Maintaining a business’s presence and pace in a global economy is essential to survival. Customers could care less if business headquarters were just hit by a Category 5 hurricane, or have been swallowed by a sinkhole, or if their system is locked up because of a virus. All customers require is a speedy response to their requests. Failure to respond means a business has lost an order and potentially a longtime major client.
Smart Business talked to John Cantu, project manager at ATW Management Inc., North Texas, about how to ensure your business stays up and running and profitable in the event of a disaster or interruption.
Do you find that most companies are prepared for a disaster?
Almost every business has a business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan in regard to overall facilities, operations and personnel affected by disaster. But what most companies consider disastrous threats are weather-related or earthquakes or potential terrorist attacks. Smaller events, in physical scale, such as malfunctioning software caused by a computer virus or a power outage for an unforeseen amount of time, could end up being just as costly. When a disaster of this nature strikes, a business may realize its BC/DR plan has not kept pace with the ever-changing technological environment, and the need for an adequate IT BC/DR plan suddenly becomes glaringly apparent.
A downed communications system means being unable to communicate with employees and customers; in other words, a complete severing of the business lifeline. Vital data may become completely inaccessible for the duration of the power outage or the debugging of the virus, if not altogether forever lost, depending on the structure and configuration of the network.
What is lacking in most back-up systems?
Some managers view the battery back-up system as enough to constitute an IT-related disaster preparedness plan. Unfortunately, most uninterruptible power supplies currently in use are designed to last only long enough for users to save current data and to log out of the network.
IT-disabling events require proper equipment and data securely stored and backed up as well as protocol to react to and recover from the disaster. Once prioritized, the communications and IT systems most crucial to the business are the ones that need the most attention and protection.
Why are most disaster recovery systems inadequate?
Preventable data loss measures, such as backing up data on a removable drive, may just not be practical for some businesses. Likewise, a portable drive shares the same vulnerabilities of being exposed to the elements, or otherwise damaged, lost, or stolen as laptops. Plus, many portable drives have limited security. Proprietary storage replication and storage grids are costly and may limit network performance, though during a disaster a limited network is superior to no network. It is important to know how many servers there are and space availability, as well as how and where they are configured. A system of this sort is usually located close enough to drive to and preferably it pulls power from a separate grid. The adequacy of this sort of set-up depends greatly upon the severity and scope of the disaster.
What is the solution?
Some managers may be leery of utilizing secure public Internet-based back-up or storage virtualization, since ‘secure’ and ‘public’ may be viewed as an oxymoron. Data storage is often outsourced as an alternative to purchasing extra equipment or space that may never be utilized. The outsourced vendor is then responsible for the management of day-to-day data storage as well as restoring systems and files for potentially displaced customers.
The storage virtualization software creates a big storage pool out of separate hard drives. It finds and utilizes more capacity where it can find it, eliminating the need to monitor individual drive usage. This cloud storage system increases efficiency and eliminates underutilization by allowing files to be stored wherever there is room, either on premises or in a private movable cloud
Hard drives loaded with virtualization software can even be added or replaced without downtime for reconfiguration. This is accomplished through mirroring data by keeping a redundant, constantly backed-up copy available and accessible while synchronizing databases. In case of hardware failure, data can be transferred to new storage equipment or moved to a remote site or spread across multiple sites. These sites can be located safely out of harm’s way, on the other side of the globe.
At the time of recovery, the affected servers are reconfigured and reconnected via a dedicated fiber director. This allows the servers to ‘see’ the storage area network (SAN) in the company’s shared server pool. Once the affected servers are brought back online and made available, the company is back in business.
These capabilities allow businesses 24/7 availability even in the midst of disaster. And all of this is accomplished, ideally, without missing a single order.