It has been a turbulent week on the East Coast. We have had a rare 5.9 earthquake and have been hit by a Category 1 hurricane that have left millions without power and has caused major flooding. So naturally I have been thinking about Disaster Recovery. It really takes extreme cases like the past week to get people thinking about disasters and Disaster Recovery. But the truth is that disasters happen every day. There are fires and floods and explosions that impact businesses every day.
But being that large powerful eye opening events really get people thinking about disasters, I will seize the moment and use it to help get people start thinking about Disaster Recovery planning. Disaster Recovery planning is not easy. The exercise is trying to plan for something you don’t know exists and can’t anticipate environmental, physical and human actions. But before you get discouraged, you can start planning for things that you think might happen even if you don’t know the exact chain of events.
Categories of disasters
When I look at Disaster Recovery planning I like to split the disaster into 1 of 2 categories. The first category is a temporary disruption in a business’ ability to access their server/network infrastructure. This could be the result of an extended power outage that shuts the servers down. Or may be the result of a flood that makes travel to the office for employees impossible but also disrupts the network communication and remote access such as a failed T1, DSL or cable modem. Both of these scenarios leave a business and employees temporarily without access to the network, data and applications. The second category is more serious and involves destruction of a business’ server/network infrastructure. This could be the result of a fire, flood, explosion, earthquake, etc. The business’ servers and network are permanently destroyed.
You will notice that splitting the disasters into 2 categories allow for planning of multiple scenarios but without having to know the exact cause of the disaster. It makes the Disaster Recovery planning much easier.
One of the key parts of ensuring that you have a Disaster Recovery plan is to figure out how you are going to access critical data in the event that your servers/network are either temporarily or permanently inaccessible. In this post I go into detail on Disaster Recovery planning which includes data replication and utilizing alternate locations to run duplicate infrastructure. The details of the post will give you good insight into some of the alternatives.
But another key part of Disaster Recovery planning is much less high tech. In fact it is probably very low tech and almost as important. In a disaster one of the worst outcomes is that a business’ employees may not have the ability to communicate with each other. For example if there is a widespread power outage and your business primarily relies on email to communicate, your email server may be down and this will not be an option. Secondly as more and more people move away from landline phones (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) to voice over IP (VoIP) such as Vonage and phone service through Cable companies, FIOS, etc, power outages cause people to lose their home phone access. When the power is out, Internet and phone are also out. The third point is that as we rely on cell phones more and more for communications we are very susceptible to a disruption in cell service. After the recent earthquake, millions rushed to their cell phones to makes calls only to find that calls would not go through. Unfortunately the reality is our cell phone infrastructure has major problems with extremely high volumes of calls and in disasters that is exactly the amount of volume to expect. So a business might face the scenarios where email is down and employees can’t be reached via home and cell phones. The issue is critical if you cannot communicate with employees.
Let’s take a low tech approach to communications and see if some basic planning can help. Prior to the recent hurricane, Entegration did some basic planning to ensure that all employees could communicate in the event of a disaster. Here are some of the steps we took:
- Ensure that we had an up to date contact list with all home phone numbers, cell phone numbers and home addresses (yes driving to a person’s house is a viable option if there is no other way to communicate with them).
- Every employee setup an alternate email address (via Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, etc.). We set up the address as First Name Last Name Company Name . For example ArtGEntegration@hotmail.com. In the event our primary email server went down and we could not communicate via Exchange/Outlook or our smartphones, we could still communicate via alternate email providers. These email services are free and very easy to setup. And with smartphones, tablets and wireless network ability, access to these services are very straightforward and easy even in the event of a power outage. We ensured that our contact list as mentioned in bullet 1 had both the primary and secondary email address for each employee.
Other alternatives are to utilize social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to communicate. Adding social networks to the above options increase your chances of being able to communicate.
So hopefully this will get you thinking about Disaster Recovery planning. In summary:
- Break disasters into categories (temporary and permanent disruptions of service).
- Focus on communication strategies that will enable all employees to communicate in the event of a disaster.
- Plan data replication and alternate locations to run critical business functions.
Image via Flickr posted by www.gisuser.com