When it comes to their computers, end users hate surprises. The surprise they hate the most is logging on to the network and discovering that the application or server they use every day is unavailable.

Some interruptions of network services are unavoidable. But even when the power goes out, users sitting in dark offices will phone the help desk to ask when e-mail will be available again.

There isn’t much you can do to stem the tide of calls to the help desk in emergencies. However, you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary phone and e-mail contact about scheduled network outages by regularly notifying end users or their managers when a server or an application is going to be taken down for an upgrade or routine maintenance. This week, I’ll share one way to publicize your scheduled downtime.

Download our downtime report template

This handy Excel 2000 spreadsheet is perfect for letting your users know what’s going to be down when and for how long. Click here to download this free tool today.

Build the spreadsheet
In shops where you can count the number of production servers on one hand, you may not need a downtime report. However, if you work in an environment with thousands of WAN users and hundreds of network servers, a good downtime report can keep your customers informed and eliminate calls to the help desk.

The report doesn’t have to be fancy. To get it started, just create a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Production (downtime) Date—Enter the date of the scheduled downtime.
  • Server—In this column, enter the name of the server.
  • Emergency—In this column, enter Yes or No. If you want to add a graphic flair to this column, enter the capital letter M, format the text color as red, and set the font to 12-point Wingdings. Doing so creates a “bomb” icon that’s impossible to overlook.
  • Location—In this column, enter the physical location of the server.
  • Owner—Here, enter the name of the department that owns the server, if appropriate, or the name of the IT owner—the person assigned to support the server.
  • Start Time—This column should reflect the time by which all users should stop accessing the server or stop running the application hosted on the server.
  • A.M./P.M.—In some shops, you can get away with stamping the Start Time with the A.M. or P.M. However, breaking this component of the time into its own column makes it easy to spot, and harder to miss or misunderstand.
  • Duration—In this column, enter the number of hours you expect the server to be unavailable.
  • Why—Write a very brief explanation of why the downtime is necessary, such as ”Drive capacity nearing 100 percent,” or “Reboot needed to bring new configuration online.”
  • App Name—If a particular application is going to be unavailable, name the application.
  • Affected People—Who will be affected by the downtime? List the individuals or groups who need to be notified about the interruption of service.
  • Requested By—In this column, enter the person or department requesting the downtime.
  • Date of Request—Enter the date the request is created or submitted.
  • Released By—Enter the name of the IT person who takes the system offline and brings it back online.
  • Released Status—In this column, you can indicate the current status of the downtime, such as Approved, Submitted for Approval, Scheduled, On Hold, Canceled, and Complete.
  • Comments—In this column, enter miscellaneous notes about the process.

Update and e-mail on a regular basis
After you build your initial downtime report spreadsheet, make sure it gets updated on a regular basis. In many shops, the downtime report is updated and e-mailed on a routine basis.

At the minimum, you should distribute the downtime report to all department managers whose people who normally use the system that is scheduled to be taken offline. As long as those managers pass that information along to their reports, your help desk can avoid a flood of calls from frantic end users wondering what’s wrong with the network.

How do you publicize your scheduled downtime?

To comment on this tip, please start a discussion below or write to Jeff.