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Delta Outage Behind Us; Lessons Learned Still Ahead

Delta Outage Behind Us; Lessons Learned Still Ahead

It’s been a few weeks since Delta’s crippling IT outage, and life in ATL (airline parlance) is back to normal. Putting it behind us is a good thing for Delta, and for the general flying public. But if you’re a senior IT or business leader, don’t let this moment slip past without some serious soul searching over lessons learned. You’ll miss a rare opportunity to prepare your organization for the future of digital business, to rethink your network, IT infrastructure and continuity plans, and to protect the reputation, resilience and future of your brand in the process.

I’ll start by saying, as a CIO myself, I’m sympathetic to Delta’s plight, and 100% confident, given their all-encompassing reliance on technology, Delta had to have every possible precautionary system in place. Which goes to show you that no matter what you think, the same kind of thing can happen to any of us.

A cautionary tale for all digital companies, INCLUDING YOURS

People like to criticize airlines for the slightest infractions, which isn’t fair given the incredible operational and technical complexity of what they do. As former United CEO Jeff Smisek said, “We’re actually a technology company with wings.”

While you may not run an airline, nowadays, we’re all highly reliant on our technology and network infrastructure. We’ve all become “digital companies,” driven by always-on applications available anytime, anywhere, from any device. And we’re becoming more so every day.

That said, here are three things we can all learn from what Delta went through. With implications not just for contingency and disaster recovery, but for your network, IT and security infrastructure, too.

  1. High-availability and disaster recovery are not the same thing. Be sure you cover them both. Having a fully-realized DR plan is not an option; it is a necessity. That goes for smaller companies, too. You don’t need to be a Delta to have a single glitch threaten to send your customer base packing. At the same time, the reality of an always-on business and the applications to support it requires high-availability during the 99.999% of the time your business should be up-and-running. So seek out solutions and providers that help you deliver on both fronts.
  1. A “plan” is one thing. Testing it is something else. If you have a disaster recovery or business continuity plan, that’s great, you’re halfway there. But ONLY halfway. The other half is putting it to the test. For an always-on business, testing needs to be on a regular schedule; it’s the only way to be sure your plan is comprehensive, and effective. So test it and support it with staff education and training. Sadly, there’s research that indicates a significant number of well-intentioned planning efforts fail in this regard.
  1. Weighing the cost of downtime vs. the cost of preparedness Every IT exec has heard some version of, “we approve all of IT’s recommendations but not the budget.” It’s usually said in context of an anecdotal joke. But it’s not a joke anymore. Implementing and testing business preparedness plans will take some level of investment. To fairly evaluate it, one has to weigh it against the potential cost of downtime, impact on lost revenue and damage to brand reputation. Costs which in most cases will likely dwarf the price of being ready.

Digital business demands transformative technology

One of the geniuses of the digital world is even small companies can have customers at the ends of the earth. But to serve them you will need transformative technologies to support your efforts.

The cloud is a great start. Of course, leveraging it to support applications like DR brings about other challenges; namely bandwidth. On that topic the cloud may have met its network match in the form of software-defined WANs which offer a combination of high-availability and active/active connectivity to support redundancy on top of superior application performance. Incorporating SD-WAN is ideal to support business continuity planning while simultaneously reducing the cost of bandwidth on a per megabit basis. As a CIO, that’s the kind of combination that makes me sit up and take notice.

Remember, operating in an always-on, cloud connected world will never be easy. But with the right solutions in place, it can be done. That’s important, because these days, if the system doesn’t work, nothing works.

No pressure, though.


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About Jay Ferro

Jay Ferro
Jay Ferro is EarthLink’s EVP, Chief Information Officer. Prior to joining the company in 2016, Jay held similar positions leading transformational IT efforts with the American Cancer Society, AdCare Health Systems, a health care facility management company, and AIG Aerospace, the aerospace insurance unit of American International Group (AIG). Prior to that, he served as CFO for Operations and Systems for AIG Aerospace. Jay has a BA from The University of Georgia and an MBA from the University’s Terry College of Business and is involved in a wide variety of charitable and community service organizations.