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Cancel your holidays, techies, most outages happen right about... now

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Most IT outages in 2012 occurred during the months of June and July, a technology provider has said.

John Gentry, vice president of marketing at Virtual Instruments, said 60 per cent of IT outages for the year occurred during the two summer months.

Gentry said factors such as IT experts taking holidays, the stress on mobile and internet networks caused by increased travel during the summer, and businesses electing to migrate from data centres to cloud infrastructure services during the summer months, may all be contributing to the spike in outages during this time.

At a recent roundtable discussion on IT outages hosted by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, expert in IT contract negotiations David Isaac of Pinsent Masons said that he believed "human error and frailty" were largely to blame for IT outages happening. Isaac said "poor governance, probably bad planning, and bad communications" led to outages. Simon Acott, director at cloud and IT service provider Exponential-e, said good planning and not making assumptions about how technology will perform would help businesses avoid outages.

"If you're not going to make any changes, you're not going to upscale, add in new applications, bring on new customers, then there's a huge argument that you don't need to change anything," Acott said.

"The moment you make this judgment that says, well, I thought it would work, because I'm not changing the applications, but I'm increasing the volume, if you don't plan for that and at least test that process and that theory, that's when things start to go wrong."

Damien Saunders, director of the cloud networking group within systems availability provider Citrix, said system down-time was just a "symptom" that could be attributed to a loss of connectivity, availability of staff or "unintentional increase of traffic" taking down websites.

A survey by information and analysis provider Neustar has revealed that 22 per cent of UK businesses experienced a 'distributed denial of service' (DDoS) attack that disrupted their systems during 2012. DDoS attacks typically involve hackers using malware-infected computers to bombard systems with such large amounts of traffic that they cease to function.

According to the survey report (10-page, 657KB PDF) 26 per cent of financial services companies that experienced a DDoS attack suffered system down-times that cost them more than £100,001 in lost revenues per hour that systems were offline.

The panel at the IT outages roundtable discussion agreed that accountability for IT outages could not simply be placed with chief information officers (CIOs).

David Bickerton, vice president of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services' IT outsourcing portfolio in the EMEA region, said, though, that CIOs must ensure "that accountability is discharged all the way through the supply chain, probably with a greater degree of accuracy than has been done in the past". CIOs should also ensure that executives within their organisation are also held accountable for decisions they make about technology that experiences down-time, he said.

Whilst chief information officers (CIO) face a challenge in controlling the rollout of new technology across business departments, they can play an advisory role to help ensure supplier systems deliver IT needs for the business, another expert on the panel said.

"If [departments] want to get access to stuff quickly, it's my job to deliver those services," Andrew Marks, CIO at oil exploration production company Tullow Oil, said. "I may then choose to go to a cloud provider, an outsource provider, a host provider, or built in-house, it's my job therefore to enable the organisation in the way it wants. The fact that I and many CIOs aren't doing it quickly enough is the issue, but the role that I am still a trusted adviser to my peers around how and where we access IT enabled services I don't think is changing."

In cases where IT services are outsourced, suppliers can be best encouraged to prevent IT outages through contractual incentives for delivering reliable systems, not contractual penalties for where systems fail, the panel agreed.

Neil Bayles, head of IT, governance and performance management at QBE Insurance Group, said that good supplier relationship management allows IT buyers to establish appropriate service level expectations. "A lot of effort goes into detailed contractual frameworks that are actually very high level in reality," Bayles said. "One thing that we've been pretty good at is not relying so much on contractual service level agreement and focusing more on building relationships with the service providers."

"When you break down the barriers the business performance gets better. In those areas where we have lower level good relationships across teams, we have much better supplier management," he added.

Copyright © 2013, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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