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The best offense in a disaster is a good defense

(Image credit: Image Credit: alphaspirit / Shutterstock)

Hurricane Harvey and Irma’s destructive paths along the coastlines of Texas and Florida are estimated to have caused between $150 to $200 billion in damages to the communities. While the costs associated with these cruel events from Mother Nature are historic, advanced warning and disaster preparedness processes prevented losses from being much worse.

These tropical storms also highlight the importance for companies to develop a disaster recovery plan for their critical operations, including their IT. Research shows that 93 per cent of businesses that experience failure due to a disaster go out of business in five years. In today’s digital, fully connected community, businesses and organisations can’t risk not having an alternate solution to bring their company back online in the event of an outage. Without a recovery plan, businesses can’t get back online fast enough without having an outage impact their bottom line. 

Taking a gamble when it comes to disaster recovery (DR) can lead to compounded problems for companies. Businesses of every size are impacted when an outage occurs. Regardless of lost data or entire infrastructures, being offline for any period of time is a loss to a company’s immediate revenue stream, but when downstream customers are impacted, it creates the possibility for insurmountable damage.

Customer behaviour drives recovery time objectives

Today there are multiple variations of business continuity and disaster recovery.  Traditional disaster recovery approaches stem from the loss of a primary site and a secondary site that must come back online within the established recovery time object (RTO). A disaster recovery solution is ideal for businesses that can afford to be offline for six to 12 hours with little customer impact. 

For businesses that can’t afford the gap in service, such as online retailers and healthcare providers, time is money, and it is critical to remain operational. Even 30 minutes of downtime can be devastating to the people and customers relying on those impacted systems. 

It is important to first establish how downtime impacts an organisation’s bottom line and reputation. Companies should consider the amount of financial loss they are willing to take and manage their recovery plan to meet those figures.

Customer behaviour often dictates recovery time due to the evolving requirements of the digital ecosystem. Now more than ever, customers have a high demand for products and services, and with brand loyalty declining, many businesses must cater to their customers’ demands. Once a disaster recovery plan is in place, it is important to review it periodically to ensure it is still in line with digital demands.

The real reason businesses don’t have a disaster recovery plan

Many businesses don’t have disaster recovery solutions because the infrastructure needed simply doesn’t show a return for dollars invested. Because disaster recovery equipment is on standby, the supporting hardware will often reach retirement age before it is used, making it a hard investment for businesses to make. 

On occasion, businesses will use lower-end or retired hardware in disaster recovery plans and then find out that the new versions of software are not supported or patching isn’t up to date. There also could be issues with backups not working or not being actively monitored to be fully functional when needed to serve as a failover point. 

Cost-effective disaster recovery solution

High-availability is growing in popularity because it still allows for failover functionality while serving as a production environment. Many companies are shifting to availability because it is transactional, allowing them to run from two locations with the ability, in the event of a disaster, to failover instantly to a single location. 

At First National Technology Solutions, we favour high-availability solutions because they are a part of everyday business and show a return on investment. They allow businesses to remain operational even if one location goes down.

In the instance of a natural disaster striking a geographic region in an off-peak season, with proper planning, high-availability sites would be able to absorb the traffic from multiple locations to keep businesses running with little to no impact. Naturally, a nationwide disaster would have a higher impact on any disaster recovery plan.

High-availability solutions can cost more money on a daily basis because two hot sites are being used. However, there is a return on investment for the equipment purchase because the equipment will work in the event of an outage since a company’s production site is running on the infrastructure every day.

Customising a disaster recovery plan

Regardless of whether a company chooses a traditional disaster recovery plan or a high-availability option, there are steps it can take to establish a plan appropriate for its business.

1.       Complete an infrastructure assessment. Know what systems are critical for the day-to-day operation of your business and for interaction with your upstream vendors and downstream customers.

2.       Establish the amount of money your organisation can afford to lose before it hurts business.

3.       Understand the degree of risk your organisation is willing to take.

4.       Decide the amount of money your organisation is willing to spend to ensure its business survives an outage.

Once a plan is established, using a third party to test the disaster recovery plan can help connect any missing pieces and provide an extra set of eyes to the infrastructure’s backup. Testing is just as important as having a plan. An organisation should test its plan every six months to ensure it can fully recover and regain business functionality in the event of a disaster. A third-party provider can conduct testing to ensure the disaster recovery services a company contracts work and can get operations back online in the event of an outage. 

 All organisations need a disaster recovery plan

In today’s economy, you can’t run a business without some form of a disaster recovery plan. Regardless of size, it is imperative to plan for that one event that could or will happen to cause an outage. Outages come in many forms, including natural disasters, such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as massive power outages, man-made disasters and human error. People prepare their families and employees for disasters by having evacuation plans, backup generators and even storm shelters. Preparing a plan for your business shouldn’t be any different.

Ralph Wasner, Chief Technology Officer, First National Technology Solutions
Image Credit: alphaspirit / Shutterstock

As the Chief Technology Officer for First National Technology Solutions, Ralph Wasner is responsible for the company’s long-term technology strategy and oversees its architecture, engineering and network divisions.