Lessons learnt from the British Airways bank holiday meltdown

| June 16, 2017

British Airways bank holiday meltdownTom Hall, Managing Director, Continu

British Airways has said that the recent IT shutdown, which caused significant disruption to over 75,000 passengers last week was caused by a power surge. But could it have been prevented?

From what we know, in short, the answer is yes. If power protection systems, including UPS equipment have been installed and maintained correctly, a power surge shouldn’t disrupt business operations.

However, in a scenario that’s all too familiar, following loss of power in a data centre, power was returned in an uncontrolled way, causing damage to IT servers. The result was the cancellation of hundreds of flights, tens of thousands of stranded holiday makers and an airline’s reputation on the line.

The high profile case is a prime example of why it is vitally important to not only have back up power facilities (UPS) in place, but to ensure they are correctly maintained by trained UPS engineers. It’s also vital that organisations of all sizes have a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, so if a power failure from the grid does happen, IT systems and business operations can continue as usual.

Despite having back-up power facilities at the ready, a power failure still reportedly occurred and for BA, the outcome was disastrous. One of the most likely causes of this type of failure is poor maintenance of either the UPS or the batteries supporting it.

What do we mean by maintenance?

Once a UPS is installed, maintaining it is a bit like owning a car as it requires routine checks. Similar to any equipment which has moving parts, a UPS also needs periodic ‘servicing’. This simply means having a trained UPS engineer visit  periodically to conduct a visual examination and replace fans, capacitors or filters as needed.  Batteries are vital to the functioning of the UPS. Whilst the batteries sit idle on ‘standby’ most of the time, when there is an emergency mains power problem it is critical that the batteries actually work.

If the UPS protects critical IT systems, you will need a proactive maintenance plan to ensure there are routine checks.

Temperature check         

Fluctuations in temperature can also affect UPS performance, which is particularly important as the warmer summer months approach. Assess the temperature and air circulation of the room where your UPS is housed. Is it constant or are their times when the temperature fluctuates? Changes can play havoc with your IT equipment and affect the lifespan of your UPS batteries.

Without knowing all the facts, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly what went wrong at British Airways. However, our advice for organisations trying to avoid a similar disaster is to make proactive maintenance of UPS equipment part of a regular routine. Investing in a maintenance plan carried out by UPS qualified engineers makes economic sense to any IT manager and may avert a similar “terminal fate”!

Contact Continu if you are concerned that your business operations might be vulnerable to disruption, our expert team of engineers will be happy to carry out a free site survey to assess any vulnerability in your system.


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