The Stack Archive

When disaster strikes – looking beyond just tech

Mon 29 Feb 2016

UK floods

Len-Padilla[1]Len Padilla, VP of Product Strategy at NTT Communications writes that while we can’t always control large-scale disasters, we can work to ensure continuity and recovery for businesses…

A number of recent disruptions affecting organisations have highlighted the necessity of a business continuity plan (BCP) and being prepared for every eventuality. Last summer we saw tube strikes result in many city workers spending hours trying to commute into the office. Weather also impacted some organisations by placing limits on their services thanks to overheating data centres in July. Finally, let’s not forget the floods this winter which, in addition to the untold damage done to homes, also disrupted thousands of businesses across the UK.

Alas, we can’t change the weather. What we can do is ensure that its impact on businesses is contained.  And, for the majority of organisations, containment means ensuring that key systems and data are always online, regardless of the conditions outside.  Most disasters, severe as they may appear, are generally fairly localised.  It follows that the more effectively organisations can get other overseas locations to take up the slack, the less dramatic their business impact will be.

Most companies will have a business continuity plan they can turn to that ensures critical services either remain fully functional or get back up and running as quickly as possible. However, a lot of businesses are now realising they have to go further if they are to survive larger-scale or more protracted disasters. Ensuring systems and data can be quickly recovered is just one side of the coin – ensuring true business continuity is actually far more important.

DR vs DRaaS – the as-a-service advantage

As with most well-conceived plans, the only way to really gauge their effectiveness is when you have to put them into practice for real.  This is very much the case with DR.  While some businesses may initially look to maintain DR in-house, the practicalities of ensuring key applications and data are available – alongside very immediate concerns about the whereabouts of people, health and safety, and so on – can rapidly become insurmountable.  It is little surprise, then, that Gartner estimates disaster recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS) will soon outpace the demand for traditional services. The DRaaS market is currently worth approximately $1.3 billion worldwide and it’s expected to rocket by 30% year-on-year.

There are potential pitfalls associated with maintaining DR in-house which can be overcome by DRaaS.  Whilst looking after the technology is an integral element of DR, looking beyond this to ensure the broader ICT strategy is robust is essential in making sure that contingency plans do not fall at the first hurdle.

This is where DRaaS vendors can help by working with companies to develop robust disaster recovery plans which go beyond simply recovering systems and data.  If a whole office or location is expected to be offline for several hours or even days, the rest of the business needs to be able to pick up the slack.  In order to do that they need to be able to easily access the relevant data – potentially from a different country.

For example, in protracted incidents such as freak weather, earthquakes or tsunamis, failing key systems over to a local site isn’t enough.  That might protect the data, but it doesn’t ensure its availability to the rest of the business.  Service providers can help organisations move their entire application and data estate – in the cloud – to a different data centre elsewhere on the planet, so disruption is minimised.

Other benefits of DRaaS are savings in cost and time when businesses are recovering from disasters. Because companies can access application and data assets virtually, they’re much more flexible and scalable in their operations, and they also don’t need to double-up spending on backup, recovery or hardware locally. The best DRaaS offerings also allow customers to choose from various fail-over locations across the world, providing a secure cloud platform wherever is most convenient for the business.

Practice makes perfect

Once an organisation has their business continuity plan in place, it’s essential that they communicate it to the wider business, regularly drill it, and then evaluate and implement any learnings.  An objective third-party onlooker in these simulations can be a vital sanity check for organisations that might otherwise feel tempted to paper over any cracks in the interests of getting on with the day-to-day.  Potential sources of disruption and their impacts must be mapped out, as should the organisation’s responses and procedures for each. In the same way, letting the right people know what they need to do in certain situations might sound simple, but it is surprising how quickly organisation charts can change beyond recognition.

Whether it’s preparing for transport issues during busy events, anticipating natural disasters or safeguarding against terrorist attacks, businesses can work with their service providers to formulate strong business continuity strategies for every scenario. At a minimum, these plans should be drilled at least twice a year, if not quarterly, so that the procedures become second nature. This involves planning ahead, allocating roles and responsibilities to individuals, and ensuring that, when disasters strike locally, the rest of the global organisation is in a position to pick up the slack.


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