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How to Identify Single Point of Failure and Ensure Continuity

Published on August 27, 2021

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A single point of failure (SPOF) can bring your whole system to a standstill, or at best - bring it to "limp mode". If you have ever worked on a car, you know what this means. One faulty sensor can bring the whole machine to a halt in seconds, which is why eliminating potential SPOFS should be a priority in your businesses infrastructure's design.

While one faulty sensor might seem like a minuscule problem compared to a whole functioning engine, it's that sensor that tells the engine when to fire the pistons. Small things often control much larger things and have an effect on the whole organism - and your business continuity.

What is a Single Point of Failure?

A single point of failure (SPOF) is a critical, often single component in your system whose failure would cause the entire system and other components to stop functioning. It's crucial your business identifies its single points of failure, and plan around this vulnerability with strategies like diversifying resources. Continuity2's software aids organisations like yours in identifying and mitigating these risks to ensure your operations continue uninterrupted.

What is single point of failure (SPOF)?

Identifying Single Points of Failure in Simple Steps

The best way to win your fight with single points of failure is to identify them before they become a problem - there is a checklist and a number of steps you can undertake in order to perform a SPOF audit in your company.

Assessing and Stopping Single Point of Failure (SPOF) in your IT Infrastructure

To effectively manage potential risks and ensure high availability, begin by making a comprehensive list of your IT infrastructure, tools, and communication systems. This serves as a foundational step in identifying single points of failure that could compromise your entire system. Key components to include are:

  • Data Centers and Storage Devices: Include all storage systems for your emails and cloud services, ensuring you have spare servers and redundant systems in place.
  • Local and Remote Servers: List all servers connected in your network, emphasizing the need for multiple servers to avoid single points and enhance system resilience.
  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs): Record details of all ISPs and consider diversifying to ensure survivable communications networks.
  • Network Infrastructure: Include all network components such as load balancers and network infrastructure, focusing on redundancy at both the component and system level.
Stopping SPOF in IT Infrastructure

Conduct a risk assessment to test each component’s functionality and identify weak points, such as unmonitored devices or single servers without backup. This proactive testing helps in understanding the configuration and reliability of your network, which is crucial before a failure occurs.

In the event of an actual failure, use this comprehensive inventory to systematically test for absence of redundancy and identify potential single points at both the internal component level and the wider system level. By addressing these points, you can significantly enhance your organisation's decision making process during incidents and ensure that business logic and operations continue without interruption.

Examples of Single Point Failure

Here are some tangible examples of single points of failure which most likely apply to your business.

  • IT Systems: If you have just a single server, hosting a critical application, with no backup, failover or spare servers. This would be an example of single point of failure (SPOF).
  • Supply Chains: Also, having a unique supplier for a crucial component inside your business operations with no alternative sources.
  • Power Supply: A single power line serving a facility without any alternative power sources. If this power line failed or was interrupted, it would cause multiple failures of high impact across your business.
  • Human Resources: A single employee with exclusive knowledge or skills critical to business operations, building large potential risk for the organisation if they ever become unavailable or leave.
  • Network Infrastructure: A single router or switch which all network traffic must pass. Having your network traffic impacted by a single point failure could lead to the entire system collapsing.
  • Data Storage: A single database storing all company data with no replication or backup systems in place is potential SPOFS waiting to happen. You should diversify and focus on having multiple databases, this is key for having reliability and reducing risk around company data.
6 Examples of Single Point Failure

Contingency For Your ISP - Service Provider Failure

If your single points of failure are identified as something out of your control - but are the fault of your internet provider, things can get tricky.

This is why a lot of businesses that depend on having access to the internet 24/7, invest in a secondary internet provider. This is to ensure business continuity no matter what happens on your provider's end. When your internet goes out, chances are that your competitor's internet will be functioning just fine. They will have access to their website, data, and email services when you won't. Things that will become affected are:

  • VoIP phone systems
  • CRM programs
  • Cloud services and tools
  • Email
  • Other communications
  • Shipping and tracking
What get's affected when your ISP fails?

Another benefit of introducing a redundant internet provider as an option is that it can help you with fluctuating bandwidth during busier times and it can improve your customer experience. It's not just for emergencies but can help with the everyday functioning of your business.

Keep human-caused SPOFs in mind

Human error is behind a lot of disasters in human history, and SPOFs are only a tiny fraction of this long list of disasters.

Most commonly, a simple error is behind most failures and is caused either by an honest mistake or ignorance. Less commonly, it might be caused on purpose - while none of us like to think of this contingency, it's better to be aware of it when working to solve a problem like a single point of failure.

Avoiding Single Points of Failure

Sometimes it's hard to prevent something so unexpected - other times it's not so unexpected after all. While you might not know exactly when they'll strike, the best defense is an attack.

In this case, an "attack" is:

  • Preparing a Single Point of Failure management plan
  • Making a list of your components
  • Having a backup for every one of those components
  • Knowing who's in charge in case of emergency
How to avoid SPOF

Eliminating Single Point of Failure

To mitigate single points of failure and enhance system resilience, your organisation can adopt the following strategies:

  • High Availability Server Clusters: Implement high availability server clusters that provide system-level redundancy. This setup uses multiple servers to ensure continuous service availability even if one server fails.
  • Diversification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs): Use multiple ISPs to create a survivable communications network, ensuring continuous internet access if one provider goes down.
  • Redundant Hardware Systems: Install redundant hardware systems at the system component and internal component levels to prevent failures from crippling essential services.
  • Industrial System Redundancy: For organisations in the industrial sector, deploying redundant systems not only at the system level but also within other industrial systems is crucial. This approach minimises downtime and maintains operational continuity.
  • High Availability Strategies: Employ high availability strategies across different system levels to ensure that critical applications and services are always available and operational.

By integrating these practices, organisations can strengthen their infrastructure against potential failures, ensuring robust and resilient operational capabilities.

How to eliminate SPOF

Redundancy and SPOF management- pros and cons

Although redundancy might sound like something unnecessary and bad altogether, redundancy in this case means duplicating software and hardware by either continuous backups or having backup hardware available. This way, if a part of your system becomes unavailable, crashes, or becomes corrupted, you can easily replace it without loss of time and continuity.

This simply means having a "spare". Using two cloud backups instead of one - or having your data in more than one data center. It might seem "redundant" but will save you a lot of pain if something does happen.

What about the costs of redundancy?

They are often much less than operating in emergency mode and having your system go down - sometimes the loss of backup can cause your business to stop functioning for more than just a few hours. Although, "just a few hours" can be very damaging to both your bottom line and to your reputation in today's marketplace.

If it happens to a business whose main selling point is trust or brand authority, it's hard to recover and go on after a long blackout. These are huge costs, and when compared to the rather small costs of having redundancy in place the benefits are staggering.

Ensuring Business Continuity - Conclusion

We have listed some of the most common examples of single points of failure and how to prevent them through being vigil and planning for the worst. Business continuity is when your business functions go on uninterrupted even while an emergency happens.

Let's break it down: in order to manage your emergency plan and check for potential points of failure in your business, it's best to divide all the functions by systems and by steps. This way, you can plan for the failure of each one of them in turn, but what's more important - use the list to identify these failures as they happen.

Overall, you should follow these three steps:

  • Preparedness and planning for continuity
  • Identification
  • Fixing the failure while your system stays operational
The 3 Functions of Emergency Planning

Finally, make sure you dust off your disaster management planning and update it - run tests and check if it's up to date as often as you can. There is nothing worse than coming face to face with an emergency and finding out that your carefully crafted plan is outdated and can't be used!

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Written by Donna Maclellan

Lead Risk and Resilience Analyst at Continuity2

With a first-class honours degree in Risk Management from Glasgow Caledonian University, Donna has adopted a proactive approach to problem-solving to help safeguard clients' best interests for over 5 years. From identifying potential risks to implementing appropriate management measures, Donna ensures clients can recover and thrive in the face of challenges.

Donne cropped
Donne cropped

Written by Donna Maclellan

Lead Risk and Resilience Analyst at Continuity2

With a first-class honours degree in Risk Management from Glasgow Caledonian University, Donna has adopted a proactive approach to problem-solving to help safeguard clients' best interests for over 5 years. From identifying potential risks to implementing appropriate management measures, Donna ensures clients can recover and thrive in the face of challenges.