Planning for disaster recovery: what are you still waiting for?

A few months ago, on the two hottest days of the year, there were significant outages in two major data centres in Docklands, which affected internet usage as well as several major providers. Organisations with an effective disaster recovery plan bounced back and carried on ‘business as usual’ instantly. However, others without a strategy were thrown offline and into disarray as a result of the power failure; most likely only returning to full connectivity hours after the power outage. In that time organisations can suffer huge profit losses, and can be faced with disgruntled customers tweeting of their frustration.

In fact a recent report found that many organisations only increase IT spending on cloud computing after a system failure. But why are organisations only waiting until the damage is done to develop a strategy? Waiting for an unexpected natural disaster to hit, or a system failure triggered by human error, will ultimately result in a greater cost to any organisation. The challenge is that disaster is always the situation that companies aren’t expecting. While there is no definitive answer that will solve all fiascos, taking a proactive approach can help to avoid being caught out.

Arming all workers

Within a company structure, there are two fundamental distinctions between employees in the work force: at the highest level, there are process workers and knowledge workers. Process workers require equipment to complete daily tasks that are normally tied to a specific location. For example, the majority of retail workers need a till to process transactions. If a flood hits one store, this can often be offset by moving staff to another location, assuming the retailer has multiple stores in the area.

The least disruptive – but least cost-effective - option for process workers is to set up a standby office which can be kitted out with the appropriate apparatus for employees to do their day-to-day job. Of course you can’t always do this – setting up two identical factories just doesn’t make sense, especially if you’re only ever going to use one of them! It’s much easier to mitigate the risk of a disaster that affects a location by making it less likely to happen – not building your factory on a flood-plain for example. However, IT disasters can strike anywhere, as with the recent card reader glitch which affected tills at a number of Asda stores across the UK, forcing some to close.

Knowledge workers, such as CEOs, engineers and regional managers generally need to be able to do their role wherever they are and therefore are easier to plan for. They will typically already have a mobile phone and laptop to ensure working outside of the office building isn’t a problem. Investing in this equipment – and other tools that make communication easier - doesn’t just help these people be productive, it also automatically provides a business continuity capability. And utilising technologies such as Unified Communications will improve productivity and reduce travel costs as well. 

Moving to the cloud

More and more businesses are moving their systems to the cloud, which can dramatically improve security, reliability and availability. Many organisations historically installed their PBX systems in dusty, unventilated broom cupboards, or in the basement which could get flooded – moving to a datacentre, or into the cloud will automatically give a significant improvement in availability. But there are other considerations to be taken into account as well. 

For example, when considering migration to the cloud the issue of data sovereignty comes to the fore. There are a number of rules surrounding data protection in the EU as part of the new EU-US Privacy Shield framework. Following Britain’s exit from the EU, the UK government will likely need to adopt a similar agreement with the US and EU. With this in mind, businesses should plan carefully to ensure their cloud systems and data are protected and compliant.

Some companies choose to use cloud solely as a backup option and on a pay-as-you-go scheme. Setting a server up to run systems from the cloud on an “if needed” basis prepares businesses for a number of data eventualities. It is a reliable, cheap and reasonably secure disaster recovery strategy. It’s distributed, offsite nature also makes the cloud a prime candidate for a more proactive disaster recovery plan. By only using it when necessary, it allows for a secure virtual storage facility, and keeps costs under control.

Each business is different so it’s important to understand what solutions can provide adequate protection for your specific needs. The suggestions above are a starting point, but well worth trying to envisage across your own business model and to apply where appropriate. Don’t make the same mistake as others by waiting until disaster strikes to explore your options. A proactive disaster recovery plan is just good business sense – and while we all hope it will never be needed, I sleep better at night knowing my company has one in place.