Darren Conner, Chief Technology Officer
October 31, 2017
You’ve been watching the weather for a week and, slowly but surely, a large storm is headed toward your city. You take advantage of the advanced warning and double-check your disaster recovery procedure and business continuity plan. You make sure everyone knows their role, who to call, and what actions to take. You know that your data is safe. Not just the sensitive information, but all the data that you need to effectively operate. Most importantly, you know that you will continue to operate during and after the event and that service to your customers will continue with as little interruption as possible. This is a description of a company well-prepared for unforeseen delays and disasters. What is your firm’s plan for disaster and business continuity?
Nearly half of the companies included in a 2017 survey by Intel have no public or hybrid cloud infrastructure. The survey participants rely on locally run infrastructure, and in many cases, locally run backups. While some small businesses move copies of their data backups off-site, when a disaster strikes, a backup with no system to which it can be restored doesn’t help your company get back to business. If you don’t have an additional set of servers and networking equipment ready to go, your business will be dark for days and in some cases, even weeks. This is a reality that some small business owners are not equipped to handle or are potentially unaware. The floods in Houston, New Orleans, New York and Puerto Rico from hurricanes Harvey, Katrina, Sandy, and Irma are all major disasters in recent memory, each taking a massive toll on small and large businesses alike. Don’t think that only small businesses can be caught off guard. Jack Henry, a major tech company that provides core processing software for banks and credit unions, suffered a complete outage of one of their data centers during Hurricane Sandy. Due to a poorly executed disaster recovery and migration plan, they were unable to respond in a timely fashion to the increased load on their other datacenters, leaving 1300 of their banking clients without service. This type of event can cripple a large company and in a larger proportion, small businesses.
If I have scared you a little at this point, that’s good – you need to be thinking about the tools you have for business continuity. Hopefully, you’ll take the time to create a plan for disaster recovery and business continuity for your company. Business continuity plans do not only address data issues, but in a natural disaster, knowing how your firm will continue its normal business functions and client communications is of the highest importance. Regardless of what technology you have in place (like Jack Henry), not having a plan you can communicate, test, and execute is the same as not having one at all.
The good news is that the cost of public and hybrid clouds has become very affordable for small companies. If you aren’t familiar with cloud storage or have fears about its security, then you are ignoring technologies that could save not only your data but your livelihood. While your customers may be understanding of your firm being down for a couple of days, but they will not understand a couple of weeks. During that time, your competitors, who have solved this problem, will take advantage of the opportunity to assure your customers that they can serve them better.
Not every company has the same starting point for creating a disaster plan, so here are some suggestions to help you safeguard your company:
Communication Tools: We’ll start with your most critical function, the ability to communicate. If your phone system is local, consider replacing it with a cloud based, software as a service (SaaS) system that allows it to function anywhere you have internet access. A system like this will allow you to reach out to your customers at a critical time and, en masse, to assure them that your business is still functioning and that service will continue uninterrupted. There are many SaaS services that offer products at an affordable cost. For individual email accounts, consider freeing yourself from the cost and restrictions of maintaining your own email server and replace it with a SaaS service such as Office 365 or Gmail for business.
Hardware: For the rest of your infrastructure, use a hybrid approach to ease the transition. If you are ready to move all of your servers to the cloud, that’s ideal, but if not, there are some very cost-effective ways to take a step forward. If you have a large and recent investment in local infrastructure, ask your IT professional or IT service provider about services like Azure Site Recovery Services. Services such as these maintain backup images of your servers on geographically redundant storage (data stored in multiple places at once, many miles away from your office) and allow you to redeploy your servers on cloud infrastructure in hours, not days. One of the best things about this approach is that you only pay for the storage of the images and at a rate typically cheaper than that of your local backups. They are relatively easy to implement and will make your infrastructure significantly more agile for the time when you’ll need that quick-response the most.
Software: For your critical applications, if there is a SaaS based solution, take advantage of it. Check that the SaaS companies that you purchase from have documented disaster recovery plans, testing results, and good policies and procedures internally to ensure that data is kept safe. It is equally important that appropriate available disaster recovery options are utilized. Certifications such as SOC or ISO are standards that companies use to prove their processes. When you offload critical functions and applications to cloud providers you are in-part purchasing their solutions to scaling and disaster mitigation at a lower cost than accounting for them yourself.
Once you address your weak points and document your recovery plan, be sure that you practice executing it. Twice a year is great, but even once a year will make the likelihood of it working well in a disaster significantly better. Don’t hope that it will go well, know it will. My suggestions highlight cloud services and infrastructure because I believe in them, but more importantly, because I use them myself at PensionPro. When your critical functions are in the cloud, your employees can continue to work anywhere they have internet access which makes the creation of a business continuity plan significantly easier. We utilize these services at PensionPro not only to host our production services for our customers, but also to host our internal infrastructure and critical applications. They give us (and our clients) peace of mind - and they can do the same for you.