When natural disasters strike, news stories frequently cover damage to homes and consumers, but businesses often experience greater losses, ranging from physical destruction to downtime. A key element for firms to survive in a disaster scenario is the development and deployment of a strong business continuity (BC) plan.
Evolve IP, a cloud services company based in Wayne, Pennsylvania, warns that now is not the time for businesses to become complacent about their business continuity plans because of the historical patterns of two related events: El Nino and La Nina. Both of these conditions occur when the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere sustain significant temperature changes.
The most recent El Niño season was the worst in two decades, causing billions of dollars in damages and losses. But now comes La Nina. The last significant La Niña was tied to record winter U.S. snowfall, spring flooding across the country, and drought conditions in the south and Midwest. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says there is a 75 percent chance that La Niña will be in place by the fall and potentially last up to three years. This one could result in larger hurricanes making U.S. landfall; that would have a significant impact on hundreds of thousands of businesses.
If La Niña does hit the U.S. hard, what could it do to small businesses that likely don’t have the resources needed to support business continuity in this type of situation? Evolve IP offers some essentials to start developing a comprehensive BC plan. Here are the steps the company recommends:
- Build a team charged with developing the BC strategy. The team should be composed of mission-critical leaders from major departments (IT, finance, HR, operations, PR and legal), with a back-up for each.
- Once the team is assembled, categorize key risks by geographic location and identify the impact and interdependencies of each scenario to critical business systems and personnel.
- Determine the services, information and systems most vital to continuing business operation at acceptable levels.
While your BC plan should address your communication systems, HR operations and crisis communications, these are Evolve’s recommendations specifically for the data center and IT systems.
Data Center and IT Systems
For cloud-based data centers and applications, Evolve IP says, ensure that the IT deployment can properly meet disaster recovery Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) timelines. Validate your supplier’s SLA quarterly (the goal should be 99.999 percent on core applications). Ensure that employees can access the hosted environment (both from within the business confines and remotely) during fail-over mode from the designated locations. Schedule and test your plan at least once per year.
For premise-based data centers, create a written recovery plan and store it remotely. If you haven’t addressed safeguards from water and fire in the initial design of the room, retrofits may be necessary. According to Evolve IP, critical elements include
- adequate cooling and ventilation
- housing the data center above street level with servers as high as possible in the rack
- installing a non-water based ﬁre-suppression system
- employing a VESDA smoke detection system and thermal detectors
If you find that your data center is at risk due to poor availability of adequate power, purchase uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) and provide for generator access where necessary.
Lastly, Evolve IP cautions, don’t forget the importance of data backups. Tape backups should be removed daily and stored in a secure, easily accessed location. Since during a disaster, physical travel can be limited or stopped altogether, it’s a good idea to back up data and applications to a geographically distant location, and make sure that they can be transmitted in a time conducive with your RTO/RPO.
All of this might seem at first like a daunting task. Evolve IP offers a comprehensive checklist of these BC planning goals. It can help you eliminate most liabilities.