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Disaster Recovery Planning can Enable the Survival of your Company

By Terry Van Horne |

Disaster recovery has undergone a great deal of change in the last few decades. In the 1980s, it was still thought of only as a means of ensuring that large businesses' data processing operations could quickly resume operations in the event of a catastrophic incident.

The main difference today is that the need for a disaster recovery plan is no longer limited to data centers. In the last 30 years, data processing has evolved tremendously, allowing data processing costs and environmental considerations to shrink dramatically.

Operations that used to require thousands of square feet of highly specialized construction with costly support equipment can now be performed in a small closet. As a result, many businesses have been able to shrink their footprint considerably. This means not only a reduction in construction or lease costs, but also makes relocation a more affordable option, should the need arise.

This is one aspect of business evolution that has made recovery plans more accessible to companies without multi-million dollar budgets.

Data Processing Migrated

Another effect of the evolution of the computer industry is that, with more businesses housing their own data-processing operations in their own offices, significant damage to this much smaller location can be more crippling to the business if and when it occurs. Often, those offices' locations are chosen with little thought to their vulnerability to natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or man-made disturbances. Fires and large infrastructure failures present other potential interruptions to normal operation.

As a result, an increasing number of businesses fall prey to such disasters - and interruption of their normal operation, for even a few days, can be crippling. Lost revenue, cancelled contracts and various penalties can destroy even a healthy company.

In a fiercely competitive market, a failure to respond quickly to a customer base can give an advantage to competitors that are all too anxious to seize the opportunity. Companies have failed as a result of extended power failures, flooding or interrupted traffic due to natural disasters. But most often the problems are due to the prolonged interruption of their business.

Thus, every management team or business owner should analyze their particular situation and ask themselves: "How long can my business endure the loss of its normal operation and still hope to survive?"

Bear in mind, we live in a data-driven world - less than 10% of the companies that suffer substantial losses of data survive! Nearly half never reopen, and more than half that do, don't last. That makes your disaster recovery plan more of a disaster survival plan.

Finding Your Business's Critical Points

Nearly any business can survive a few days of lost operations without suffering irreparable damage. But different businesses will have different thresholds, and different levels of loss that can be tolerated.

For instance, a central office that handles orders, billing and customer service, while scheduling shipments from a distribution center in another region, might decide that they could handle 3-5 days of total shut-down of their offices. Longer than that might do irreparable damage.

But after that 3-5 days had passed, they would need to be able to once again process orders and shipments, or risk the loss of large contracts. They might also feel that they could lose as much as half of a 30-day billing cycle before their cashflow was impacted. So let's explore the options open to them.

We'll assume they have wisely kept off-premises backups of all their important client, order and billing information and general accounting data. That means they would have to relocate to a new office, outfit with new computers and re-establish communication with their clients and distribution center very quickly. They could then begin the scramble to catch up.

As simple as that may sound, finding available space to satisfy their needs could take several days if, in fact, there is any immediately available. In the event of a major disaster, they'll be competing for emergency space with many other companies in similar circumstances, and could be forced to go further away. That longer commute could easily result in the loss of some employees.

Such an emergency situation is not a time when any business can afford to lose key individuals and try to train new employees. The additional expense of rental deposits and outfitting would also be unwelcome.

Building your Disaster Recovery Plan

This points out the first step in your disaster recovery plan - determine your critical points for various aspects of your business. At what point must you absolutely be able to resume:

  • Communication
  • Data processing
  • Order processing
  • Shipping/delivery
  • Billing/Income

This assumes that your operation is not dependent on specialized equipment or operations. We're really just talking about administrative functions.

Put Your Plan in Place

Once you've established timeframes that you feel your business can live with, you need to decide what your minimum requirements will be for each phase of your disaster recovery plan in terms of space, power, communications and other infrastructure. Now you're ready to shop for your emergency location.

This will usually be a lot easier if assigned to a professional or a Business Centre like Telsec Business Centres, and IT Weapons in Toronto. The critical requirements you'll need to provide include:

  • Square footage requirement, including any private offices, conference or storage areas
  • Electrical power (voltage and total amperage)
  • Special communications capabilities, such as existing T1 or fibre optics, etc.
  • Special preferences, such as proximity to downtown, ground floor only, pre-furnished, off-street parking, etc.

Now you can begin putting together a list of prospective locations for approval. There are many options available - your urgency will determine which are viable choices for your business.

If your needs will be immediate, you may want to consider having a space fully furnished, even to include equipment to handle your data processing and communications. At the very least, however, you'll want to have any special infrastructure needs taken care of ahead of time, such as electrical, fibre-optic cable, etc. Some businesses even maintain "hot" sites with all utilities activated and equipment installed and ready to use.

Investigate the options in your region, as many areas offer executive and private offices, "bullpen" team spaces and even shared offices, which could serve your needs well. Some may even come fully equipped with communications and data processing equipment online.

A comprehensive disaster recovery plan is invaluable - for the peace of mind it provides today and the survivability it provides when disaster strikes.

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