How to protect your email from disaster in seven easy steps

With weather conditions worsening in the UK and Europe, most of us have already experienced what many Americans encounter every year – the sight of extreme storms and weather ripping up trees, damaging property, and disrupting transportation and businesses.

From hurricanes, floods and fires to human error, unexpected disaster can take down the entire network of a business in an instant. Unplanned downtime will then cost the company in terms of lessened productivity, strained customer relationships and lost revenue. What is worse, IT managers could lose valuable data for good.

As the winter season sets in, here are seven easy steps to create a robust disaster readiness plan.

1) Classify your systems: It's critical to know which systems you can't live without during a disaster. Both quantitative financial and qualitative impacts need to be measured. Many organisations like to perform a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) to determine the criticality of systems and how fast they need to be recovered, then allocate budget and technology to match the recovery objectives.

2) Agree on an RTO for each system: Once you've classified your systems, it's critical to agree on a recovery time objective (RTO) that meets the needs of each system for the level of classification you've assigned to it. For example: How quickly will the system be working and available after a disaster? We often see communications, CRM, finance, customer-facing and email systems prioritised as Level One, because these are the core business needs that must continue, and efficient communication is critical in the event of a disaster.

3) Implement disaster preparedness: You've classified your systems and agreed to a RTO. The next step is to implement technology and processes that support your goals.

4) Test your systems on a regular basis: You've devised and implemented a great solution, but haven't given it a production test. Don't cross your fingers and hope it works as planned during a disaster. Test it in advance!

5) Fail back: Testing the fail-over capabilities of a continuity solution is only half of the due diligence. What happens if your disaster lasts hours, days or even weeks? And what happens when you try to fail-back to your normal mode of operation?

6) Test for extremes: Too often, we plan continuity for "normal" disasters, such as power outages and hardware failures. But what happens in the case of a natural disaster like storm, flood or fire? Are you confident that you'll be able to safely activate your continuity systems and meet your RTO objectives?

7) Policy enforcement during an outage: Many companies set up all their compliance rules for their primary systems but not their disaster recovery procedure. You cannot ignore the regulatory and policy-based requirements that affect you during an outage. Are your privacy, archiving and compliance policies still being enforced during a disaster?

Are you waiting for disaster to strike your business? Don't - get a head start by following these easy steps to protect your mission critical data today.

Matthew Ravden is chief strategy officer at secure email management specialist Mimecast.