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Friday, 02 June 2017 15:35

Preparing for the 2017 Hurricane Season

By WILL URBAN

Director of Technical Marketing, iland

It only takes one storm to change one’s life and business. Natural disasters strike with little to no warning and can be devastating to an organization’s operational and economic infrastructure. In today’s world of 24/7/365 always available business, if a business is down, even for a few hours, customers will not wait for recovery. They will find someone else and continue their business. The total cost of not just downtime but brand, reputation, and lost customers is monumental. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster and an additional 25 percent fail within one year. This failure rate is primarily due to business’ fundamental lack of preparedness.

Hurricane season officially began on June 1st and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expecting the 2017 season to be above average. Businesses should prepare for the hurricane season by educating their employees and examining what best practices need to be adopted to maintain business continuity through disaster situations.

IT business continuity and disaster recovery in today’s world is no longer shipping backups to another location. In the event of a hurricane, entire infrastructures can be down for hours or days. What happens if power to the building is out for three days? What happens if there is no internet for a week? In extreme cases, actual damage to equipment can happen. Insurance can recover the cost of physical damage, but your business needs to be up and running as soon as something happens.

True disaster recovery and business continuity means the ability to quickly and reliably be running within minutes somewhere else. This doesn’t mean restoring a backup to a server standing by in some closet in another state, but actually moving entire operations near real-time and continuing the business. This can be done with a variety of cloud and software services that provide up-to-the-minute changes being moved to this secondary location. In an ideal situation, businesses can actually fail over their operations with little disruption ahead of any storm hitting. Once business is up and running in a safe location, the focus can return to employee and community safety knowing that business needs are already taken care of.

When crafting a business continuity plan for an IT organization, I suggest a five-step approach. Step one, understand the technology options available. Are backups sufficient or is a true disaster recovery (DR) solution needed? Step two involves categorizing IT systems. Which systems are most critical to day-to-day operations? Often, organizations will take a hybrid approach to data protection, employing a DR solution for mission-critical applications while protecting less-critical applications with backups. Step three is implementation. When considering implementation of a business continuity solution, consider how – and how much – to invest. Once assessed what it will take to keep the business running, pair it with the appetite for on premise investment, capital and operating expenses, and ongoing management. Step four is to build the business continuity plan. At this point there are a number of decisions to be made – what sorts of situations constitute a disaster for the company? Who can declare a disaster and enact the plan? What are the formal procedures?

The final step is testing. Just like a test evacuating a building for an emergency, a test of resilient IT infrastructure is important to not only gain confidence that it will work but to gain an understanding of how to accomplish complete business failover so, that in the case of a disaster, it really is as simple as clicking a few buttons.

Unlike sudden natural disasters such as tornadoes or earthquakes, hurricanes do allow you some lead time in order to enact a plan. What can’t be planned for is how long it will be before you can have your data center up and running again. Make sure wherever operations are running – be it a secondary location or a third-party cloud – it meets performance, security, and compliance needs.

Here are two examples of customers who understand their risk and have enabled true business continuity solutions in their environment.

Woodforest National Bank Finds a Summertime Home for Its Data

Woodforest National Bank, headquartered in Houston, Texas, experienced disaster during Hurricane Ike in 2008 losing power at its primary datacenter causing it to remain on generator power for 10 full days. Not wanting to experience that level of catastrophe again, its IT team transitioned from disaster recovery to disaster avoidance by pre-emptively “failing-over” all production applications to a secondary site in Austin, TX every June with a planned return to the primary site once hurricane season wraps up at the end of October.

What makes this failover of an entire datacenter a seamless action for Woodforest is its virtualized infrastructure, which operates at 95 percent virtualized level with a hypervisor and Zerto hypervisor-based replication. This combination facilitates a much faster and more error proof DR process, creating a strategy that is prepared to overcome any disaster.

R’Club Strengthens Its DRaaS Plan to Care for Children of First Responders

R’Club Child Care, Inc. is a not-for-profit childcare provider in the Tampa Bay, Florida area that cares for more than 4,000 children of first responders. R’Club’s IT team runs all its servers through on premise VMware and supports more than a dozen applications, all virtualized. While they run Veeam in their environment and back-up systems to a local SAN, they found that utilizing the off-site backup option through Veeam Cloud Connect helped them maintain mission critical IT applications at an affordable cost for the non-profit during times of disaster.

Prior to adopting a secure DRaaS with Veeam solution, R’Club worked with a local partner to lease space for replication with a nearby data center. R’Club used an off-the-shelf NAS device to copy their backups off-site. The process was cumbersome and error-prone, as the device would repeatedly fail and required rebooting. Further, off-site backups didn’t provide the assurance of ongoing availability that R’Club required. It would take hours or days to recover a system – and with their charter supporting first responders in the hurricane zone in Florida, that was time they couldn’t afford.

Now, if R’Club’s data center is swept away by a hurricane, the service provider can restore data through its BaaS operation.

Careful planning and understanding worst-case scenarios for business can help organizations build a comprehensive business continuity plan and disaster recovery strategy. Many companies have good intentions and start these plans, but fail to follow through. Now is the time to reflect on what is in place and consider if the current DR plan will get businesses through an unplanned disaster.