About ten years ago, my brother Manuel and I were perfecting our Zero Downtime strategy for migrating Windows servers. Part of that process is something Manuel coined the “Golden Hours” for tech support. This concept worked so well that we’ve integrated it into our daily Managed Service operations. Here’s how it works.
The need for “Golden Hours” comes from our commitment to work normal business hours and still provide great tech support. Our industry makes it very easy to work all night, connecting into servers all over the place, and billing labor while others sleep. But that’s not a good choice for your personal life, or for your employees’ personal lives.
So we wanted to define some times when we could do those pesky things that need to be done, but interfere with the client’s enjoyment of their server. For example, sometimes you need to take a database offline in order to apply a patch or simply restart a service. If people are working in the middle of the day, you need to kick them all off the system. That’s not convenient.
Golden Hours are those magical times when you can reboot services, stop services, and do the inconvenient chores without inconveniencing the client. Most clients have three Golden Hours on a typical work day: The hour before their office opens, lunch time, and the hour after their office closes.
For example, let’s say a client’s standard work hours are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Their Golden Hours are
We always give advance warning if we’re going to reboot a server anywhere near these hours, but generally speaking, these are the times when we can do that disruptive work and not affect our SLA (service level agreement) for downtime.
This does require that you change your schedule a bit. Someone from your company has to have work hours that are an hour earlier or an hour later in the day to accommodate this. We have never found this to be a problem. Some people like coming in early and going home at four. Others like working later and sleeping in.
Adjusting schedules allows you to use technicians at particularly productive times of day without going into overtime. Even if you pay a salary and not hourly, employees appreciate it when you respect their personal time and limit work to normal hours.
You can’t assume that these hours work for everyone. Some people work through lunch, or simply have to stay open during the lunch hour. Some bosses love to get in early and enjoy productive quiet time. Taking their Exchange server offline is not a good idea.
We always maintain information about after-hours contact with our clients. For example, if there’s an emergency, who will we call, and in what order? We maintain first, second, and third phone number for first, second, and third contacts. That’s a good idea for any clients.
Now we keep track of the Golden Hours for each client. Some are 6:00 AM – 7:00 AM instead of 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM. Some have a movable lunch hour. Some take off one day a week – so we get eight Golden Hours.
The point is, every client is different and the Golden Hours will be different. You should keep this information in your PSA, or perhaps on your SharePoint. Wherever you keep the after-hours contact information, keep this as well.
It is also a great idea to note how long it takes a server to reboot. On servers with lots of things going on (such as a Small Business Server, or any server with SQL and just about anything else), the reboot process could be thirty minutes or more. You need to know this information in order to make sure your work stays inside the Golden Hours. Generally speaking, we won’t reboot a server any time after 7:30 AM if the client expects to be in the office at 8:00 AM.
Minor “blips” such as restarting services can be completed in five minutes, so they’re less of an issue. And some services can be restarted any time and clients won’t notice. Your technicians should know which services can be restarted any time and which need to be restarted during Golden Hours.
Obviously, having a great remote management tool such as MAXfocus will make this entire process easier. In addition to simple remote access, you can schedule reboots way outside the Golden Hours. Obviously, you’ll schedule patches to be applied after hours.
If you have an outsourced helpdesk, you need to coordinate Golden Hours with them as well. Very often, they are reluctant to perform disruptive tasks on client machines within a couple hours of the workday, which is good. With a formalized Golden Hours process, you can let them work right up to the start of business and jump in immediately at the close of business.
Again, you will need to communicate with the client. Murphy’s Law says that the one day you just jump in and take down a system, the client will have scheduled an important meeting for seven in the morning! So use the Golden Hours wisely.
As for communication, we generally tell rather than ask. In other words, we’ll send an email that says, “Unless you have objections, we are planning to take the Exchange server offline from 7 to 7:30 tomorrow morning. We need to perform some maintenance. Thank you.”
If we hear nothing from the client, we schedule the work. This gives them an opportunity to raise their hand and ask for a delay if needed.
The “Golden Hours” are a great example of adding a level of professionalism to your business. So many technicians show up at a client’s office and want to reboot the server right then. Clients hate that. They might not mention it to you, but they’ll mention it to the guy who replaces you.
Clients love to see that you have formalized processes that take into account their business needs. After all, you’re there to serve them, not to inconvenience them. Make the collection of Golden Hours information part of your client on-boarding process and I’ll bet your next client will be impressed – impressed enough to say, “We’ve never had anybody ask this before.”