Disaster Recovery Begins With Preparedness: How IT Operations Play a Critical Role

History reminds us natural disasters are inevitable. And while they can’t be stopped, there are many ways companies can prepare themselves for when one strikes. Regardless of a company’s size or industry, all businesses must find ways to keep their employees safe while ensuring business processes continue. They need to act quickly. Consequently, having protocols in place can be the difference between a business-changing catastrophe and an incident far less severe.

To ensure a business is truly prepared, companies should periodically re-visit their disaster preparedness and disaster recovery (DR) plans to make sure everything is up to date and easy to deploy in the event of calamity.

I recently sat down with Red Cross IT manager Marc Fernandez, information and communication technology (ICT) manager for the city of Cape Coral, Fidel Deforte, and GA Telesis VP of Global Technology Solutions Darryl Maraj to discuss how they deal with and best prepare their IT operations and staff for natural disasters.

Of course, all three agreed that the top concern is keeping everyone safe. Communication is the key to safety, and it’s important to have a well-documented company communications plan.

Whether it’s done through a dedicated conference line or apps like Ping4alerts, which provides up-to-the-minute severe weather advisories and alerts from the National Weather Service, having a mode of communication in place is vital during a disaster. In addition to its other communications methods, the Red Cross helps to further prepare employees and citizens by issuing a disaster preparedness check list, which explains where to go in a crisis and what to do.

Once safety concerns are addresses, businesses must then prepare their data centers. The first step in preparing a data center is to identify key business systems. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) was identified as the number one system to get back up in running to ensure business and operational continuity.

To identify these important business systems, Cape Coral implemented a system to run a business impact analysis. The data it generates helps identify the top five business systems its IT team must restore. To stay fully prepared, the Cape Coral team runs audits on each system prior to a disaster occurring. Similarly, GA Telesis tests its system annually so it’s prepared if something should fail with a backup plan.

Running a mock disaster test is a great way to help ensure a business is primed. This gives companies the chance to test out their plans and make adjustments accordingly. A company doesn’t want to find that its disaster recovery plan has failed in the midst of a Category 3 hurricane.

After the key business systems have been identified, companies must then identify their disaster recovery site and make sure their hardware has been checked and prepped properly.  Many companies have a co-location site, so it is important to confirm the hardware there has been checked recently and is fully operational. The business will then need to determine how long they can afford to be offline, and how long it will take to get those business systems back up. Once all of this is figured out, the next priority is end users.

Most end users have not necessarily had experience working during or after a disaster, and this challenge can cause a lot of frustration. To help alleviate these frustrations, the Red Cross has an annual Disaster Preparedness Day where they give each employee a written explanation of how to log into the VPN. This is followed by demonstrations where they take all of the computers offline and let each person practice.

For GA Telesis, the emphasis is on minimizing change for the end user. Prior to a failover, during the process of switching to an alternative computer server, system, hardware component or network, to the DR site, GA Telesis knows exactly how long it will take. Using Zerto Virtual Replication, it only takes 30 minutes to failover. During this time, GA Telesis is able to republish all of its settings, eliminating the need to inform end users that they’ll be accessing the DR site. This allows end users to get back online without even refreshing their computers.

The Red Cross has a slightly different approach. They begin ramping up the minute a disaster starts and are able to bring in their own equipment and generators, and feed Internet through their corporate office enabling them to run a full office on site.

Post disaster actions

When the immediate threat from a natural disaster has subsided, businesses also must have a plan in place on what to do post-event. Cape Coralmoves as many processes as possible to an offline manual process post-event for public works, utilities and finance. By the time ERP is back online, the manual work has been synced into the system.

For any organization recovering from a disaster, there are two important questions specific to the datacenter: Is your primary site ready to be failed back to, and are you expecting employees back at your primary site?

When the primary site is ready, GA Telesis begins the failback process by notifying end users that they will be down for a short amount of time. The next step for them is to make sure any changes are up-to-date and then proceed to failing over to the primary site. Once this is complete employees are able to get back to the primary site and get back to work.

Disaster preparation is the best defense especially when it comes to business continuity. Safety will always remain top priority, but once that step is taken making sure your business is up and running is the main focus. Preparing your systems along with your IT and operational staff ahead of a disaster is the only way a business can successfully recover from an unfortunate event. So remember to take the following steps:

  • Develop a fool-proof disaster recovery plan and make sure everyone in your organization is prepared;
  • Make it a point to determine the company’s key business systems and run tests on those systems;
  • Give staff members the chance to implement the plan so that everyone feels comfortable enough to get the job done properly and efficiently;
  • Identify the disaster recovery site ahead of time. Figure out how long it’ll take for the key business systems to get back up and know how long a business can afford to be down; and
  • Do whatever is necessary to ensure end users experience is as seamless as possible and that they can get back to business quickly.

Taking these steps in preparedness could mean a world of difference for businesses during a disaster.

Jennifer Gill is director, global product marketing for Zerto. She has more than 15 years of high-tech marketing experience with proven expertise in storage, virtualization and disaster recovery/business continuity. At Zerto, Gill has several responsibilities, including technology partnerships, analyst relations, the customer reference program, and product messaging and global content strategy. Previously, Gillheld management positions at EMC and played a key role in VCE. She has a BS in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University and an MBA from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University.

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