Data center outages increasingly caused by DDoS

While overall unplanned data center outages have decreased, those that were the result of targeted DDoS attacks have skyrocketed.

DDoS caused data center outages costs average length
Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam

Think housing your servers in a data center rather than squeezing them under your desk is a bulletproof solution?

Well, they might be safer in a data center, but believe it or not, some of the same pitfalls that can create trouble in the office can affect those secure data centers too. Namely UPS failure, human error, and cybercrime.


UPS system failure is still the principal cause of "unplanned data center outages," according to a new report.

A quarter of all such events were related to UPS systems and batteries, according to Emerson Network Power in association with Ponemon Institute. The two organizations have been studying the cost of unplanned data center outages.


But cybercrime-caused outages, specifically Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, constituted a whopping 22% of the unplanned disruptions last year. That's up from just 2% in 2010 and 18% in 2013, the last times the two organizations performed the survey.

The survey collected responses from 63 data center operations who had observed an outage in the prior about year about what exactly happened. The report was published this month.

Root causes

Accidental causes or human error were the third biggest cause of unplanned outages, according to the report.

Those mishaps caused 22% of the failures. That's the same percentage as in 2013, but lower than in 2010, when 24% of outages were accidental or human-caused.

Interestingly, many other causes of outages are lower now than they were in 2010 and 2013. They've been usurped by cybercrime's huge gain.

UPS failure is down slightly on 2010, when it accounted for 29% of the outages. And the aforementioned human error is down a bit.

And utility failure, such as water, heat, and Computer Room Air Conditioning, which today makes up just 11% of the outages, was at 15% in 2010.


Likewise, generators appear to have become more reliable. Those systems contributed to 10% of the failures in 2010, whereas today they only make up 6%.

The researchers don't provide numbers relating to changing data center design over the period. Fewer generators in use—replaced by solar and alternative energy—could conceivably have caused that statistical decline. The report doesn't specify.


Overall, most unplanned outage causes—including those caused by weather, which accounted for 10% of outages this year, compared to 12% in 2010 and 2013—have declined in favor of cybercrime.

Even IT failure, a measly 4% of failures today, dropped from 5% in 2010.

About $9K per minute

And the cost? The report was released to expound on the cost of the outages, rather than to apportion blame.

Well, the "average total cost per minute of an unplanned outage increased from $5,617 in 2010 to $7,908 in 2013 to $8,851 now," according to the report.

Downtime at data centers now costs an average of $740,357. That's a 38% increase on 2010, the study calculates.

And maximum costs are even higher.

"Maximum downtime costs are rising faster than average, increasing 81% since 2010 to a current high of $2,409,991," the report says.

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