Surviving Network Downtime

Updated: April 30, 2009

Although careful planning can help a business cope with most network challenges such as viruses, malware and DoS (denial of service) attacks, some problems arise out of nowhere to suddenly crush a company's network. Here's a look at 10 unanticipated network snafus and what businesses can do to prepare for them.

1. The Network Administrator Becomes Incapacitated, Quits or Dies: Your administrator knows everything about your company's network. The problem is, he or she is the only person who knows everything about your company's network.

Solution: Create a network-administration chain of command. Make sure that administrative lieutenants are prepared with the necessary knowledge and access to key information so they can quickly take control if their general falls.

2. A Vendor Terminates a Key Network Technology: Many vital network components are intrinsically tied to their vendor for regular updates and tech support. But sometimes, the vendor makes an end-of-life announcement and outlines its plans for abandoning the product.

Solution: Follow the vendor's recommended upgrade path. If this isn't practical, keep the technology and attempt to support it yourself with the help of online user communities. Many technologies can function for years without vendor-issued upgrades. You can then plan to replace the technology during your next major network upgrade.

3. Burglary: Most network-protection strategies focus on safeguarding a system's data rather than its physical security. This approach leaves network servers, storage subsystems and other valuable components vulnerable to thieves and vandals.

Solution: Create a physical security strategy to safeguard core network components with locks, alarms and surveillance technologies.

4. Employee Sabotage: It's the sort of thing that no one likes to think about — a disgruntled employee decides to seek revenge by sabotaging the network, either by damaging its data or by stealing or disabling equipment.

Solution: Work with your company's human-resources department to identify individuals who may pose a threat to network security . Create a physical security strategy. Change network passwords and other security controls on a regular basis, as well as when someone with access to these technologies leaves the company.

5. Employee-Owned Technologies: Disruptive employee-owned technologies aren't necessarily a snafu, but they certainly are unanticipated and challenging. Wireless devices, laptops, portable storage gadgets, software and a variety of other products that employees bring to work can pose a serious network threat.

Solution: Keep up-to-date on consumer-technology developments to learn about potentially disruptive technologies that employees may bring to work. Update company policies and employee handbooks to control what devices employees may or may not use.

6. Spontaneous Hardware Failure : Any network includes a variety of critical components — servers, routers, firewalls and so on — that can fail without notice. The effect of a sudden component failure can range from nothing to decreased network performance to total network collapse.

Solution: Use network-monitoring tools to locate a dead or dying component. Keep a supply of backup components on hand, particularly in the case of products that have been discontinued by their vendors or are just generally hard to get.

7. Harmful Software Updates: Businesses expect that software upgrades will improve their systems, and that's usually the case. But sometimes a software vendor releases an update that contains a serious, potentially disruptive glitch. This problem is usually quickly corrected, but not before it causes anguish to the unlucky administrators who faithfully added the technology to their networks.

Solution: Disable automatic software updates. Unless the upgrade or patch is highly critical, wait a few days before deploying the software.

8. Environmental Controls Failure: Severs and other critical network components don't like it hot, so when environmental controls fail, the network often soon follows.

Solution: Just like backup power supplies, have environmental systems regularly checked and updated.

9. Vermin Infestation: Rats in your datacenter ? Don't laugh. Datacenters, with their highly controlled physical environments, provide a friendly home for all sorts of critters that leave waste, nibble on wires and cause a variety of other problems. The pest threat also extends beyond the datacenter, as cables and gear located in offices and crawl spaces are vulnerable to bugs and rodents.

Solution: To get the bugs out of your system (literally), you'll need the help of a professional exterminator.

10. Flu Season: Widespread outbreaks of the flu, colds and other infectious ailments can deplete the ranks of your copany's network staff, potentially threatening ongoing operations.

Solution: Ask the network staff to get flu shots. Automate as many processes as possible, including user support, so that the network can roll along with as little human input as possible. This approach will also help your company save costs over the long run.

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