We’ve all seen it. Sometimes in advance, sometimes without notice:
We are currently experiencing a server outage.
Please stand by so we can address these issues and restore your service.
While this is problematic for most businesses, it is especially challenging for anyone running meetings and events using a web-based meetings technology.
As meeting planners, we are working on multiple fronts. Will weather affect our scheduled events? Is our conference hotel oversold and walking our attendees to other properties? Is the catering department meeting our guidelines that were set in the BEOs?
But how do we plan for things that we just expect to work? We expect the Internet to be available as contracted, and we expect our meeting technology provider to be available to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our meetings run on this schedule, our technology should do as well?
Our technology is universally cloud based, and for the most part, that’s a very good thing. But the reality is, servers can and do have outages, and how do you deal with that when it happens?
This isn’t just a problem in the meetings industry. Just about every business, from one-person operations to multi-national corporations employ the web and cloud for a vast majority of their business operations, and down time challenges are difficult when planned, and can be disastrous when unplanned.
But the meetings industry is especially vulnerable in this regard.
If your event is opening at 9 am on a Tuesday morning, you have zero capability to reschedule. It’s like a wedding…the wedding continues even if the videographer has a camera malfunction.
There’s lots of anecdotal stories that drive home the importance of this topic.
Eric Kingstad, Owner of the consulting firm The Event Guys (www.theeventsguys.com) has spent dozens of years in the industry and has experienced first-hand the devastating effects that technology outages has caused in the industry.
“It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to plan for this,” Eric said. “Meetings are time and date specific, there is no rescheduling. I’ve seen opening days for event registration crashing because of unexpected server activity, and even a slow down due to high server volume can have a serious impact on the business.”
Eric recounted a story about the days where he owned a series of conference centers on the West Coast.
“One week we were hosting a series of meetings for a very large sporting wear company. They were flying folks in from all over the world and had high expectations for the week,” Eric said. “Then the unexpected happened. A series of storms on Sunday night shut down power and internet all up and down the coast. Our client didn’t care, they were proceeding with the meetings! We spent Sunday night hunting down and installing mobile generators throughout our facility and on Monday morning we had breakfast by candlelight. Wasn’t seamless, but the meeting went on as planned.”
Virtually all meeting professionals agree that planning for these challenges is a prudent and professional exercise. But what do we do when we face a worst-case scenario?
What do you do if you open advance registration and your provider’s registration server crashes?
What happens if internet connectivity fails while onsite at an event?
There are ways to mitigate this challenges, and it requires a 21st century mindset to plan ahead for them.
We’re not talking about 2005. We’re talking about 2016, where the world is cloud based, mobile ready and downtime is really no longer an option.
The latest technology in the meetings area can also help deal with technology challenges if they occur. For example, the trend towards app-based solutions not only help reduce challenges caused by browser-based technologies, but offer enhanced security and can operate without a constant connection to the Internet.
Trevor Gardiner, CEO of Centium Software, has been at the forefront of using the latest technology for their meeting management platforms for almost 30 years.
“When we developed our latest technology, EventsAIR, we knew we have to completely rethink how meetings technology is deployed,” Mr. Gardiner said. “We knew there were new cloud-based solutions that offered unparalleled redundancy and performance, and were designed specifically for the mobile world of smart phones and tablets.”
Mr. Gardiner explained that they chose to develop in the Microsoft Azure Cloud for very specific reasons.
“Microsoft Azure allows us to deploy globally since they have more than 17 data centers all around the world,” Mr. Gardiner said. “The data is constantly backed up and stored in multiple locations for the best data protection we have ever seen.”
Mr. Gardiner noted that the Microsoft Azure environment was designed for scalability and performance in ways the industry has never seen before.
“Each of our clients has their own dedicated SQL server database environment,” Mr. Gardiner said. “No longer is server performance affected by thousands of other clients sharing the same space. The Azure environment lets us scale up on demand and for planned periods of heavy server activity. It’s quite an extraordinary thing to see!”
“Even more important is the technology we have developed, leveraging the powerful tools in Azure, that ensures our customers have almost zero down time during updates and maintenance. In February 2016, our customers experienced an average of 13 seconds down time for the month.”
So, what does a meeting planner do to plan for unplanned emergencies?
- Plan for the unexpected, and document your contingency plans
- Back up your data and make sure that data is accessible during your event
- Be ready to jump in at all times – you never know when weather or other situations out of control will require you to act
- Consider newer technology that is not tied to older or unreliable processes. You always want to access your data and be able to operate, even in a thunderstorm, power outage or even if your Internet fails.
- Take a mobile data hot spot with you to the venue as a backup to the venue Internet
During a live event, you have just one shot to get it right…don’t assume everything will be perfect. Plan for that perfection, and execute that plan!