Depending where your business is located, the risk attached natural disasters can vary. To help, here is a survival reference guide to ensure your business can weather any storm. Since it is hurricane season, let's use hurricanes as a point of reference for this guide. Hurricanes and tropical storms wreak havoc through a combination of heavy wind and rain. They may also be accompanied by surging tides that flood that affected area.
Hurricanes and tropical storms impact businesses in the following 3 ways:
Damage to the facility due to high winds, flooding, and objects that become high-speed projectiles capable of smashing through windows, roofs and other structures.
Extended power outages, road closures, and other lasting damages can put a facility out of reach for at least a week.
Regional impact can affect customers, supplies, and business partners - as well as the homes of employees.
On average, a dozen named storms occur along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts each year. Major disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, illustrate the potential damage that can result when these events strike heavy populated areas.
Approaching storms usually have an advance warning as they approach. However, because the paths of the storm are difficult to predict, these warnings can often be false alarms. THis si the reason why some businesses fail to respond to storm warning due to the "Cry Wolf" syndrome.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can put a data center out of commission for a day or longer. All businesses, especially those operating in hurricane-prone areas, should be prepared. Preparation should include the following:
Continuous off-site backup of data and applications.
The ability to restore IT operations in the cloud and/or site in an area less likely to be affected by the storm. This can be areas that are more inland from the coast.
Website posting that alerts customers and partners about storm preparation-along with frequent post-storm updates to track the progress of recovery.
Major storms can affect regions for an extended period of time. Business continuity plans need to include the following:
Availability of a sufficient facility, away from the affected area.
Temporary housing necessary for key employees whose homes are also in the path of the storm.
Internal communications for keeping employees updated on resource availability and recovery status.
Any required third-party contracting for key services, such as shipping & receiving, mail processing, etc.
Aside from making sure their own operations continue uninterrupted in the event of a regional disaster, businesses should be prepared to help their nearby customers and partners to get through the crisis. Planning should include:
Communications with local/regional customers and suppliers who may also be impacted by the storm in advance.
Pre-determined policies regarding turnaround times, invoice processing, scheduled service visits, and other activities affected by the storm.
Direct servicing of customers by supply chain partners, where feasible.
Ten years after Katrina devastated New Orleans, IT pros say being less dependent on physical locations is just one of the keys to ensuring your company doesn’t go out of business when disaster strikes.
It’s hard to be truly prepared to take the full impact of a Category 5 hurricane. Ten years ago, in the case of Hurricane Katrina and the city of New Orleans, there was the added devastation of flooding caused by failed levees. It will hopefully be a very long time before another disaster of that magnitude strikes New Orleans, or any other city for that matter, but organizations still need to be prepared for such an event. As it turns out, the cloud is an ideal tool for managing the risks associated with a hurricane or other natural disaster.
Even prior to Hurricane Katrina it was a security mantra and data protection best practice to ensure at least one backup of crucial data was maintained offsite. The logic being simply that you don’t want your primary data storage and all of your backups to be destroyed in the same hurricane, fire, flood or earthquake.
Offsite backups solve only part of the problem, though, if your servers and data are maintained locally. When disaster strikes and wipes out your primary data, you’ll have to acquire the backup data, deploy and configure new hardware at some secondary location, and restore the data. You’re still looking at days of downtime in a best-case scenario.
Embracing the cloud to reduce risk
The city of New Orleans and businesses like Entergy and DirectNIC that struggled to survive the devastation of Hurricane Katrina learned some valuable lessons. One of the primary caveats when it comes to business continuity is to mitigate risk by embracing the cloud.
Lamar Gardere, director of information technology and innovation for the City of New Orleans, admits that things were still in disarray when the current administration took office in 2010. The IT infrastructure was aging and many of the city’s critical applications were still being run on physical servers.
One of Gardere’s first tasks was to modernize onto a highly virtualized infrastructure to allow for servers to be quickly created, resized and moved from one site to another in the case of a major disaster. “We created a private cloud with the ability to leverage all the same capabilities as you might imagine are available if you were using Amazon’s cloud, for example. This flexibility is at the heart of our disaster recovery capabilities and allows us to quickly transfer/failover services to remote locations,” Gardere says. “During normal times, it also allows us to maximize our infrastructure investment, consolidate IT resources across areas of government, better manage resources remotely and respond more quickly to our customers.”
DirectNIC is one of a few businesses that managed to stay up and running during Katrina – partly a result of being prepared and partly a function of being safely on the 11th floor well above any flood damage. Even DirectNIC learned a thing or two from Hurricane Katrina, though. Vernon Decossas, CEO of DirectNIC explains, “We host our own operations, however, we also have the ability to move our operations onto cloud providers within the span of hours. It’s provided a peace of mind that we can keep our operations going regardless of external issues.”
Gardere also elaborates on the decision to implement a private cloud rather than simply provisioning services from one of the public cloud providers. He notes there are pros and cons to public cloud for any organization and that the city weighed those on a per-application basis to determine the best solution. “The City uses the cloud strategically and where appropriate to take advantage of its convenience while avoiding some of its problems. Perhaps most notably, the City has moved its payroll system to the cloud using ADP, ensuring that this critical but low bandwidth application is available regardless of the state of the City’s IT environment.”
Moving beyond the cloud
Leveraging the cloud and moving critical servers and data to a cloud-based infrastructure will help organizations in New Orleans mitigate risk and maintain business continuity the next time a major natural disaster occurs, but it’s not enough by itself. Beyond the cloud, organizations also must have a clearly defined business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place and have staff that are properly trained to execute it when the time comes.
“Entergy holds yearly storm drills to prepare all of our employees for what may come. We use that time to talk about ‘what ifs’ and come up with solutions to questions posed during the drills,” says Kay Jones, a spokesperson for Entergy. “We use this time to get better at responding and be prepared for any situation that can arise when a storm hits our service territory.”
Gardere stresses the importance of performing regular maintenance on backup equipment that rarely sees use and talked about how the City of New Orleans continues to strive toward more complete testing and monitoring procedures. “We perform semi-annual tests of basic back up functions and hold an annual table-top exercise simulating a hurricane to test strategy execution. We refresh documentation and review roles and responsibilities on an annual basis.”
Live to fight another day
For some companies even the best business continuity and disaster recovery plan won’t help. A local restaurant or the corner gas station can’t just continue operating from the cloud or move to an alternate location. No amount of practicing or preparing will enable such a business to remain operational while it’s literally under water.
Those businesses can still benefit from using cloud-based applications and data storage to ensure those things survive the catastrophe, though, and thankfully most businesses are not that dependent on the specific physical location. By moving critical systems and data to the cloud and practicing to smoothly implement business continuity and disaster recovery procedures organizations can mitigate the risk of the next Katrina-like event and be prepared to continue operations.
Before creating a good business continuity plan, let’s outline the business continuity types, which must be considered when compiling a business continuity plan. The one thing you should really know, which your IT service provider may not clearly define, is that most backup & disaster recovery solutions are simply that – backup & disaster recovery. Though most backup and disaster recovery solutions have their flaws, we will not be discussing that in this article.
Disaster Recovery Solutions
It is probably safe to assume that you have a backup and disaster recovery solution in place. That is a great start, but have you thought about the business continuity plan of the equation? Let’s say for instance you have one server which provides your users with access to files and application(s) on the network. If this server is down due to a hardware failure, and your backup and disaster recovery solution comes through for you, your users on the network will continue to work and access to these files and applications as before the failure. This confirms that your core disaster recovery plan is in place. It should always be tested on a regular basis by your IT provider to ensure its reliability over time.
A Business Continuity Plan
Now, let’s talk about the other possibilities of failures where you will see how a business continuity plan is really different than disaster recovery. As with most companies, you probably have one or more users that really play a key role in your company. What would happen in the case their computer hardware failed? It is unlikely that you have a spare PC, but even if you do, it takes time to configure it for the user, migrate (or restore) their data, install the required applications, and get it ready for the user to get back to work as before. During this downtime, the business is suffering and many business functions may be delayed, not to mention the financial and physical burden on the business. Your backup and disaster recovery solution is unlikely to help you in this case, because the user is not a server, but the business role may be just as important.
Another scenario would be if your company’s location suffers from physical damage by flood, fire, or any other natural or artificial disaster. Again, for the sake of this example, we will assume your backup and disaster recovery is also replicating to the cloud where you can recover your server(s) and expose them to the web. Once these servers have been restored, how will your users access the data on these servers? We have to assume that the location is inaccessible and whether the users are at home, a hotel, or in a temporary location - configuring their computers to get them to a working order will be a challenge and may amount to days or weeks of downtime. We are still only discussing the data part of the business continuity plan, but wow will your users communicate with your customers, vendors, and each other? What will be the physical and financial burden of the business in these cases? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself. Though this is not a situation of data loss, being down for days or weeks can be catastrophic to the survivability of your business.
A Business Continuity Plan is nothing to mess with
Your business data is nothing to mess with - that is why a bullet-proof business continuity plan is necessary. At QWERTY Concepts, we understand the importance of up-time, and the burden downtime has on the business. With this in mind, our internal R&D department has spent years developing, testing, and improving our backup & disaster recovery solutions, cloud disaster recovery solutions, business continuity plans, and cloud computing solutions. With 75% of all businesses in the US being small businesses – QWERTY Concepts focuses on building enterprise-level technology solutions to cater to the majority of America’s businesses.
All businesses need to have an effective business continuity plan in case of some problem with their regular operations. This problem can be anything from a natural disaster to power failure or an accident which may lead to collapse of day to day routine affairs. In the present times, when so much of our work is dependent on IT infrastructure, we should plan for the situations in case this infrastructure breaks down or comes under undue stress. This is exactly the kind of situations for which a business continuity Plan is required. This plan is prepared after an overall review of your entire operations by an expert agency. The experienced personnel who are generally the senior system engineers will evaluate the importance of various operations and data processes and then prepare an alternative strategy to be adopted in case of their failure. Such a plan is very important for the quick revival and continuity of operations which may otherwise take a lot of time to recover and come back to normal.
Apart from being an operational necessity and a good working practice, a business continuity plan may be also be required for statutory purposes. More and more insurance companies and contractors are demanding that the businesses should have an effective business continuity plan in place which takes over in case of any kind of breakdown and hence the continuation of services is maintained. There are many ways to go about preparing this plan. However the best way would be to hire a professionally Managed IT Services NJ company who has experience and expertise to handle such projects. Select a few of such listed companies and you can then ask them to give you a quote of the estimated cost of setting up and managing such a plan. Do look at the experience of the shortlisted companies and if it is possible, you may also review some of their completed assignments to see the level of coverage that they are providing.
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