For most of us, a power outage—even one lasting a couple hours—is an inconvenience, or at worst, a cause to engage some backup plans so we can better pursue work. For a company like Delta Airlines, who recently suffered a power outage of its own, power outages mean more than a little lost work. New reports from Delta note that the power outages cost the company a combined $100 million.
The number is big enough, but considering the breakdown is almost as disastrous. The company had to cancel fully 2,300 flights in the wake of the outage, over the course of a three-day time frame. This meant not only lost dollars immediately, but also a loss of face and reputation. Reports suggest that Delta also lowered its profit margin forecasts, dropping from an expected margin of between 19 and 21 percent to a margin of 18 to 19 percent. The outage reduced quarterly pre-tax income by $150 million, according to word from Delta itself.
Considering that Delta was the number two carrier in passenger air traffic, this is a disaster by most any stretch. Worse are reports that note the outage should have been preventable, as while the power outage itself was comparatively easily fixed, the critical systems didn't switch over to backup power sources, suggesting that said backups were in place, but didn't kick in appropriately, prompting questions about the backups as well.
Many companies commonly turn to uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems which provide a little extra power in the event of an outage that allows users to save work and shut down. Other systems offer more power that allows systems to keep running even in the event of an outage, thus preserving normal operations. That's prompted some to wonder just what happened to Delta's systems, with some asking if the system was too old to function properly, or was simply reduced down to a single potential point of failure.
It's easy to let a backup system fall into disrepair; after all, we only use backup systems when the main system fails, and if the main system—in this case the power grid—doesn't fail often, it's easy to just let the backup system fall by the wayside. After all, when was the last time Delta had a power outage lasting this long? Yet these backup systems are vital to the overall continuity of business operations, so it may be a good idea to run these systems every so often as a test, kind of like a standard fire drill.
In the end, what matters is having backup systems that run when they're needed. A backup system that doesn't work is actually worse than no backup at all, as it provides a false sense of security. Delta is discovering the value of a backup system the hard way, so take Delta's $100 million lesson to heart.