Can You Overcome an IT Outage?

High Availability / Disaster Recovery
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times


“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge.”

I’ve seen the great quote above attributed to a number of famous scientists, from Stephen Hawking to Albert Einstein. It does sound like a science quote. It was, in fact, stated by Daniel Boorstin, who was the Librarian of the United States Congress from 1975 to 1987. I would modify that statement to make it relevant in the 21st century IT world: The greatest obstacle to business resiliency is not the lack of a high availability or disaster recovery solution, but the untested illusion of having either.

Recently, British Airways had a catastrophic systems outage that shut down all travel at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and subsequently affected the travel of 75,000 people worldwide. British Airways released a statement saying, “There was a total loss of power at the data centre. The power then returned in an uncontrolled way, causing physical damage to the IT servers. It was not an IT issue; it was a power issue.”

British Airways CEO Alex Cruz stated that the power supply failure affected systems for check-in, booking, baggage handling, customer contact centers, and more. Once the power surge occurred, failing over to the backup system did not work.

British Airways operates data centers at two sites. Assuming one site is a primary and the other a secondary is just that: an assumption. It’s entirely possible that each data center provides completely different service. Nobody has asked so far if they had a power surge in both locations. It’s obvious the answer would very likely be no, but it would be a great question to ask just to hear the answer.

If they did have a primary and a secondary site, a number of questions come to mind. Why didn’t the failover to backup systems at the secondary site work? Do they test that type of failover? How often? When was the last time they did it? Have they had success until now? If so, what changed?

If the site affected by the power surge contained the backup computer systems, then that leads to more questions. Why are the primary and backup systems in the same physical location? Are they in the same rack? Are they virtualized servers on the same hardware?

Personally, and this is entirely speculation, I would imagine the most likely scenario is that the primary and backup systems affected by the outage are at least in the same building…or were at the time. Remember Occam’s Razor: “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate,” or “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” In practice, it means that the simplest or most obvious explanation is usually the likely one. Don’t make mysteries where none exist. Most likely, British Airways had all affected systems (both primary and secondary) in one data center that had some kind of power issue. Potentially, they had the backup systems in another data center, but when they went to cut over to the backup, it failed because the backup site was inadequate, or not properly tested, or perhaps both. Either way, whatever the plan was, and that’s assuming they had a plan, it did not achieve the desired result of a redundant system.

Cruz went on to provide much hubris in stating, “This will not happen again at British Airways.” I’d like to bring that statement down to a far different level of technical sophistication, more commonly known as “keeping it real.” If I were the CEO or CIO, then I would want to know exactly what happened and what the plan would be to ensure that this event was not reproducible. Has anyone in the media asked, “What could have been done to prevent this?” That right there is the question of the day. This separates good IT from not-so-good IT, or a good business from a not-so-good business. If a restaurant sent out a plate with a Band-Aid in the middle of it, the question of how to prevent that in the future would spawn solutions such as wearing latex gloves to prep food and having the server eyeball every plate that goes out. The primary solution is to prevent a bandage-adorned chicken parmesan from getting into the hands of the customer, and the secondary solution is to provide a backup in case the primary fails. That translates well for just about any business or IT problem.

In my years as a technician or in IT management, I’ve seen a number of events that would make your hair curl. I’m sure you have, too.

I once worked for a company with a propane generator to power the computer systems. In case of a power outage, the UPS would carry us over until the generator kicked in. They tested the generator every week for about 18 months. During those tests, the generator ran for approximately 30 seconds and then shut off. It never ran long enough or hot enough to blow the motor. The first time they lost power, the generator lasted for maybe 10 minutes and then ground to a stiff halt because nobody was assigned the job to add motor oil, let alone check the level. Since nobody was assigned the job, the only person accountable was the outsourced project manager who’d been long gone. That generator failure caused three days of systems outage because most of the servers went down hard, and it was disk drive replacements and backup tapes for the loyal IT staff.

Then there was the time when we moved server rooms and the young buck we just hired was tasked with plugging all the server gear into the brand-new UPS with dual power supplies. He learned a lesson that day after he plugged everything into one side of the UPS and we powered all the servers up. Can you say UPS breaker overload? The systems all went down hard, with a number of disk drive failures. IBM had to make a late-night DASD delivery. Yours truly had to rebuild the system from tapes once again. You want to talk about disaster recovery testing? At that shop, we had so many disasters that we didn’t even need to test, although we did it regularly.

Another company I know had an air conditioning system on the roof. It was rated to perform in -10 Celsius. I live in Canada. We have snow. It gets really cold. I’ve been out in -10 with shorts on to run to the mail box. The air conditioning would usually work until it got to -20 and then it would just seize up. Or the snow would pile up against the air conditioner intake and it would just suffocate it. They lived with this problem, air conditioning outage after outage, while leaving the techs to coordinate industrial fans to blow the hot air out of the room until the weather warmed up. Machines can function at 29 degrees Celsius, but they’re not happy when they do.

I recall a compatriot in a sister company who had an 8’x8’ server room with a rubber dust protector on the bottom of the door, effectively sealing the room to be airtight…and perhaps watertight. They had a rack of servers with a tarp above it, protecting the rack from the sprinkler system 18” above the tarp. My thought at the time was “Forget the tarp. How long would it take the room to fill with water high enough to reach the rack’s power supply?” You could just see that disaster coming.

To be fair, no business can plan for everything. There are events that defy the anticipation of most professional planners. If you take the events of September 11, 2001, you will find that there are circumstances that even the best teams could not plan enough to overcome. Data centers in Lower Manhattan could operate for a few days on generator power in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks; however, no one predicted that fuel delivery into the city would be a major security concern until it was, subsequently causing fuel shortages. As well, data centers had issues with overheating generators due to the extremely poor air quality caused by the destruction of the twin towers. The shock and chaos following the events of that day further compounded any of the clinical-sounding logistical concerns we write about in hindsight, but when we talk about it, I guarantee you the emotion of that day still consumes the voice of anyone with a heart.

Good planners learn from every disaster and apply that knowledge and experience moving forward. Data centers all over the world, whether they’re a major cloud hosting provider or a small server room of a hospital, not to mention utility services like power and water or even trucking/logistics operators, have learned lessons and applied knowledge to plan for disasters not unlike what happened on 9/11 or natural disasters like the tsunami in Fukushima, Japan.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen tremendous issues caused by malicious code. The Wannacry incident was the biggest outbreak in history, with about 300,000 machines infected. When the rubber meets the road, it’s not a virus issue. It’s a disaster recovery issue. You can get further by planning for disaster recovery than you can by fighting malware, unpatched systems, and poor user training. The disaster recovery effort starts with a breakdown of any or all three of the aforementioned vulnerabilities. Antiviral software is for the most part a reactive solution. Patching is a reactive solution to a software or operating system vulnerability. User training is proactive; however, it is the largest struggle to overcome. Even if you get a high amount of computer or even security literacy in your organization, all you need is one mistake to set forth a chain of events, especially if that user has higher-than-desired authority on the network or systems. Humans will make mistakes, but we need to ensure we are properly protecting our businesses with antiviral software and regular patching to compensate as much as we can for that.

A properly tested disaster recovery solution must be in place to ensure that you can get your business up and running. The question of “if” or “how” we can get it back shouldn’t have to be asked. You need to know the “if” and the “how.” Furthermore, you need a secondary “how” in case the primary fails. The question of “when” is dependent on your organization’s tolerance for downtime.

Again: “There was a total loss of power at the data centre. The power then returned in an uncontrolled way, causing physical damage to the IT servers. It was not an IT issue; it was a power issue.”

Replace “power” in “power issue” with “cooling,” “water,” or “fire.” These are common concerns in any data center. It’s quite obvious to see the weak argument. This is an IT executive management issue. And in any large and publicly visible organization, IT must be aligned with the business enough to foresee and overcome the loss of a data center due to common operational concerns such as electricity, air conditioning, flood, or fire.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly
More Articles By This Author
Related Articles


Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation.
    Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects.
    The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • Progressive Web Apps: Create a Universal Experience Across All Devices

    LANSAProgressive Web Apps allow you to reach anyone, anywhere, and on any device with a single unified codebase. This means that your applications—regardless of browser, device, or platform—instantly become more reliable and consistent. They are the present and future of application development, and more and more businesses are catching on.
    Download this whitepaper and learn:

    • How PWAs support fast application development and streamline DevOps
    • How to give your business a competitive edge using PWAs
    • What makes progressive web apps so versatile, both online and offline



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using as a pre-built development environment



  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms.

    Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    FortraRobot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.