Picking the Right Approach to IT Maintenance Windows

Planning to perform IT maintenance within your business? This blog breaks down some common terms and how you can best prepare your business for minimal interruption, most efficient results, and for the right budget.

First off, a maintenance window is a period of time designated in advance where IT personnel are able to take down IT resources for the purpose of maintaining a healthy and predictable IT environment. In this article we’re primarily talking about critical infrastructure maintenance.

We have two categories of maintenance windows:

  1. Preventive maintenance — proactive actions such as applying updates or firmware and reboots of network equipment or servers.
  2. Reactive maintenance — reactive actions such as replacing a failed hard drive, battery, or running disruptive diagnostics.

Since we’re talking about windows of time, there’s also a third window type simply called “Scheduled disruptive work”. Similar to maintenance, this type also typically takes down IT resources. This could be a line of business application update or a server replacement.

Now that you know the juicy details, when should the window be scheduled?  

Please consider the following constraints:

  • For server reboots (i.e., after Windows Security Updates are applied)
    • How reliable are your servers at rebooting automatically?
    • Does an application need the server logged in and started manually (ie, legacy application)?
    • If your server fails to come back up, or your business application decides not to automatically start on boot, how quickly do you want it addressed?  The following morning when staff gets in or right then?
  • For a window involving your software vendors (ie, assist your vendor with a major program update):
    • What are their business hours?  For healthcare and financial industries, they typically mimic your Monday-Friday business hours but probably in the Eastern or Central Time Zones.
    • Can we schedule a support call in advance or do we have to wait in a call queue?
    • What happens if we hit the end of their business hours and it’s not complete and your software is in an unusable state?

With those constraints in mind, here’s the three possible solutions:

  1. Schedule the window during standard business hours (ie, 8am-5pm M-F)
    • Pros: lower IT support costs (i.e., no after-hour rates), ideal for your vendors’ support hours, and verification that equipment and business applications come up properly after reboots.
    • Cons: your staff has to be off of all relevant IT systems during the window, so there is a loss of productive use of your IT resources during this time.
  2. Schedule the window after standard business hours
    • Pros: maximize the availability of IT resources so your staff can be productive during all business hours and verification that equipment and business applications came up properly after reboots.
    • Cons: potential after hours support costs and little to no access to your software vendors’ support (due to their business hours)
  3. Automation (primarily for server reboots)
    1. Pros: lower IT support costs, maximize the availability of IT resources so your staff can be productive (ie, schedule a reboot for midnight)
    2. Cons: verification that your server(s) and application(s) came up properly may not happen until the following morning during business hours.

As you can see, this can get complex. It comes down to:

  1. Math and budget.  
    • Cost of after hour IT support for maintenance vs. loss of productive use of IT resources. Note – if your vendor is involved, this will likely occur during standard business hours either way.
    • We typically see businesses get into a rhythm where routine maintenance is scheduled during business hours at the same time every month.  
    • This allows staff to plan around it and do productive work that does not require IT resources. This “low-tech” time window is extremely underrated if your business model allows it.
    • The larger your are, the more likely you’re leaning toward paying a premium for after hours IT support to maximize IT resource availability.
    • To put this in perspective, a 10,000 employee company may start their window at 9PM on Friday until Sunday at 11PM. This company has teams of IT staff, in-house software programmers OR their software has premium 24x7x365 support, and the company budgeted a significant amount (and ultimately pass through to their customers via higher margin) for the additional costs to support their high-demand IT resource availability requirements.  
    • Scaling this down to a 25 person company: small business software vendor most likely shut off their support line at 5PM Friday and their IT budget doesn’t factor in ongoing after hours IT support.  This company is likely to perform the majority of their maintenance during business hours.
  1. Industry.
    • Healthcare industries typically have an off or half day every week or month. These make great maintenance windows.
    • Financial industries work long hours and have high demand of IT resource availability. This is especially if seasons are involved (ie, tax season).
  2. Culture.
    • The modern workplace has created the “always connected” mentality. For some, the thought of not having access to IT resources when they want them can cause a panic.  
    • If an hour or more long window once a month during business hours without IT resources sounds like a loss of productivity, then it’s likely you’re in a IT resource intensive industry and you need to budget for after hours IT support.

Note regarding “after hours IT support” – if your IT staff is internal, it likely will result in overtime pay.  If you are relying on a Managed Service Provider, it could imply that you are already paying a premium for 24/7 support, or more commonly, your contracted for business hours support with a provision for any after hours support requiring additional charges.  Only the client can make the trade-off decision between the lower support costs and off-business hours support. PK Tech offers a variety of support options to meet your requirements.

Our goal at PK Tech is to help our clients make technology decisions that protect and benefit their business. Get in touch with us here and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.