Can your IT infrastructure survive the Ice Bucket Challenge?

Disaster RecoveryConsidering that September in the U.S. is the National Preparedness Month and at the same time the Ice Bucket Challenge recently went viral and has finally and rightfully brought a lot of attention to the ALS association*.
So to stay on the topic let me ask you this: could your IT infrastructure and your business take on the Ice Bucket Challenge, survive and shrug off the ice shards and go on without a hiccup?

Let’s say you accept the challenge and pour buckets of cold water and ice shards over your entire IT infrastructure, resulting in a total and complete outage of the involved systems and perhaps even in some irreversible damage to hardware with stored data causing not only temporarily lack of availability, but also permanent data loss.
“Now why would I want to do that?” you could ask. Well the idea here is not to actually create chaos and destruction, but to (hypothetically) test your business continuity plan in case of a total outage situation.

Are you prepared?
So imagine you do experience a total outage due to whatever reason it might be, man-made or natural: fire, earthquake, storm, crime or for the sake of our discussion the Ice Bucket Challenge. No matter the reason the results would be the same: unavailable systems, lack of data access and perhaps unrecoverable data loss. How would your business cope with this situation?

Let’s start with asking some questions first:

  • Can your business survive a situation where your critical data or applications are unavailable at all?
  • Are you bound by regulatory, compliance or legal requirements to always have a copy of your data or in other words: can you experience data loss without breaking the law or suffering serious financial consequences?
  • Would your business continuity be guaranteed if you experienced a longer downtime and/or critical data loss?

If you answered “NO” to any of the questions above then it means that either downtime or data loss would directly threaten your business continuity and existence, perhaps even result in you breaking the law. Having established that let me ask you this: does your business have a business continuity plan?

Considerations
Without going very deep into the massive topic of building a detailed business continuity plan let’s just establish some basic points of focus that are needed to have a so very often called “Plan B” in case of a disaster. Depending on the size of your company, the nature of your business and the calamities that you are coping with at the time, you could require an exceptionally large and complex planning involving many procedures, processes and check points, but to stay within the scope of this article let’s keep this relatively simple and compact. For that reason I will cover only the guidelines of what to consider and how to go about finding the right Backup and Disaster Recovery solutions and their 3rd party providers.

The use of Information Technology will help you in ensuring that your business operations continue and unless you are a rather large corporation with multiple or international locations and a decently sized IT department with experts in DR field or an IT service provider yourself you will want to go ahead and use a 3rd party IT solutions provider to aid your business in achieving this goal.

Failure is not an option
To develop the basic and general rules for backup and disaster recovery you need to look at the following components of your game plan:

  • Infrastructure and expertise – is your current IT environment on premise or is it hosted on 3rd party infrastructure? If it’s on premise and you have enough IT experts in-house you should consider an off-site solution to further secure your business operations. Have your experts talk to a 3rd party provider or rent space in a datacenter and build your own backup and DR solution. More often than not this first approach is not ideal as your experts usually excel in the fields that your company specializes in and are not primarily keeping busy with cutting edge DR or backup solutions. On the other hand if you are already employing an IT service provider there is a chance that they can provide you with an additional site where your backup or disaster recovery solution would be residing. If they can’t then look for a different party to make sure that your DR site and backups do not reside within the same facility as your primary site, just make sure you can work well with both providers.
  • Main factors – consider two key points when building a strategy for backup and DR and before making a choice and committing to a solution:RTO – Recovery Time Objective defines the amount of time that the business can be without service and time in which the crucial services must be restored to be operational again.RPO – Recovery Point Objective defines the maximum amount of time in which data might be lost, it does not define the amount of data that could be lost in that time because that is strictly dependent on your business operations solutions and data type. So in this case when establishing the RPO your current data volumes would have to be analyzed to predict the amount of data that could be lost in certain amount of time when the systems are not available or being backed up and compare this to the actual acceptable amount of data loss if any.
  • Procedures – when it comes to backup and DR solutions not only the procedures of implementing types and intervals of backups or replications are of importance, but also the steps to make use of them when disaster strikes. There must be clear rules and procedures for announcing a disasters and channels of communications must be establishes between the providers of said services and their users. When a disaster scenario has been established and confirmed the right people need to replace, restore or start needed services according to procedures and agreements.
  • Business critical environments and data – depending on your current environments and the state and type of their visualization there are many ways to go about backing up and replicating it all. There are currently plenty of backup and disaster recovery products which have their differences, but you will always be able to find one that best suits your needs based on your current environments.
  • Customization – not all situations require complex or disastrous scenarios to create the need to restore data. Sometimes a simple human error could prove to be a serious problem for your business due to a simple fact that accidental data deletion or misconfiguration of a system could render some services unavailable or lead to work interruption directly affecting your critical processes. In such cases quick and partial recovery solutions and procedures are of great importance and should not be overlooked. Ability to restore single files or granular and application item recovery can come in handy in many situations.
  • Costs – depending on the amounts of backed up data and the requirements to store it there are different ways to deal with this challenge. Type of storage will have a huge impact on your costs. Huge amounts of data that need to be stored but don’t require immediate or even quick restoration can often be stored on tapes to keep the costs down. If the backup solutions are able to use incremental backups and deduplication then that will drastically reduce the required storage size. Last but not least impact on the costs are the complexity of configuration and restoration directly translating into hours of your or 3rd party staff involvement in order to achieve the restoration objectives.

Plan ahead
So what is the best way to ensure your business readiness for disaster situations? The best way is to anticipate and be prepared. Depending on the size of your company you might have in-house specialists tasked with guaranteeing business operations continuity, but if you don’t then talk to 3rd party providers. Us their expertise and experience with these types of solutions to your advantage and let them help you prepare for unforeseen obstacles and calamities. The most important part is that you are aware of the threats of a disaster and its consequences for your business and from awareness you can move into taking preventive measures to protect what you have been working so hard to achieve.

Remember: No threat is as dangerous as the one that you are not prepared for at all!

Preparation and planning for any emergency situation is half the battle so consider this and take necessary steps starting with seeking advice with experienced professionals. Make sure that you either have clearly defined RTO and RPO or have your provider help you establish these parameters as they will play crucial role in making choices of the types of backup and DR solutions that you will use. be absolutely confident tat your provider understands the nature of your business and is able to advise you based on your specific needs, if in doubt double and triple check everything and keep asking questions until you are completely satisfied with the answers. Don’t forget that now is the only right time to ask questions and get rid of doubts as when the disaster strikes there will be no room for mistakes.

Can your business survive a disaster today? Perhaps you need more help and guidance in choosing an IT solution provider, have a look here for tips on how to choose a competent It service provider and have a conversation with them about suitable IT solutions and your business continuity. If you need guidance on choosing the location for your off-site backup or DR read on here about the factors to consider when making a location choice.
You can also always drop me a message on LinkedIn for comments or advice.

*Almost everyone has watched or at least heard of the Ice Bucket Challenges which are an amazing marketing strategy and are working extremely well for the ALS Association bringing them a lot of attention worldwide which resulted in $8.6 million in donations within 24 hours according to Mashable.com, so if you want to support the association in fighting the motor neurone disease please make a donation to ALS association.

Written By: Martin Wielomski

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