The extreme weather that has hit much of the country this winter has been labeled “historic” in many quarters, including where I live in eastern North Carolina. While the Northeast has been battered with record-breaking snowfalls, much of the South has been experiencing ice storms and single-digit temperatures for the first time in the lives of many adults. It all begs the question of the impact all of this is having on IT professionals and the organizations they’re charged with keeping up and running.
While it may well be too late for many organizations that entered this winter ill-prepared from a data protection standpoint, what this winter has taught us is that such unexpected events as the collapse of the roof of a data center due to heavy snow and ice need to be anticipated and addressed in order to be fully prepared for next winter.
I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Sue Melfi, vice president of technical support at Datto, a data backup services provider in Norwalk, Conn. I asked Melfi how businesses should go about protecting data under the extreme weather circumstances that many organizations have found themselves in this winter. She said every winter storm is different, so it’s important for your business to be ready to handle anything that comes your way.
The key to a swift recovery is thorough disaster planning and testing, whether or not your office is located in a typical ‘snow belt’ – even traditionally warm locations can see devastating winter storms that cost businesses revenue due to downtime. Partnering with a managed service provider for backup and recovery is another wise option, as an MSP can help you use a purpose-built environment specifically for disaster recovery, complete with multiple layers of redundancy. While there’s a lot of work that goes into developing a business continuity plan, when your teams are armed with a strategic plan in the face of a storm, you’ll be glad you took the time to strategize in advance.
Melfi went on to explain the steps businesses should take in creating a business continuity plan for storms:
The steps to planning are simple, and it starts with assessing the potential storms that could affect your business. Once you’ve determined the likely scenarios, you need to set goals on the path to recovery. How much time will full restorations take? Which tasks should be considered priority? The next step is to evaluate whether your business will need a file restore, local virtualization, or off-site virtualization for the best disaster recovery solution. Depending on the approach chosen, you’ll want to weigh whether that route is best as a full restore from the cloud, or if there are other priority files, settings, or applications you need to have restored first to get your team back in action sooner.
In all cases of physical and virtual assets, businesses should ensure several levels of redundancy. Because the costs of downtime are so high, a low recovery time objective, or RTO, can save your business tens of thousands of dollars.
Melfi also stressed the importance of gaining a firm handle on which applications have critical data or records that may need additional safeguards:
Many small- and medium-sized businesses find it easier to use Google Apps to collaborate with their internal teams and external vendors. However, accidental deletion or irrevocable file corruption can signal major revenue losses if an organization relies heavily on the application. Additionally, businesses using Google Apps or Salesforce to hold important documentation or customer records may be surprised to find out these services don’t always build in redundancy to protect that data – and their data may be lost, anyway.
Melfi recommends that once you’ve recovered your files or switched your systems back online, you should check in with users to ensure everything interacts correctly:
Determine if there are any users that can’t access resources or applications from your virtual environment. With some data protection technology, you can use screenshot verification to not only check that data is protected, but to safely boot and test your applications and services before bringing them fully online on your system. You can also review your devices and see which have been backed up to a secondary offsite location.
Finally, Melfi stressed that businesses need to address the safety of employees by alerting them to all emergency procedures:
Business continuity planners should also consider preparing for the aftermath the following day. Will traffic or transportation experience major disruptions? If so, you may want to keep certain staff overnight, or at least make sure your vendor partner support team is available 24/7, to ensure operations resume promptly during normal business hours, while arranging for remote working wherever possible in the interest of your employees’ safety. Communicate openly with customers, whether through your website, social media, internal support teams, or other channels. Drill your teams on your plan before disaster occurs, and test which processes can be improved after these simulations.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.