Understanding the Cost of Unplanned Downtime

Dec. 16, 2016
A survey of IT decision-makers indicates that not only are they struggling with downtimes that outlast what can be tolerated, they do not know the cost of that downtime until it’s too late.

In the age of connected plants, it’s becoming just that much more important for IT and operations departments to work hand in hand. A common complaint from the operations side has been that IT just doesn’t understand how vital it is to keep production running. Email going down for a day might be a pain in the behind, but it doesn’t carry the weight of thousands—perhaps millions—of dollars worth of lost production.

Anecdotal information would indicate that IT and OT are at least on their way to working together more effectively these days. But results from a recent survey of more than 250 IT decision-makers indicates that there is still work to do not only in reducing debilitating downtime but also educating those decision-makers about the impact that downtime has.

Not only are the vast majority of production servers and services not intended to tolerate the length of a typical downtime incident, but IT decision-makers do not know the cost of that downtime until it is too late to prepare, according to the survey—commissioned by Stratus Technologies and conducted this year by Enterprise Strategy Group—of IT decision-makers in North America and Western Europe.

Though the average downtime reported lasts 87 minutes, 72 percent of the applications are not intended to experience more than 60 minutes of downtime. In fact, more than half (53 percent) of the applications are not intended to have more than 15 minutes of downtime even though 80 percent of them do, survey results indicate.

But what I found to be the most troubling results from this survey were the more than two-thirds (71 percent) of respondents who said that they were not tracking downtime with a quantified measure of its cost to the organization. It seems clear that if manufacturers are going to get over the idea that the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is more than just hype and is in fact a useful deployment of technologies, automation suppliers need to help them really quantify the payback they will get from their investments. If they don’t even recognize the quantifiable penalty to the downtime they’re experiencing (and that IIoT can help alleviate), then it is unlikely they will be able to truly recognize the ROI when they get it.

“Unplanned downtime continues to be a huge vulnerability in today’s IT systems and, alarmingly, the vast majority of companies are not even tracking downtime with a quantified measure of cost,” said Jason Andersen, vice president of business line management at Stratus Technologies. “This means these companies can’t plan for how an unplanned downtime incident can affect their business until its damage is already done.”

As a supplier of continuous-availability systems, Stratus is of course interested in the results of the survey from a perspective of increasing the use of fault-tolerant infrastructure, which would help to eliminate the risk that manufacturers face, Andersen noted. According to survey results, 38 percent of respondents expect to increase the percentage of their production platforms covered by fault-tolerant infrastructure over the next couple years. Almost half of the respondents say they rely primarily on the estimated cost of downtime to justify the adoption of fault-tolerant or high-availability systems.

“We believe that with the increasing adoption of edge-based systems, including Industrial Internet of Things technologies, the costs and risks associated with downtime will continue to trend upward,” Andersen added.