Disaster recovery is a familiar topic for most information-intensive businesses. Disaster recovery is so familiar, in fact, that many businesses have been doing it the same way for years.
The typical recovery scenario: retrieve backed-up data on tapes from remote sites, rush them to data centers where some disaster or occurrence has destroyed or corrupted operational data, rebuild operating systems and reload data. With a little bit of luck and a lot of perspiration, in two or three days the business may be back to something approaching normal. Normal, that is, if it can cope with the fact that the data being used for its restored applications will now be at least two or three days old.
Are these typical disaster recovery efforts enough today? For many businesses, the answer is no. Because of the crucial nature of today’s data, many businesses are now turning to the notion of business continuity, a strategy that involves implementing plans to continue business operations, no matter what kind of man-made or natural disruption occurs.
Business Continuity Defined
According to the Yankee Group, business continuity is a strategy that outlines plans and procedures to keep business operations — including production, sales and marketing, finance, administration and other essential corporate functions — operational following all potential disruptions.
In contrast, disaster recovery is a series of tools and strategies to minimize IT infrastructure downtime, the key ones being strategies for preserving data by planned backups and remote storage of backed-up data. Obviously, if you don’t have a disaster recovery strategy, you can’t even begin to think of business continuity.
Reducing the time that a business function is offline is a goal of business continuity solutions today. For business functions supported by the IT infrastructure, that goal has been made much more attainable by advances in storage networking technology.
Until recently, most business continuity plans focused on data in servers and mainframes. But it has become clear that the larger corporate IT and communications infrastructure must be considered as well, including voice and wireless traffic, e-mail and physical assets such as work spaces and network infrastructures.
In a nutshell, disaster recovery strategies involve:
The broader scope of business continuity involves:
As a working definition, we can say that the IT infrastructure element of business continuity is an enterprisewide set of technologies and processes that ensures the flow of information whenever and wherever it is needed to keep a business operating.
Other requirements include scalability to allow for growth, flexibility to accommodate change, and high-performance, fault-tolerant networks capable of rapid movement of data across significant distances.
Business continuity is an important topic and is getting serious attention in management suites and boardrooms today. Several factors are driving this heightened interest.
One factor is the increasing financial impact of data disruptions in the information-intensive 24×7 electronic environments in which many businesses operate. Some businesses today depend on 100 percent data availability to keep business-critical functions operating.
The same is true for planned outages involving systems or network upgrades. The price for such downtime is just too steep. This includes not only idle employees and lost revenues, but also damaged credibility with customers and the loss of future business-setbacks that can dramatically depress stock prices and take months to recover from.
Another factor is technology, which drives lower communication costs and advances in storage networking. These advances have made it both feasible and affordable to move large amounts of data over long distances via existing networks without reducing the availability of those networks for day-to-day operations.
For example, disk mirroring over IP allows operational data to be mirrored to remote locations in real time over the kinds of IP-based networks many businesses already have in place.
Other storage-networking advancements, including network-based intelligence and support for heterogeneous tiered storage architectures, provide new, cost-effective alternatives for local or remote data replication.
Heightened Risk Awareness
The third factor driving the interest in business continuity is the increased awareness that the risks of business disruptions are greater than ever.
Not so long ago it might have seemed inconceivable that an act of terrorism could bring the world’s greatest financial institutions to a standstill, or that federal office buildings and network television headquarters would have to be evacuated and closed for weeks due to terrorism threats. Unfortunately, September 11, 2001, was a cruel and painful reminder that in today’s world, vigilance — when it comes to protecting essential corporate assets — is more important than ever.
Business continuity strategies require an investment — sometimes a substantial one. Traditional return on investment (ROI) measures apply in business continuity strategies, but they require that a business understand the direct financial impact, as well as the longer-term impacts, of business disruptions — a metric many businesses haven’t fully explored. This further complicates the task of determining a return on investment for business continuity expenditures.
There is one clear metric, however, that everyone understands — the cost of downtime. What would an hour of downtime cost your business?
If you’re in financial services, it could be as high as $6.5 million. Across all businesses, the average cost of an hour of downtime has been estimated at $330,000. One consulting firm puts the figure closer to $1 million.
Multiply that by the 48 to 72 hours traditional disaster recovery plans require for the full restoration of data, and you begin to understand why businesses are looking past disaster recovery and are focusing on business continuity strategies.
Clearly, the financial impact of business disruptions for many companies dwarfs the expense of business continuity strategies. Less easy to measure but obviously important are the effects of idle employees, angry and lost customers, damaged reputations, missed opportunities, lawsuits and financial settlements, and depressed stock prices.
The costs of system outages can only be expected to grow, because almost all businesses have become increasingly dependent on their systems, software, and data. Manufacturing businesses, for example, cannot operate without ERP applications running their just-in-time operations. And e-mail has become more critical than the phone for virtually all businesses.
It’s very common for companies in the disaster recovery business to boast about the number of nines of availability they can guarantee (e.g., 99.9 percent, 99.99 percent, etc.). However, remember that uptime of 99 percent translates into 3.5 days of downtime per year, while 99.99 percent uptime translates into 8 hours — one full business day — of downtime per year.
Therefore, the objective today for many businesses is to shoot for 100 percent uptime. This would imply there’s no time available for planned changes or preventive maintenance, both of which are essential in any customer-focused organization. Therefore an objective of many businesses is to perform these tasks while the business applications keep running.
Yesterday’s strategies for disaster recovery have become ineffective in dealing with the risks and exposure of businesses in today’s world.
Business continuity, once a luxury available to only a select few companies, is now a fundamental strategy for success in IT-supported business. This strategy, which outlines plans and procedures to restore business operations as quickly as possible, is driven by advances in technology, heightened risk awareness, and the rising costs of downtime.
Patty Barkley, Storage Networking Marketing Director, joined CNT in December 1999 and has more than 16 years of professional experience in sales and marketing of storage networking solutions.