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Ensure Business Continuity with Graceful Degradation

Learn how to ensure business continuity with graceful degradation. Explore web development strategies to minimize failures and disruptions between browser versions.

In today's fast-paced and interconnected world, businesses rely heavily on technology to ensure smooth operations and continuity. However, even the most robust systems can encounter unexpected issues that can cause disruptions and potentially impact the bottom line.

In such scenarios, it's essential to have a plan in place that enables businesses to maintain operations and continue delivering services to customers.

One such plan is "graceful degradation," which allows businesses to prioritize critical functions and services and reduce the impact of electronic system failures.

All modern businesses have to deal with technology, and depending on your industry and business model, technology can represent a significant chunk of your total resources.

Because of that, any business strategy has to take those resources into account, and staying on top of technological needs can be expensive and challenging.

There are strategies that can help with these challenges, and one of them is known as graceful degradation. It’s a different approach to technology planning and management, and it might help you save money without sacrificing the key elements that make your business great.

What is graceful degradation?

To put it as simply as possible, graceful degradation is a strategy to optimize tech performance across a range of operating systems.

Specifically, it involves looking for areas where you can allow performance to drop a little in order to save money on web designers/site design and upkeep.

The most prominent example is websites and web development.

With graceful degradation, you would design your website to work very well with modern browsers, and you would allow some losses in functionality for users who stick to older browsers with basic features.

In this example, you try to boost overall site traffic while allowing some aspects of the user experience to suffer. Overall, everyone is expected to have a baseline experience (consistent with progressive enhancement), but the overall user experience is not uniform across browser versions.

But, the concept can apply to computer hardware, a large-scale computer network, and just about anything else in the tech space.

What’s the difference between graceful degradation and complete failure?

The primary differences are in the names. When multiple components fail (and it breaks everything) it is considered a complete failure. You get no basic functionality at all. With graceful degradation, the loss of a component limits the electronic system, but it can limp along.

In this case, the philosophy of graceful degradation is applied to system redundancy. Say you have a group of servers that run your web page and its functions and modern features.

The idea is that you could lose a whole server, and the site wouldn’t go offline. Web page speed might go down, or mobile users might have a worse experience, but the whole site doesn’t fail. That’s graceful degradation.

Why should you implement a graceful degradation approach?

While that might sound like an interesting idea, is it really right for your business? What do you stand to gain from implementing graceful degradation?

Well, there are a lot of ways to go about it (which will be discussed later). Because of that, there is a wide range of potential benefits, and they’re worth considering.

Avoid complete system failures

This is the big thing. Disasters and unexpected events happen. Even with expected degradation, you want internet users (or customers) to be able to access your resources. Graceful degradation ensures that no single event or problem can take all of your resources offline.

This makes it easier to maintain productivity during disasters. It also ensures that many internet users are never left completely unhelped. Generically speaking, partial losses are better than total losses.

Maintain business continuity

Graceful degradation is particularly useful in disaster recovery. If part of your operating system is compromised, for any reason, you are not completely dysfunctional. Aspects of the business can continue to operate while you work to restore full functionality.

A few cases where this is extremely important would include electronic attacks, natural disasters, or the sudden loss of business partners.

Enhanced user experience

For obvious reasons, you want to avoid a total disruption of business systems. Your customers rely on you for products and/or services, and in the case of total failure of existing browsers, you can’t provide what they need.

The partial failure in a graceful degradation system prevents customers from losing everything they want from you, which is good for their general experience.

This is especially important in cases of planned obsolescence.

Using the website example, if such users with older browsers can still access your site with limited functionality, then you maintain a broader customer base, and the overall experience is better. Meanwhile, people who use modern browsers get to enjoy a responsive design.

Increased operational efficiency

Graceful degradation can help you identify the areas that need more or less overall technical power. Your business-critical systems often need the most powerful hardware.

Meanwhile, you can identify areas that will function fine when run by older systems.

This allows you to make your overall design more efficient with the hardware you already possess.


This is where we can really get into the ideas of planned obsolescence. Mobile devices in your current system will eventually degrade and fail. It’s inevitable.

Graceful degradation accounts for this, and it helps you form a plan to deal with that degradation in ways that are efficient. You can identify failure points that don’t matter as much, and you can minimize how much you invest in supporting those parts of your system.

That allows you to reallocate resources to make your critical systems more robust. You get better longevity from the same spending. It’s more cost-effective.

How to implement graceful degradation

While graceful degradation has a lot to offer most modern businesses, the benefits don’t exactly explain how to actually use the philosophy. For that, you can turn to a step-by-step guide.

The steps below are generalized — they should prove useful no matter your industry. You can think of them as a strategy guide to help you think about a specific graceful degradation plan for your own business.

Identify critical business processes

It’s the first step. Figure out which pieces of the system break everything. Do you have a single server that holds all of your financial data? Can the business operate if that server goes down? You may have just spotted where you need redundancy.

The whole point of graceful degradation is reinforcing the critical points while you let other areas degrade. You have to identify the critical points for this ideology to work.

Determine the acceptable level of degradation

Once you shore up the multiple components, you can focus on the degradation part of this whole idea. This is where you carefully consider what amount of failure is acceptable. How many specific parts of your system can go offline before you feel like your business is performing at an unacceptable level?

It’s a hard question to answer, but you need to find the points where degradation is acceptable, and you need to set lines as to how much degradation you want to allow.

Create a plan for graceful degradation

From there, you can create a plan of action. This is where you actually allocate your resources. You spend the money to reinforce the critical components. And, you publish rules (probably just internally) governing planned degradation.

You’re not going to replace the shared office printer until it disrupts business too much. You’re also defining the point where that disruption is too much.

Write out your plan, and follow it. This is the bulk of implementing your graceful degradation

Test and monitor the implementation

Things don’t stop with planning. To ensure that you follow the plan over the long haul, you need to test and monitor your system.

Keep an eye on the systems that are planned to degrade. The goal is to notice unacceptable failure before it occurs. With that, you can stay just ahead of your degradation cycle. You get to reap the benefits, but you avoid excessive degradation that hurts the bottom line.

Strategies for graceful degradation

Up to this point, you’ve been reading about graceful degradation, what it can do for you, and how to go about planning and implementing it. Next, we can talk about some overarching strategies. These are generalized ways to think about graceful degradation to help you identify valuable focal points in your own planning.

Load balancing and traffic shaping

This strategy focuses on communication resources, so let’s use your web page as an example. Customers utilize the web page, so you want it to show up on search engines and be accessible.

If your web pages or website infrastructure degrades, how does that impact the load and traffic capacity? How much traffic are you willing to lose for the sake of your degradation plan? Are those metrics different for mobile or desktop browser versions of the site?

This strategy focuses on traffic numbers as a guiding metric for degradation planning.

Caching and content delivery networks

Caching and content delivery strategies are similar to load balancing and traffic shaping, but the key metrics revolve around data management, rather than user interactions.

How much data is flowing through the network? What amount of degradation is acceptable?

The principles aren’t changing — only the key focus metrics.

Prioritizing essential services

With this strategy, it’s all about failure points. The goal is to ensure that any service deemed essential is functional and robust. When you consider various degradation scenarios, all of them keep the essential services running.

In this case, you aren’t planning around numerical metrics. Your absolute priority is the identified essential services.

Redundancy and failover systems

This aspect of graceful degradation starts to focus on disaster and recovery. You’re building around redundancy (which will depend on identified essential systems). In other words, you’re figuring out which systems need robust backups and which can be allowed to completely fail without exceeding your degradation limits.

With this plan, the majority of your resources are aimed at critical redundancies over anything else.

Maintain business continuity in the face of unforeseen events

There are a lot of ways to think about graceful degradation. When you consider it carefully, you will likely find that there is a version of the strategy that works for your operation.

Implementing graceful degradation is essential for businesses to ensure continuity and maintain operations in the event of operating system failures.

By prioritizing critical functions and operating systems and reducing the impact of failures, businesses can minimize disruptions and continue delivering services to customers.

While modern browsers and mobile devices offer better performance and reliability, it's important to ensure that the systems and services are accessible and functional across a range of platforms and mobile devices, including older browsers.

By following best practices and using appropriate tools, businesses can ensure that their services remain reliable and accessible, even in challenging situations and continue to meet the needs of their customers.

When it comes to detailing and implementing the plan, you want access to tools and resources that can help. For that, you can turn to Mailchimp.

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