Uptime Institute’s annual analysis reveals evolving causes of critical power outages, and the impact of Covid-19

by Brianna Crandall — June 9, 2021 — Data center services, certification and research provider Uptime Institute recently announced the findings of its Annual Outage Analysis, an important industry indicator, noting that while improvements have been made with technology and better management of availability, outages remain a major industry, customer and regulatory concern. The report also shows that the overall impact and direct and indirect cost of outages continues to grow.

Uptime Institute annual power outage analysis

Image courtesy Uptime Institute

The report points out that Covid-19 was a huge influence in 2020, causing major changes in the way information technology (IT) was used. Although there were significant disruptions affecting financial trading, government services, internet and telecom, the outages that made headlines in 2020 were often about the impact to consumers and workers at home, with interruptions to applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Teams, Zoom, fitness trackers and the like.

The costs of outages are often high; when asked about their most recent significant outage, over half of the respondents to Uptime Institute’s 2020 Global Survey of Data Center and IT Managers who reported an outage in the past three years estimated its cost at more than $100,000 (of which almost a third reported costs of $1 million or above).

Andy Lawrence, executive director of Research, Uptime Institute, stated:

Resiliency remains near the top of management priorities when delivering business services. Overall, the causes of outages are changing, software and IT configuration issues are becoming more common, while power issues are now less likely to cause a major IT service outage. The fact is, outages remain common and justify the increased concern and investment in preventing them. Because of the disruption and high costs that result from disrupted IT services, identifying and analyzing the root causes of failures is a critical step in avoiding more expensive problems.

Findings include:

  • Almost half (44%) of data center operators surveyed think that concern about resiliency of data center / mission-critical IT has increased in the past 12 months.
  • Three-quarters of data center operators / enterprise IT managers said they have experienced an IT service outage in the past three years. Three in ten said they had experienced an outage that had “significant impact.”
  • Serious and severe outages are less common (one in six reported having one in the past three years), but can have catastrophic results for stakeholders. Vigilance and investment are necessary.
  • More than half (56%) of all organizations using a third-party data service have experienced a moderate or serious IT service outage in the last three years that was itself caused by the provider.
  • Networking and configuration issues are emerging as two of the more common causes of service degradation, while power outages are becoming somewhat less of an issue — historically, caused by failures in UPSs, transfer switches and generators.

Human factor

Humans very often play a role in outages, but the exact nature of the failings can be difficult to pinpoint. In Uptime’s 2020 annual survey, 75% of respondents who had an outage in the last three years said their most recent significant downtime incident would have been preventable with better management or processes. In Uptime’s 2021 data center resiliency survey, 42% of respondents said they had experienced an outage in the last three years due to human error. Among those, 57% cited data center staff execution (e.g., failure to follow procedure) and 44%, incorrect staff processes / procedures, as root causes. From the research, it is clear a better focus on management and training will produce better service delivery performance.

Mike Casey, chief data center officer of Stack Infrastructure, commented:

Uptime Institute’s M&O Stamp of Approval program is a great complement to our industry-leading operations playbook in driving efficiency, business continuity, and reducing human error. Our clients’ peace-of-mind is our top priority, and Uptime Institute’s insights augment the consistent delivery of our award-winning service.

Uptime Institute produced a webinar on April 21 on the Outages Report findings with Andy Lawrence; Rhonda Ascierto, vice president research; and Chris Brown, chief technical officer, with a detailed discussion on the findings. The Annual Outage Analysis 2021: The causes and impacts of data center outages report is also available on the group’s website.