Business Continuity Planning in 4 Easy Steps

No company is immune from disaster, so all companies should be prepared for the worst.
In Florida, where last year’s rash of hurricanes resulted in 1.7 million insurance claims, $22 billion in insured losses, and deductible payments totaling $2 billion, talk of “disaster preparedness” and “business continuity” went from a whisper to a roar in the early months of 2005 as the state prepared for whatever the current hurricane season has in store.

But it's not just businesses located in hurricane-prone regions that are at risk for natural disasters. The losses suffered in Florida thanks to Charlie, Frances, Ivan and Jeannie could just as easily have come at the hands of tornadoes, floods, mudslides, earthquakes, wildfires, etc. And let’s not forget the potential for “unnatural” disasters; power outages, equipment failure, careless employees and sabotage.

By now, you should be haunted by the statistics:  80 percent of all businesses that suffer a major data loss or failure lasting more than 24 hours close within a year, and only 20 percent of businesses recover within that 24-hour period. And that’s all businesses, not just technology or information-based companies.

No company is immune from disaster, not even ours – and our operations are housed in a Tier 1, category-four hurricane rated data center that provides complete physical, data and network security. That’s why we approach disaster planning by doing exactly what we tell our clients to do.

Backup, Backup, Backup

First, we review our disaster preparedness and business continuity plans every six months, updating them as appropriate.  Those plans go directly to the core of our operations, including alternate locations, staffing protocols, internal and external communication strategies and inventory requirements.

Second, all our critical applications, data and servers are backed up incrementally each day, with complete backups conducted weekly. Backups are stored both on and off-site to ensure high availability of the data if we ever need to rebuild it or relocate our operations.

Third, in addition to the security provided by the physical structure of our data center – which has the added bonus of ensuring high availability for our own business as well as our clients’ – we have multiple alternate power sources in the event of long-term outages, including a private generator. We also have redundant, diverse Internet bandwidth providers. This ensures we can remain operational before, during and after the storm. (In fact, during last year’s storms, a number of our clients made arrangements to locate staff at our data center so they could continue operations.)

When clients approach us asking for tips on preparing for disaster, we tell them four things:

1. Daily incremental and weekly complete backups are the only way to guarantee you’ll always have a current copy of your most critical data. The backed-up data should be securely stored off-site, someplace where it can be quickly and easily retrieved. For a growing number of companies, remote backup services are helping ensure that a scheduled backup is never missed.

2. Evaluate and make the necessary arrangements for an alternate location where operations can resume in the event your physical location is destroyed or damaged. Depending on your business needs, this can be:

  • A cold site, which is an otherwise empty location that has all the necessary connectivity and environmental controls so you can relocate equipment and employees.

  • A hot site, which is essentially a data center or satellite location that duplicates your company’s set-up in terms of hardware, software and data access, and gives your employees a place to go so business can resume quickly. Companies for which 24x7 up time is imperative typically use hot sites and they will often deploy a team to the hot site so operations can continue, uninterrupted, during times of disaster.

  • Active load balancing, which is the sharing of data between two or more data centers in real-time, allowing a secondary location to automatically pick up the flow of data with little or no perceptible difference to users. Active load balancing is ideal for companies that can’t afford any downtime for any reason.

  • Develop a disaster preparedness/business continuity plan; then test, test, test. Companies can develop the most sophisticated disaster plan that addresses all levels of recovery, but unless the plan is tested and communicated to employees, there is no guarantee of success.

    If your company needs to convey up-to-date information to employees and customers during times of disaster, consider implementing a private intranet with robust content management capabilities that allows designated individuals to update the corporate website any time from anywhere. Ideally, look for an application that requires little or no technical expertise to manage.

    Still not convinced you need to plan for the worst? The reality, as we’ve seen too often in the past year, isn’t if you will suffer from a natural or unnatural disaster, but when it will happen. Treat your disaster preparedness and business continuity plans as if they were any other business insurance policy; put them in place now, because once the wind is blowing or the fires are burning, it’s too late to get covered.






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