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Manufacturer IT Applications Study: Finding the Real Cost of Downtime

Aug. 13, 2013
"Restoring applications and data from backup is a long manual process that can take hours or even days to complete. In today's 24/7 manufacturing environment, that kind of prolonged downtime just isn't going to cut it."

In spring 2013, IndustryWeek partnered with Stratus Technologies to conduct the second Manufacturer IT Applications Study. The project surveyed hundreds of IT leaders across the manufacturing spectrum to help determine what systems and practices are being employed today to keep machines running and plants in business.

Here, Frank Hill, director of manufacturing business development for Stratus, sits down with IndustryWeek to breakdown the results of the study and to explain what they mean to manufacturers trying to stay ahead in today's market.

You can download the full study here: Manufacturer IT Applications Study.

IW: What was the objective of this survey?

FH: The objectives of the IndustryWeek Manufacturer IT Applications Study that Stratus Technologies sponsored were to:

  • Examine the satisfaction level among manufacturers with the reliability and availability of their manufacturing IT applications;
  • Investigate the use of high availability applications and virtualized environments among manufacturers;
  • Determine what factors are important when making high availability solution purchasing decisions.

IW: What were you expecting to find in this year's results?

FH: Given the increasing complexity and reliance on IT solutions in manufacturing, and the desire of most companies to postpone capital spending for as long as possible, I expected the reported incidences of downtime to increase — and they did.

I would like to have seen more manufacturers adopting continuous availability solutions to protect their critical applications, but most are still relying on strategies like traditional backup, which just aren't enough in today's always-on manufacturing environment.

IW: Were you surprised by any of the results?

FH: I was more alarmed than I was surprised by some of the results.

For example, the study findings revealed that 30% of manufacturers experienced unplanned downtime for one or more applications in the first four months of 2013. Large companies with $1 billion or more in revenue were more likely to have downtime.

Even more concerning is that the average number of unplanned downtime incidents has gone up considerably from 2012 to 2013 — from four to seven — at a cost of about $17,000 per incident.

There are proven technology solutions available in the market that deliver extremely high levels of application availability, which means that manufacturers that choose to make prudent investments can avoid these repeated business disruptions and the associated financial losses.

Finding the Source of Downtime

IW: What do you think is behind those numbers?

FH: Actually, answers to some of the other survey questions provide potential insights into why incidences of unplanned downtime are on the rise.

First of all, only one in three manufacturers surveyed currently have a high-availability manufacturing IT strategy or solution in place, and of those that do, 66% rely on traditional backup for maintaining system reliability and uptime — up from 64% in 2012.

While backup is great for ensuring that applications and data can be restored in the event of power outages, hardware failures, or natural disasters, it's not a reliable high-availability strategy.

Restoring applications and data from backup is a long manual process that can take hours or even days to complete. In today's 24/7 manufacturing environment, that kind of prolonged downtime just isn't going to cut it.

The survey findings also show that a significant percentage of manufacturers are using built-in high-availability functions (26%) or clustering (19%) to minimize downtime.

While certainly more effective than traditional backup for achieving high availability, these solutions often fall short because they focus on recovering from system outages rather than preventing them.

Built-in availability functions and clustering solutions rely on complex "failure recovery" mechanisms that incur varying degrees of unplanned downtime—from a few seconds to minutes—while the backup system automatically restarts the applications.

This failover process can degrade performance and result in the loss of valuable data.  

Since so many manufacturers either have yet to adopt a continuous availability strategy or are relying on a less than optimal solution, it actually makes sense that downtime incidents are on the rise.

Restoring Availability

IW: What should manufacturers be doing to overcome these issues?

FH: Manufacturers need to make the right technology investments to keep their critical applications up and running.

The best way to ensure continuous availability of critical applications is to adopt a strategy that prevents downtime from happening in the first place, unlike many of the solutions in the market that focus on recovering from downtime once it has occurred.

Ideally, these manufacturers should have software solutions that provide always-on capabilities to applications running in physical, virtualized or cloud environments.

IW: What do you think is the key takeaway from the survey?

FH: In my opinion, the survey results uncover an untapped opportunity for manufacturers to improve plant efficiency and boost profit margins by investing in continuous availability solutions that prevent downtime of critical manufacturing applications.

The reality is that manufacturers don't have to accept downtime incidents as an inevitable occurrence in today's highly automated and integrated manufacturing environments.

With the right continuous availability strategy and technology in place, manufacturers can ensure that their critical applications are "always on" and make unplanned downtime a thing of the past for more reliable and profitable plant operations.

Frank Hill is the director of manufacturing business development for Stratus Technologies. Prior to joining Stratus, Mr. Hill led MES business development at Wyeth, Merck & Co., and AstraZeneca for Rockwell Automation. He has also worked in manufacturing leadership at Merck & Company. He is a frequent speaker and commentator on technology-enabled manufacturing solutions.

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