Real-time comms outage can cost - it’s time for a back-up plan

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When Facebook suffered its worst outage in its history at the start of October, more than $50bn was wiped off its value in an instant. Not only were billions of users unable to access the social media network, as well as Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp, but the company’s operations came to a standstill for hours.

What the event highlighted is that even Facebook, one of the largest companies in the world, run by some of the smartest people, failed to have a backup plan. It failed to factor in just how important business continuity is.

About the author

Mark Richer is CEO of StarLeaf.

In reality, while such failures on such a large scale are rare, similar incidents are happening every second to businesses globally, from collaboration platform outages, to supply-chain issues, cyber and ransomware attacks, global pandemics and natural disasters. Estimates suggest, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, that ransomware attacks alone strike businesses every 11 seconds, with the global damages related to cybercrime expected to reach $6 trillion by the end of the year.

But sometimes an incident isn’t even as dramatic as a cyber attack or a disaster. One of the most widely used real-times comms platforms was down for three hours because the company forgot to renew a critical security certificate. Human error can be just as much a problem as a planned attack.

Whatever the cause, any incident can have long lasting, and ultimately damaging impacts that the affected companies may never recover from.

The danger of downtime

Each of these incidents are potential triggers that can put business-critical systems out of operation for hours, days or even weeks. While your business may not see billions wiped off its valuation overnight a la Facebook, data suggests that any such downtime can dramatically impact a firm’s bottom line, and this increases exponentially with the size of the firm. Every hour of downtime for a small firm costs around £6,038, which rises to a staggering £528,325 an hour – or £8,755 every minute – for enterprises.

This could mean a company is unable to hold essential meetings with suppliers, or contact customers, make and receive payments and even impact the supply chain. Every second unconnected adds up.

The danger isn’t just in the cost to businesses. Not being able to communicate with employees during downtime could see people moving over to consumer-focused apps, which aren’t as secure as enterprise-grade platforms. If sensitive information about clients or customers is shared in this way and it is ever leaked, this brings its own security risks, lack of control, while opening up affected parties to potential legal action.

Business leaders therefore have an obligation to make sure they are ready for all eventualities, and that’s only possible with a robust business continuity and disaster recovery plan.

Expecting the unexpected

The first step is to look for an instant failover solution for your communications; one that integrates with platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WebEx. If, for any reason, your systems go down, an instant failover solution will automatically kick in to keep your most critical business processes online. All messaging, meetings and telephony services will be migrated to a secure environment, and business can continue as usual in the meantime. Once your systems are restored, everything will be migrated back.

You’ll also need a cyber incident response and recovery solution to work alongside your instant failover. Often, organizations will effectively shut down their systems during an attack to try and isolate the infection in the system. But this can be catastrophic to normal business operations, as access to communication and collaboration tools is cut instantaneously. In this case you need to consider how teams will communicate, including incident response teams, and how the communications to support normal business functions will be impacted / brought back in good time.

In addition, you’ll need to look for a business continuity provider that offers both an uptime guarantee of at least 99.999%, and which has operational resilience compliance. This means it is capable of mitigating communications risk exposures identified in a business impact assessment, aligned to key industry standards and regulations, and ensure nothing goes awry during downtime.

When a crisis strikes and failover is required, one of your scarcest resources is time – time to get operational again, time to get back to productivity, and time to respond. With effective and robust continuity plans, your business can rely on a suite of internal and communication services in an instant, all with minimal disruption. Whether it’s for a handful of users or an entire organization.

Facebook undoubtedly learned some very valuable lessons during its recent downtime. Lessons that all business leaders should be taking note of if they want to avoid a similar fate.

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Mark Richer is CEO of StarLeaf, the real-time communications failover service, video conferencing, messaging and meetings provider.