How a business continuity plan can ensure your business stays up and running Featured

8:01pm EDT November 30, 2011

disaster recoveryNearly every business relies heavily on technology, with critical operations and processes that are dependent on information technology (IT). But if disaster strikes, how can a business ensure that it stays up and running to remain competitive in the marketplace?

The answer is a comprehensive business continuity plan, which every business should have in place, says Derek Dalton, a sales engineer for Time Warner Cable Business Class.

“Not long ago, business continuity required millions of dollars in redundant systems, facilities and bandwidth,” says Dalton. “Now, more cost-effective solutions have been introduced, helping organizations ensure that their business will always be up and running.”

Smart Business spoke with Dalton about how to craft an effective business continuity plan.

What is business continuity?

While business continuity and disaster recovery work in tandem, they are separate and distinct disciplines. Disaster recovery refers to the protocols and procedures that an organization follows to activate backup servers and alternative facilities should an unforeseen event disable critical IT systems. When most people think of disaster recovery, they think of natural disasters or terrorist attacks, but something as simple as a broken water pipe, tripped circuit breaker or computer virus can constitute a disaster for a business and thus require a recovery plan.

Business continuity extends the concept of disaster recovery to reflect the processes and procedures that organizations put in place to ensure that critical business functions continue, despite an event that disrupts normal business operations. This can be as simple as identifying alternate resources when employees are unable to work, or as complex as recovering servers and mainframes with network backups in the event of a system failure.

Why is business continuity so important in today’s business world?

Business continuity means your company stays up and running, no matter what happens. And with today’s businesses relying heavily on the Internet and other technologies, constant connectivity is vital.

Forrester Research reports that 76 percent of companies experience at least one disruption in any five-year period, and that 27 percent have to declare at least one disaster, meaning mission-critical IT systems were disabled long enough that recovery procedures had to be executed. It’s not if a disaster will strike, it’s when it will strike and how you will be able to deal with it. And, according to the Meta Group, one hour of systemwide downtime, depending on the company, can cost a business from $330,000 to $2.8 million.

It is important for business owners and IT staff to identify potential risks, figure out the costs of downtime, choose the most effective technology and work together to implement recovery services. These calculations fall into direct costs and indirect costs.

A direct cost could be the amount of business lost if a network experiences an outage. If the system handles a certain amount of business every hour, the organization can know exactly how much an hour of downtime will cost.

Indirect costs are no less important. For example, what would the cost be to a company’s reputation or relationships should a disruption render customer service or supply chain management systems inoperative? What might the penalties be if the company’s financial or customer data systems were compromised?

Awareness and qualification of these cost factors highlight how companies that have effective business continuity plans can quickly recover from system outages, which can be a competitive advantage and an opportunity to take revenue and market share from companies that cannot.

How do cable Multiple System Operators (MSOs) tie in to business continuity?

Organizations seeking to implement business continuity plans recognize cable MSOs as reliable and cost-effective alternatives to traditional telecommunications providers. Because cable MSOs operate over one network, their infrastructure offers advantages such as security, scalability and the ability to support multiple communication solutions.

Cable MSOs deliver availability and redundancy. Because their networks were designed to provide bandwidth-intensive video services to broad areas, cable operators can offer high-bandwidth services regardless of a premise’s distance from a central office. This access to reliable connectivity allows even rural backup sites to be incorporated into business continuity plans and ensures that employees telecommuting can access the same resources available from headquarters.

Cable MSO infrastructures are independent from traditional telecommunications companies. They can provision services with their own resources, delivering new services more rapidly than many traditional telecommunications providers, an important capability in an emergency, when time is critical. They also provide the important alternative routing component of a business continuity solution, as the networks are separate from traditional telecommunications providers that may share common infrastructures.

How are telecommuters protected by business continuity plans?

A key to a comprehensive business continuity plan is ensuring that employees can work remotely in the event of a disaster. This includes telephone and broadband Internet to facilitate communications between employees and management and provide access to enterprise applications. Because the technology is not distance sensitive, cable broadband options offers scalable Internet access options, up to 10 Mbps of throughput speed, allowing you to connect to a virtual private network for enhanced communication and collaboration, with bandwidth to facilitate videoconferencing and database file transfers. Solutions include scheduled backup of desktop files to off-site, secure storage, with backed-up files available from any desktop computer, allowing employees displaced by an emergency to work from any location.

Derek Dalton is a sales engineer for Time Warner Cable Business Class. Reach him at (614) 255-2762.