6 ways to maintain business continuity during natural disasters

Record breaking rainfall and strong winds characterise Storm Desmond. The storm has led to the suspension of hundreds of rail services, flooding, power cuts and landslides across the country.

During such a major incident, IT teams will be under pressure to ensure that businesses continue to service clients and function at full capacity.

Datto, a company that provides business continuity solutions to more than five million customers and thousands of partners worldwide, has experience of keeping businesses running during the severest weather episodes. Based on this expertise, we understand that severe weather conditions can affect local businesses’ livelihoods if IT systems go down and prevent them running as normal.

Here we explore risks from our Ultimate Disaster Recovery Checklist and provide an overview of lessons learned based on our work with partners and customers, who have weathered many natural and human made disasters.

1. Understand the threat landscape

Winter storms, ransomware viruses and fires are only some of many real threats for which all businesses should proactively prepare. Your IT department needs a full understanding of all of the threats likely to hit your building, communications room or servers in order to help prepare for the worst. This can be done by assessing risks based on the location and accessibility of your data centres, as well as any malicious attacks that could occur.

When planning to mitigate a disaster, treat every incident as unique – a local fire may affect one machine, whereas human error may lead to the deletion of entire servers.

2. Set goals for recovery

While some companies assume they are protected in the wake of a disaster if they duplicate their data, many learn the hard way that their backup stopped functioning during a disaster or their data is inaccessible afterwards. The IT team needs to define criteria for recovery time objectives (RTO), or how long your business can continue to run without access to your data, and recovery point objectives (RPO), which is the maximum age of data that will still be useful to back up. The IT team will also need to identify critical systems and prioritise recovery tasks.

3. Determine the level of support necessary to achieve these goals

Employees can cost you thousands of pounds in downtime by losing critical data at the press of a few buttons, whether they do so intentionally or not. Determine the most appropriate recovery procedure for your business, whether that’s a file restore solution, local virtualisation, off-site virtualisation or partnering with a cloud provider for backup.

4. Don’t ignore the benefits of cloud economics when considering your BC strategy

If you don’t want to build out a separate physical data protection site, then consider partnering with a cloud provider who can offer the best support possible for your IT department’s Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery strategy, given their geographical location, performance capabilities and support offerings. Some look to focus on backup and data protection by offering a purpose-built cloud. This is something to consider should these be among your goals for recovery.

5. Create the best approach to secure apps

Some of your business’ most critical data likely lives across a mix of hardware and software, or in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. For example, you might use Salesforce for CRM. Using apps like Salesforce might seem effortless, but they actually pose huge risks for your data. Reducing the risk of data loss by ensuring your apps are protected is essential, especially if another disastrous winter storm occurs any time soon.

6. Continuously assess your Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery strategy

Combating data loss and downtime is easier with a comprehensive strategy that should be tested frequently, as you prepare for likely scenarios. Critical questions to ask are: Which weather-related incidents are common in your area? Which projects do you consider a priority should downtime occur? While you can’t always predict what’s going to happen, you can prepare for the probabilities. By assessing these potential problems, you can help your team choose the best backup strategy.

Planning for disasters – weather-related or otherwise – is simple once you assess your risk landscape and goals for disaster recovery.

Through careful planning and an understanding of the worst-case scenarios, you can disseminate a comprehensive Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery strategy across your organisation, continually evolving as you learn from mistakes.

Andrew Stuart, MD EMEA at Datto

Image source: Shutterstock/Tom Wang