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Thinking outside the (in)box

Paul Wood | Sept. 22, 2009
Email outages occur whether youre prepared or not, and more often than not, it strikes when youre right in the midst of meeting a deadlineand youre stumped.

Just take a look at very recent times. A segment of the Asia-Pacific Cable Network 2 (APCN2) undersea cable network between China and Taiwan suffered a serious cable fault in mid-August, causing Internet traffic to be rerouted onto other undersea cables and slowing down Internet access for some users in Southeast Asia. This APCN2 cable, owned by a consortium of 26 telecom operators from 14 different countries, links Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, South Korea and Japan. Over the next two weeks, news reported that Internet traffic in a number of Asia countries, particularly the Philippines and Singapore, were still experiencing slow Internet connection.

Another instance? A major e-mail provider suffered a setback a few weeks back in early September after a highly publicised outage shut down accounts of millions of corporate customers for almost two hours. The outage, one of several in the past year, underscored concerns that such e-mail servers are not sufficiently reliable for corporate use. You cant make sure the undersea cables survive another attack, and while engineers race to upgrade servers to minimise possibility of outage, you can (and need to) ensure that your corporate e-mail accounts do not suffer extensive and expensive downtime because of these natural or manmade disasters.

While an e-mail outage due to a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake is more likely to make headlines, the threat of a basic e-mail outage is actually very common. An Osterman Research study found that 15.9 per cent of organisations experience more than one hour of unplanned downtime per month. In fact, on average, organisations experience 37 minutes of unplanned e-mail downtime in a typical month. Yet, an often overlooked but critical point of security is the IT infrastructure, especially e-mail, which amounts to 74 per cent of all communication for a typical user.

Year-round and regardless of geography, organisations run the risk of being victims of cyber-attacks, human error or an overloaded server, all of which can cause an e-mail outage. It is never too late to review and update a business continuity plan (BCP) and this should be done regularly. In fact, Gartner estimates that 80 per cent of enterprises with fewer than 300 employees could save money by outsourcing e-mail.   

Cost of e-mail outage

An email downtime of even 30 minutes can have serious ramifications for employee productivity and corporate revenue. An Osterman Research survey of e-mail users found that the average e-mail user is about 25 per cent less productive during an e-mail outage. If we assume that the typical user experiences 10 hours of downtime each year, that translates to 2.5 hours of productive time lost for each user. For an organisation of 1,000 users, 2,500 productive work hours are lost each year.


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