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Why the Airline Industry is Stuck in an IT Groundhog Day


February 02, 2017
By Special Guest
Jennifer Gill, Director, Global Product Marketing, Zerto -

The recurring network-wide system outage issues we’ve seen from major carriers such as United and Delta Airlines in recent days and the previous months reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray’s character being forced to endure the same experiences day after day. Not surprisingly, this same conundrum is the daily struggle for many IT departments as they wrestle with a soup of technologies that shackle workers to maintain manual, complex systems that are highly prone to failure.

The recurring airline computer network problems are casting a long shadow over the broader IT industry. These well-publicized IT outages – which by any other name can be called a disaster – are the direct result of outmoded infrastructure and ill-prepared strategies for IT resilience, disaster recovery and compliance. Unfortunately, many organizations fall into this camp. However, the airline industry is well known for focusing more on proactive security measures rather than on disaster recovery planning and preparation, putting themselves into a precarious situation when – not if – outages occur. Some of the main consequences to this imbalance when disaster does strike often results in significant revenue losses, damaged brand reputation and customers stranded in airports to name a few of the many downsides.

                    Image via Bigstock

This is likely why the federal government is getting more involved with U.S. senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal leading an effort to ensure airlines update their technology solutions. They’ve already sent a letter to the CEO of United Airlines inquiring whether the company could have prevented the IT failure and what it would do to ensure additional safeguards are in place. As the senators put it, "in a world where consumers can find, purchase, and check in for flights from their smartphones, IT failures should not be grounding entire airline fleets. Now that three of the four largest air carriers have recently experienced significant disruptions due to IT failures, it is time for airlines to update their IT systems for the jet age."

Resistance to IT resilience is futile

United, Delta and other enterprise-class organizations are realizing the reality of their IT environment is suffering the same repetitive plight as Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. The reasons for these IT outages are broad and cover the gamut from the likes of hurricanes to ransomware, hackers and human error, and even common power failures. However, airline carriers and other businesses like them do not have the luxury to only focus on prevention.

For CIOs, IT resilience means being 100 percent prepared for datacenters to dynamically respond to disruptions that impact operations by ensuring critical data and applications are always accessible to keep the business moving forward. Recent advancements in cloud-based technologies have actually made it quite simple and cost-effective to achieve this as companies shift from using CAPEX-based infrastructures to OPEX-based infrastructures such as Microsoft Azure. Equally critical is the ease with which enterprises can regularly test their disaster recovery infrastructure with little to no impact on the business, which is imperative to also maintain compliance with industry regulations.

Plan B is a world of uninterrupted technology

Coming off a year of numerous ransomware incidents and high profile data breaches that are still happening, again and again, businesses need to not just prepare for an attack, but ensure they can maintain critical business operations in such an event. While IT security efforts largely focus on defending the perimeter fence, there are too many opportunities for hackers to get past these defenses to not have a well-constructed and easily implemented “plan B” in place. Every organization relies on its data and applications to operate effectively, compete and meet customer demands. A hacker only needs to be right once to gain access to a company’s data, whereas a company has to be secure 100 percent of the time to prevent an attack, and this is very difficult to achieve.

This is why the FBI issued guidance in "Ransomware Prevention and Response for CISOs" that urged organizations to “verify the integrity of those backups and test and test the restoration process to ensure it is working.” That plan B must include being able to quickly and as completely as possible recover critical data using proper tools and processes to help significantly reduce, if not nullify the impact of the intrusions. Traditional backup is fine, but businesses don’t want to restore operations to how they were yesterday. Additionally, it is critical to implement and successfully test a rigorous business continuity and disaster recovery strategy. The C-suite needs to go beyond threat detection and prevention to incorporate “after-the-fact” recovery technology with minimal data loss for true IT resilience. CIOs and CISOs should consider a hybrid-cloud strategy that gives businesses another firebreak and secondary place for in case of emergency break glass.

Disaster recovery is the easy on-ramp to cloud

More and more companies are realizing that adopting a hybrid cloud approach for something like disaster recovery, with the right partners in place, can actually be quite simple and affordable while also serving as a great entry point to the cloud. The perceived complication and expense of transitioning to cloud, which previously held many IT organizations back, is now going away.

IT teams working in the cloud find themselves anticipating issues and moving their data and applications before the damage hits. This sort of proactive movement of data is impossible with a traditional datacenter, of course, but for those organizations embracing virtual, cloud-ready IT environment, it is a reality. In case of a hack or outage that strikes without warning, organizations can still react quickly within minutes. Lacking the infrastructure dependencies that prevent easy movement, critical applications like online reservations and flight check-in can securely live and move between multiple on-premises and cloud environments.

The senatorial letter to United Airlines is a great example of the discussions at the federal level about stricter data protection and recovery regulations. Some disaster recovery providers work hand-in-hand with their partners to deliver software updates on an ongoing basis to ensure their solutions can meet compliance needs, while also recovering critical systems in minutes with minimal-to-no data loss.

At the same time, organizations that have invested in modernizing their data center are not likely to do away with it all overnight. Adopting a hybrid cloud environment allows for a transition to cloud in a way that feels most comfortable, a gradual approach that can provide both immense cost savings as well as recovery benefits.

Uninterrupted information technology is clearly top of mind for the government and compliance-heavy industries like air travel, healthcare and financial services. Each time a data center or IT disaster takes over headlines, CIOs and IT professionals everywhere wince. The IT industry cannot continue with the ‘same old, same old’ and expect new results. These very public service interruptions threaten the ability to be competitive on a global scale. Looking back on these predictable but avoidable moments, the IT community is poised to breakout of their professional Groundhog Day so to speak by revisiting their infrastructure solution stack and disaster recovery strategies so their organizations do not become a breaking disaster headline, but rather a reliable, strong performer.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

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