When the budget is tight, management always asks the IT department to focus on projects that have an apparent and short-term ROI, and this strategy often results in funds not going to preventive measures like disaster recovery and business continuity. Dollars spent in these areas may not deliver a bottom-line result in the immediate fiscal quarter, but if a disaster does strike, the results are obvious in terms of dollars preserved by getting back to normal as soon as possible.
The disaster recovery part of the equation is just the beginning. But once data and systems have been restored, depending on the nature of the disaster, there is another step, and that is business continuity. Systems may be restored easily, especially if they are in the cloud, but what if the physical office is inaccessible?
A complete business continuity plan must account for remote access. Software-as-a-service may deliver productivity apps and even proprietary apps to users; infrastructure-as-a-service offerings typically have built-in redundancies that eliminate many concerns over data restoration. Very few companies however, have redundant physical office space, and so a continuity strategy must take that into account.
There are three intersecting, but distinct areas to consider: Disaster recovery, business continuity, and storage/backup. Too often, these three get confused, and a company is left with an insufficient strategy. A company that backs up data on a regular basis may feel that they are being diligent, but that in itself does not prepare a company for disaster.
Data backup is just a tool. Disaster recovery and business continuity are strategies that incorporate policies and procedures. Disaster recovery involves using the tools and implementing policy such that in the case of a disaster, all available data and applications continue to be available. Business continuity is the extension of disaster recovery, or knowing what to do with the data and applications, and how to deliver it to staff on a continuous basis immediately, even if the physical plant is unavailable.
Disaster Recovery is Just the Beginning
Traditional disaster recovery strategies involve defined mechanisms that often revolve around built-in redundancies, various types of backup, and the ability to restore not just data, but applications and system configurations as well (the so-called “bare metal” recovery). Best practice for backup and restore capability is naturally with an off-site facility, and this is why the cloud works so well as a disaster recovery tool. Cloud based data centers typically adhere to rigorous protocols and offer service level guarantees, often above what an individual company would be able to do on their own.
Even if a company’s security policy precludes bring-your-own-device under normal circumstances, a contingency for providing employees with remote login and access from their own laptops under special circumstances may well be in order. Because of the ubiquity of broadband, it will become quite possible for gain access from virtually anywhere.
What Comes After Disaster Recovery?
Almost every company in existence has some sort of backup, even if it’s not a full-on disaster recovery plan. But, backup by itself is inadequate, and there must be a plan in place to not just restore the systems, but to restore the entire operation to pre-disaster mode. This is the role of business continuity. According to the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), after Hurricane Andrew, 80 percent of affected companies that did not have a business continuity plan, failed.
As part of the business continuity strategy, companies may wish to consider VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) as well. In addition to the standard arguments in favor of business hosted VoIP, which include cost savings, flexibility, and broader range of features, VoIP lends itself to disaster recovery because of the flexibility of physical nodes.
Business continuity means having a comprehensive strategy that takes into account people, the physical office, computers, and connectivity. The latter point, connectivity, ties everything together, and without VoIP would be nearly impossible. While cellular telephony does allow people to stay in touch, it is limited, while VoIP allows for employees in disparate locations to not only communicate, but also to share data, conference, and do nearly everything they would normally do were the office to be available.
Once freed from the copper wire connection, a phone system gains incredible flexibility. If a disaster makes the physical office inaccessible, individual VoIP extensions can easily be picked up from any computer, and most VoIP providers offer a softphone option. This flexibility is a vital part of business continuity. Once systems have been restored, work can resume immediately even if the office is unavailable.
Network Reliability in a Disaster
The disaster recovery and business continuity policy manual must therefore take into account several items, including a policy for employees to use their own computers – laying out under what circumstances that would be allowed, and putting the technology in place to make it happen. That may involve providing each employee with emergency access to the corporate cloud from their own PCs.
Finally, reliability of the network has to be considered in disaster recovery and business continuity, and most larger businesses will have some sort of redundant broadband connection so that, in the case of primary failure, at least a modest broadband connection can be accessed. In most cases the broadband providers themselves have redundancies built in. The bigger concern is that if the office, and as a result the primary internet connection, is unavailable, the alternative is that all employees will be logging in from different connections with varying levels of security.
As such, policy towards using employee equipment should mandate a uniform set of security tools for personal PCs being used for business. As for the connections themselves, broadband is of course, highly ubiquitous, and nearly every person will have home access. A contingency plan has to be available nonetheless if home access is not an option, which may mean having a backup contract with a temporary office space in another part of town, or in worst case, accessing a public wi-fi system (in which case access privileges may have to be limited).
A strong business continuity plan with VoIP as a centerpiece will help to ensure that no matter how bad the disaster, a business can return to normal operations quickly, and avoid significant loss.