Don't get burned -- Put some SPF 50 on your business continuity/disaster recovery plan

Your bags are packed, you checked them twice, yet at some point the thought will still cross your mind – "Am I forgetting something?"

On vacation, forgetting your sunscreen may lead to a painful burn, but forgetting key components of an organization's business continuity (BC)/disaster recovery (DR) plan hurts a lot more. Overlooking even one item can weaken your entire network and mean significant losses in revenue and productivity.

Companies fail the business continuity challenge

In addition to sun burns, this time of the year often means hurricanes, tornados, severe thunderstorms, flooding and other network-threatening events. Whatever the cause of a major disruption to your network, don't waste time playing catch-up. Small and midsized businesses (SMB) should have a more methodical process than the common mental check list used for packing for a vacation. A well-managed and tested BC/DR plan will help prevent costly downtime and reduce inconvenience to workers.

Whether you are just getting started or refreshing an outdated plan, there is something to help SMBs make sure they are covered – running a business impact analysis. A BIA can help define key BC/DR needs. Even better, often times a trusted technology partner can provide assistance, running the analysis and delivering an objective assessment of what your organization needs to survive – literally and figuratively.

So what exactly is a BIA? A BIA is a breakdown of the potential risks and real vulnerabilities an organization is facing, and it provides direction for minimizing and mitigating the risks before they become a real problem. More so, it identifies the components of an organization's infrastructure that have the greatest business impact – making it clear which components require greater attention when it comes to allocating budget and other resources for BC/DR plans. (Microsoft vs. VMware: Who's better at disaster recovery?)

As with any new technology implementation, it is important to involve business stakeholders from the start of the BC/DR planning process, to understand their business priorities and help them understand the full repercussions of downtime. Fortunately, a BIA makes this easy; the analysis provides tangible, clear figures on what an outage or disruption may cost in lost revenue, productivity, equipment and so on. This information is invaluable in selling non-IT management on a new or increased investment in business continuity and disaster recovery measures.

You have read it in other "Talking Tech" articles on various topics, but it is worth mentioning again – SMBs typically cite purchase and transition costs as the main deterrent to adopting or adding a new technology, and this still rings true when it comes to developing and implementing BC/DR plans. There are always other clear, short-term needs to compete for the time and budget a BC/DR plan may claim. This is where the BIA's key findings can back up the requests for new technologies and help businesses see the big picture. It is important for business leaders to understand the true costs of poor planning or no planning.

SMBs should considering the following questions: What do we need and why do we need it? Through a third-party BIA from a trusted, vendor-neutral technology partner, SMBs can help management pinpoint the holes they need to fill and locate the vulnerabilities they need to reinforce. The question, "Why now?" will inevitably come, and the BIA will provide answers and hard numbers that demonstrate necessity What are the consequences/costs? It all comes back to the bottom line. Like all other organizations, SMBs are interested in avoiding revenue loss and reducing the time required to recover from an IT interruption. Through the BIA, the business case for upgrades or additions to the BC/DR plan can be explained and justified in dollars and cents

The bags are packed, but how do we get there?

The business impact analysis identified needs. Management is on board with a new and/or improved BC/DR plan and you are ready to go. But, what now? The steps for implementation and the chosen solutions should fit your unique situation. Fortunately, there are many good options to consider that will help get you where you need to go:

 Take steps to protect data: You should back up data frequently to ensure data integrity and applications are still accessible in an emergency situation. You should also store multiple copies of data off site, at a remote location, a long distance from the primary data center. To save money, something as simple as using more disc-based storage or a newer technology, such as cloud, can cut costs by pushing back the timeline for backup data you are converting to tape for long-term storage. That means you use less tape, and less storage space is necessary over the near term

 Consider the cloud: The cloud is quickly becoming a more affordable option for SMBs, as are software as a service (SaaS) and hosted/managed services (HMS). With all three, technologies necessary for adequate BC/DR capability are available on an as-needed basis. SMBs can access these options without the complexity and costs associated with buying new equipment, the leasing/purchasing and upkeep of an additional facility and the IT staff necessary to keep everything up and running.

A major benefit that SMBs and decision makers are realizing is the "not my problem" nature of cloud and HMS. SMBs can map out the service-level agreements (SLA) that meet the requirements identified by the business impact analysis, and then the technology partner assumes the contractual risk of keeping the systems current, secure, tested and reliable

 Co-location is also an option: For SMBs looking to keep things somewhat in-house, many technology partners offer collocation facilities where space is available without the commitment or cost associated with construction or purchase. Even if you're looking to have your own physical space, it does not have to be the equivalent of a five-star hotel – facilities are available to meet the varying demands of each organization

 Leverage a mobile workforce: Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many organizations lost access to reliable telecommunications equipment for days. Alternative communication vehicles, including wireless phones and satellite phones, should be included in most BC/DR plans. Additionally, SMBs should build maximum possible workforce mobility into their plans. Start by identifying business-critical positions, then train and equip those employees to telework, even if they do not telework regularly today. That said, it is also important to create a telecommunications back-up plan to deliver the additional bandwidth required if a significant portion of the workforce is suddenly working remotely during a network interruption

 Review power needs: Redundant power and cooling are also crucial aspects of any BC/DR plan. Organizations should, at a minimum, add uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) to keep the most essential applications running long enough to enable a smooth, loss-free shutdown. Quickly growing SMBs should factor expansion into planning and ensure critical UPS units will be able to support increasing power needs. In addition, many SMBs should support cooling systems with backup generators. Temperature spikes in an uncooled data center can cause unplanned interruptions when operations are most critical

Just as every disaster scenario is unique, there is no single BC/DR solution that will work for every business. Resources and build-to-fit solutions are readily available, and you should not hesitate to contact your trusted technology partner or even consult their industry counterparts to make sure your list is cohesive and you are properly prepared.

Further, crisis planning is a cross-functional process, with the goal that every person in the organization knows what to do in the event of an emergency. Whether you are just getting started or you have a BC/DR plan in place, it is vital to test your crisis plan regularly – including the communications within the organization as well as the capability of the telecommunications and data infrastructure.

Don't wait until you get burned to put on the sun screen – reevaluate your plan now, and don't let a mishap get in the way of your summer vacation.

Godlewski is manager of Server/Storage Solution Architects at CDW.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

This story, "Don't get burned -- Put some SPF 50 on your business continuity/disaster recovery plan" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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