4 Steps to Simplified Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
May 20, 2010 5:00 AM PT
No company can afford to have a disaster disrupt its business. Despite this, the opportunity and technology costs of a feasible disaster recovery plan have traditionally been too high for the masses to properly plan for and ensure continuity.
However, recent advancements in infrastructure and the proliferation of technology have made BC/DR less about the technology and more about developing, communicating, and executing a good plan -- making it more accessible for the average business.
Still, many companies don't know where to begin. Whether you're thinking about developing a BC/DR plan, or already have one on paper, keep these points in mind to make your plan more bulletproof.
1. Prevent the Disaster in the First Place
"That's a disaster waiting to happen," is not something you want to hear in your data center or while examining your business's core infrastructure. All too often, when visiting prospects, I see an old desktop on the floor serving as one of the company's core servers. Sure, it's easy to deploy, but it truly is a disaster in the making.
One of the most basic, yet overlooked aspects of BC/DR is ensuring your infrastructure is housed in a clean, safe environment with limited access to ensure maximum uptime. Making initial investments here, so you can start with a stable and clean infrastructure, will enable you to plan for and respond to the more important disasters, rather than dealing with interruptions that could have easily been prevented.
The upfront investments are minimal compared to the amount of downtime that can be caused by a failed hard drive or power supply, or even someone tripping over a power or network cord because of a disorderly setup.
In addition, invest in devices such as Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) or redundant hard drives in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) configuration to protect your organization's computers, data center, and other equipment in the event of disruptions to your power supply.
2. Start Small
While giving a tour of a central office in a large carrier hotel, a prospect asked me, "What is your DR plan if the building blows up?" Given that the building we were in houses around 90 percent of the telecommunications connectivity for the city and surrounding area, I steadfastly looked at him and replied, "If that happens, I'm moving to Kansas, because nothing will work in this city."
It's easy to get wrapped up in the planning of doomsday scenarios that might impact your business. However, it's the smaller everyday disasters, such as power or service outages, failed equipment, or lost or corrupted data that are more likely to impact your business' productivity.
While major disasters occasionally happen and shouldn't be overlooked, start by preparing for the day-in and day-out events that face your business. Start with one focused scenario and plan it out entirely. Document, review and communicate the plan to everyone within the organization.
Most importantly, stage a test of your plan to make sure it is effective. Identify ways to save time or improve it, and ensure everyone is comfortable with the process. Train multiple people in the response plan, in the event that a key decision maker is not available at the time of disaster.
Once this process is complete, if the plan proves practical, apply it to different scenarios and disruptions. Your organization's response to larger or longer-term disaster scenarios will be a culmination of the smaller response scenarios you have created.
3. Take the Human Out of Human Intervention
Once you have developed and communicated the BC/DR template to your team, take a step back and determine its feasibility. One scenario plays out like this:
- Bob takes a tape backup home every night. Last week, your database was corrupted, and you need a tape from two weeks ago to restore the database. Unfortunately, Bob is now away on vacation and the needed tape is inaccessible, sitting on his counter at home.
Many logistical issues can be avoided by removing the human intervention factor from your BC/DR plan. Consider services such as electronic data backup and recovery, which lets you securely back up data to an offsite location and then restore that data to the same or a different location depending on your needs.
Authorize multiple people in your organization to access the service to ensure the function can be performed in the absence of an individual. Electronic data backup and recovery services also eliminate your business' reliance on an antiquated technology, such as tape backup, and nullify the tape jockeying duties that usually aren't performed regularly anyway.
4. Move to a Cloud Near You
You might want to consider enlisting an outside provider to assist in BC/DR planning and execution. Service and cloud providers use redundant and scalable platforms that typically would not be cost-effective for a lone enterprise to implement on its own.
Also, check with your current technology vendors. It's possible the technology services you're already using have BC/DR capabilities of which you're not aware.
For example, email defense services that scan your email for viruses or spam might also offer a queuing service that, in the event of a failed email server, queues your email until the server is restored. It can provide you with a Web page, so each of your users can view their queued emails and continue communication with key constituents.
Another example: A standard feature of hosted PBX services lets employees forward phone calls to their cellphones after a determined number of rings. Since the PBX resides in the cloud (not the company headquarters), the call forwarding would still occur even if a disaster were to take out the organization's primary office.
Whether you choose to develop your plan internally, or outsource some or all of your IT functions, BC/DR planning should not be a chore. Aim to achieve small successes with one process or product, and build from there. As you test and train, the next logical step will fall into place. Like all major technology decisions, do your due diligence and find out what makes the most sense for your company's unique business requirements.
Joseph Pedano is vice president of data engineering for Evolve IP, a Communications as a Service (CaaS) provider.