Nov 15, 2023

What are the Top 5 Causes of Machine Downtime?

Explore the top five root causes of machine downtime based on the data we see coming from technical support teams.

Remote Management Tactics

Downtime – the common enemy of any device operator. Machine downtime not only creates a negative customer experience but also puts pressure on your support team to quickly troubleshoot and restore availability. In this post, we explore the top five root causes of machine downtime based on the data we see coming from technical support teams responsible for maintaining the uptime of large device deployments. We also provide guidance on how to remotely troubleshoot these common issues so you can ensure your devices are always reliable. But first, let’s review why downtime is such an important problem to solve.

Why Does Machine Downtime Have Such a Negative Impact on Your Business?

Once devices are deployed, businesses and customers count on them to work when they are supposed to, and interruptions can set off a chain reaction of problems. Technician site visits, overwhelmed support teams, and the risk of losing a customer add up and weigh down a business.

Imagine point-of-sale (POS) systems that stop working just as a transaction goes through or a remote building access system that fails at 3 am... leaving residents stranded. Think of surveillance camera systems that companies, schools, and facilities rely on for critical security.

Remote devices and device networks face the chronic issue of downtime. For kiosks, digital signs, remote access systems, surveillance cameras, and other connected devices, downtime can be unpredictable and disastrous for business. 

Here are some of the most common causes for downtime and the best ways to tackle issues and get back up and running smoothly both quickly and for the long haul.

Top 5 Common Machine Downtime Issues & Top Ways to Secure Uptime

Did you know that 65% of downtime is caused by configuration, network, software, power, or operating system issues? 

This information is derived from approximately 200,000 support tickets spanning a wide range of device types, use cases, and industry environments. It specifically excludes customer support tickets unrelated to devices, such as those related to billing, customer training, initial installation, and so forth.

Let’s deep dive into each of these five issues, the common errors behind them, and potential resolution paths your team can take: 

1. Configuration Issues

Several common configuration issues can occur on remote devices, including network connectivity issues, which can occur if remote devices are not configured properly to connect to a network, or if there are issues with the network itself. This can result in slow or intermittent connectivity or complete loss of connection. Firewall settings, designed to protect the network can block legitimate traffic or allow unauthorized access if they are not configured properly, leading to security issues or connectivity problems. Arise from incorrect settings or misconfigurations during the device onboarding process, causing the devices to not function as intended. These issues are common when there are several different generations of a hardware solution deployed and tracking the ideal configuration for that version becomes complex with so many variations.

IP address conflicts, authentication and authorization settings that are not configured properly and even time settings can create trouble across devices, causing issues with synchronization and authentication. To troubleshoot remotely, access device attribute settings located in log files (this can be done via remote access tools or sometimes with an RMM platform). Review the device settings and cross-reference with the hardware and software version of that device to ensure alignment. Configuration issues can occur during the device onboarding process or when settings drift over time as software or hardware are updated on the device.

It’s important to ensure that all network settings are configured properly and that any changes are made in a controlled and secure manner. This may involve regular monitoring of network traffic, testing of network settings, and user training to ensure best practices are followed.

2. Network Issues

Network issues can also cripple or hinder remote devices. Some of the most common network issues include limited bandwidth, signal strength, interference with other wireless devices, network congestion, VPN connectivity, and general network security. Happens when connectivity problems, such as bandwidth constraints or firewall changes, disrupt communication between devices and servers. Network issues can be one of the leading causes of downtime if a device does not sit on an independent network or a network that the support team has control and visibility over.

To minimize the risk of network issues for remote devices, a network must be properly maintained and configured. This can involve regular testing and monitoring of network performance, the use of equipment to improve signal strength, and the implementation of proper security measures, including firewalls. It can also involve educating users on best practices for network usage and troubleshooting common issues. Device network monitoring is vastly improved by remote monitoring and management systems that detect network issues, send alerts, and begin troubleshooting before issues bring devices down. Additionally, you can proactively monitor network performance metrics and isolate root causes such as firewall changes, port resets, or bandwidth constraints that impact device connectivity. If your team controls the network settings, these are often easy fixes, but if you rely on a local network having the root cause identified is a key step in long-term resolution.

3. Software App Issues

Software issues also can lead to machine downtime. Some of the most common issues include malware and viruses, which can cause system crashes, data loss, and other problems; incompatible software, which can cause conflicts with the operating system or other applications, leading to system crashes or errors; corrupt or missing files and outdated software, which may not be compatible with newer operating systems or hardware components, leading to system instability or errors. Result from software application bugs, operating system issues, or memory leaks that negatively impact device performance and reliability. These issues can manifest as app crashes, timing out, or unresponsive applications when customers look to use a device.

To prevent software issues, there are simple measures to take, such as using reputable antivirus software and ensuring that any third-party software installed on a device is compatible with the device’s operating system and hardware components. Also, the key is monitoring system performance for signs of problems. Automating troubleshooting and even self-healing across device networks gives operators a distinct advantage when it comes to keeping hundreds or thousands of network devices optimized for performance and uptime. Software issues are common and often occur for several underlying reasons. The best practice for remotely restoring software issues is to review system logs and error messages and use remote access to observe app behavior to replicate the issue. With log file discovery, you will often find that a specific software service has stopped running. When possible, try restarting that selected software service vs. rebooting the entire device. This is a faster path to resolution, less impactful on customer experience, and is better for long-term hardware health.

4. Power Failures

Power outages are a common cause of power failure for remote devices and networks. This chronic threat to operations can be caused by a wide variety of events, including bad weather, equipment failures, or other factors that impact the power grid. Power surges are likewise a tricky problem, potentially causing damage to connected devices and brought on by lightning strikes, equipment failures, or other factors. Occurs when devices lose power, either due to local power outages or issues with power sources and cables. These issues often require a physical touch to manually restore power, but often hardware or software issues are mistaken for power issues.

Network device operators also grapple with power supply issues, battery issues, and environmental factors, such as extreme temperatures, that can impact the performance of batteries or power supplies, potentially leading to power failures. To guard against the problems caused by power failures, many solutions are simple, such as using surge protectors or uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). However, regularly inspecting power supply units is a key measure that can often slide to the back burner of tasks. Automating backup power sources and creating alternate communication channels in the event of a network outage can keep you one step ahead of the competition. Check power management logs or system uptime indicators remotely to identify possible power-related issues. If an external smart power source exists, reboot (or power cycle) that device to see if it has an impact on your device. If not, consider reaching out to someone onsite to understand if the location has lost power or if the device was unplugged.

5. Operating System (OS) Issues

Operating system issues rank among the top five drivers of downtime, and they are as critical as they are common. Unlike problems with software applications that run on these devices, operating system issues stem from the underlying platform itself. These can arise due to mismatches in configuration or when version updates lead to incompatibilities with software apps not designed for the updated system. For instance, an application intended for a newer version of Ubuntu Linux may malfunction if the device's operating system isn't updated before the deployment of the software app update, resulting in crashes or incompatibilities. Moreover, devices can experience specific operating system errors, such as BIOS issues on Windows machines, or catastrophic failures like the infamous blue screen of death or perpetual setup loops. 

To mitigate these, it's essential to maintain a 'golden image,' a standard configuration for devices that software updates are measured against to ensure consistency and compatibility. If discrepancies are found, firmware updates and patches should be applied to align the device's base operating system image with the desired state. This preemptive measure is crucial to avoid startup errors and operational disruptions. When dealing with system crashes, remote resolution can be limited. However, employing a smart power redundancy kit can be beneficial. It allows for a hard power cycle, which can resolve issues like the blue screen of death or setup loops about 60% of the time, effectively resetting the device. This approach emphasizes the importance of proactive system management and the right tools to maintain operational continuity.

For a detailed view of data on the most common errors within each of the leading causes of downtime and a specific playbook for issue resolution, download our playbook. 

How Next-Generation RMM Tools Can Automate Remote Troubleshooting

While these remote troubleshooting steps are known to be effective paths to resolution, they can also be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Furthermore, when several devices are down at the same time, the time it takes to troubleshoot manually only extends the overall downtime of other devices your technical support team cannot get to. As hardware and the software running on the end-point devices become more complex, next-generation RMM platforms like Canopy can help automate and expedite the troubleshooting process, providing numerous benefits:

  • Intelligent Alerts: Leverage RMM platforms with smart logic that identifies issues when they occur in real time so that you know about a down device before a customer calls. Smart alerts can minimize the number of false alarms and keep your team focused on genuine issues.
  • Automated issue resolution: Set up automated action workflows based on the known best course of action to implement customized resolution paths based on known troubleshooting steps. These can include easy fixes such as restarting software services or rebooting a device when certain failure codes are reported. This prevents support teams from spending time doing repetitive and manual tasks, as well as enables a more proactive approach when coupled with intelligent alerts. 
  • Software updates and Device lifecycle management: Keep software, operating systems, and firmware up to date to prevent basic software issues and protect peripheral devices from incompatibility. RMMs that can store the “gold configuration” for each device generation can automatically check to ensure a device is aligned with the correct configuration. If the device has drifted, then automated software patches can be deployed to ensure configuration requirements are met.
  • Reporting and analytics: Track device health failure over time to make strategic decisions that drive uptime and shift from a reactive to a proactive approach. Analytics enables technical support teams to quantify the drivers of downtime so that they can report back to product and engineering teams on what needs to be adjusted to improve deployment uptime. This empowers a support team to begin embracing strategic thinking to solve for uptime vs. being in a constant state of firefighting to resolve recurring customer issues. 
  • Remote control as a last resort: Many RMM platforms, like Canopy, have built-in remote desktop access tools. These tools are great for in-depth one-to-one device troubleshooting, however, support teams responsible for large deployments of devices should use remote access and control features only when necessary. Going to a remote desktop session as the first action can continue to drive time-consuming 1:1 device exploration and troubleshooting vs. leveraging automated recovers or bulk actions that impact device uptime.

Machine Downtime is a Preventable Issue 

For remote device network operators and businesses that must manage and maintain hundreds, or even thousands of remote devices for their clients, everything rolls to securing uptime. Having reliable visibility across entire device networks and the ability to see data and alerts all in one place is how savvy businesses leverage technology and software platforms to take a lead over competitors and provide the best experience for clients and their customers. Identifying the root cause is a critical first step in restoring device uptime and availability. But that’s just the first step. To get the device back up and running the fastest, Support Teams can leverage a systematic troubleshooting approach designed to remotely restore device health. This way teams can ensure they’ve tried all possible remote remedies before sending out a site technician or asking the customer for help with physical troubleshooting. We recommend trying the following sequences to remotely restore device health based on the following root causes:

Downtime is a preventable issue. Remote monitoring and management platforms like Canopy cut down on the number of tickets support teams must manage just to keep all network devices up, and can reduce alert fatigue by showing you only the alerts that matter. Better still, Canopy can be used to troubleshoot and automatically fix and self-heal issues before they ever become noticeable to end users.

The constant threat of downtime isn’t going away, but systems like Canopy are giving businesses ever-improving ways to wipe out network management worries and keep devices humming while business scales.

Canopy offers remote monitoring and management solutions that can take the worry of managing complex ecosystems off your shoulders. Reach out for a demo and let us show you how.

Want to see it for yourself? Let's set up a Demo!

Our sandbox environment allows you to experience Canopy and explore how you can tailor our remote monitoring and management platform to your specific needs.

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