Defining Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Needs

RecoveryWhat kind of Technology do you use?   Is your entire business on a single Desktop PC or Notebook?  Does your office use a File Server or multiple Application Servers? Do you have multiple offices?  Do you have just a few employees or an office of hundreds?  Are any of your services, such a email already hosted in “The Cloud?” Does your business use traditional phone lines, a PBX, Voice Over IP?  Is your company already using inherently resilient Software-as-a-Service products for Customer Relationship Management, Business Intelligences, Project Management, or Financial/Accounting Services?

Technology is the great equalizer and remarkably, many of the Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Solutions are similar regardless of the size of the organization or specific technologies in use.

Every Business has the same goal:  Restore business operations as quickly as possible.

For example, all Businesses need the following Disaster Recovery Services to achieve Business Continuity as the recovery progresses:
Reliable Communication to Family, Friends, and Emergency Services
Food and Water
Extended Communication Capabilities to Staff, Customers, and the Media
Access to Business Critical Data (Sales and Financial Systems)
Ability to recover and return to normal operations as quickly as possible
Cross-Training of Staff to assist in Rapid Recovery

How these functions are accomplished depends on the scale required to accommodate the number of Staff affected by the Disaster or Disruption to normal business operations.

If you are an individual consultant that only bills once per week and you backup your data after each accounting session, then the inability to bill for a few days may not be an issue.  However, if you are a sales based organization with the need to file customer orders throughout the day, being off-line for more than a day could seriously impact your cash flow.

The key consideration is in designing any Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan is to determine how much data can you afford to lose between the time of the interruption event and the last backup of your data.  And, how long can you afford to be off-line, without access to your Business Critical Operations before it negatively or permanently impacts your business?

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Web Services

Web Services

Web Services

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  The category of Web Services – which includes such applications as Company Web Sites, Blogging Sites, and eCommerce Sites are perhaps the best examples of use cases for “The Cloud.”

My web site, is both a Company Web Site with information about Palmer Computer Services, Inc. and the Consulting Services offered by me, Jason Palmer, as well as a blogging site based on WordPress.  Since the information is inherently for public consumption, it makes perfect sense for the site to be hosted outside my corporate network and in “The Cloud.”

The key advantage is obvious:  If the web site is hosted off-site in “The Cloud”, and there is no direct connection between “The Cloud” hosted web site and the corporate network, then even if the web site is hacked, the damage is completely contained.  The site can be restored from a backup and returned to service relatively quickly.

Another advantage of hosting the Company Web Site in the “The Cloud” is that it is assumed that most Enterprise Class Hosting companies will have significantly more computer technology infrastructure and layers of redundancy than your own corporate data center or computer room.  Enterprise Class Hosting companies such as Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure are extremely robust in their basic offerings and in advanced configurations, provide mission critical “up” time with the ability to mirror a web site globally translating to zero down time.  In general, most Cloud Hosting Providers have Data Centers in multiple regions of the Country as well as around the World.

This enables you to host your web site hundreds or thousands of miles away from your offices so that in the event of a regional disaster, like a Hurricane, the company web site will still be operational.   In a disaster, many companies use their web site to post current operational status information.  For example, a Utility company will post updates on outages and repair progress.  Or, a school or company might post information about closings or shortened hours of operation.

Given that “The Cloud” is a 24-hour, 7 Day a week, 365 Days a Year environment, the larger Cloud Hosting Companies offer around-the-clock service and support with endless amounts of resources.   This enables you to quickly scale your web site to meet scheduled or unscheduled demand at your convenience.

For example, if you run an eCommerce web site, it is presumed that from Thanksgiving to Christmas the number of visitors to your site will increase significantly.  With a Cloud hosted web site, it is relatively easy to increase the capacity of the web site to handle the additional web visitor traffic.  This can be a simple as making a few changes on a control panel to assign more resources and paying an incremental additional fee or calling in to a support representative for assistance.  The theory is that “help” is always available and no matter how much capacity you need, it is available on-demand, without issue.

Another example might be that a company has a positive or negative publicity event causing excessive unplanned traffic from people looking for additional information.  Think “Oil Spill” or “The Royal Birth.”  Normal visitor traffic might be 20,000 people a day but after the event, traffic might spike to ten times that amount to over 200,000 per day (or if a large company, perhaps hundreds of thousands per day to millions per day.)  Cloud Hosted sites can immediately add in the additional capacity for the short period of time to handle the spike in traffic and then gradually back off the additional capacity as traffic levels return to normal.

This type of flexible scalability would be almost impossible to accomplish with most internal corporate data centers.

Moving a company’s Web Services to “The Cloud” assures that, in most cases, the web site can immediately scale to meet increased demand at a nominal incremental cost.  And, that in the case of a regional disaster, given that the web site will be hosted in “The Cloud”, in a data center outside the local area, communication to and access by customers or the general public should continue without issue.

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Move Email First

Email in the Cloud

Email in the Cloud

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  One application in particular is Email and its’ use case is Business Communication Continuity.

Email is considered to be the most important business communication medium.  It is the natural extension of paper and has replaced the Fax as a means of providing written documentation of a “meeting of the minds.”    When having any kind of Internet connectivity problem, the first manifestation that most people seem to notice is “Email is down.”

Because people can get to their email on so many platforms, such as their Desktop, via a Web Browser, a Mobile Phone, a Tablet, eReader, or even a Smart TV, and check it so frequently, it becomes immediately obvious if there is a problem with the Email Server.

Ask any Information Technology professional and they will acknowledge that Email Servers require periodic and extensive maintenance.  The amount of disk space used to store new email grows continuously.  As that storage space grows, so does the amount of storage required to back it up.  If a company has compliance and email retention issues, that requires even more space for duplicate archival copies.

The larger the company, the more users delete mail, create folders, and add/remove contacts from address books.  This in-turn means that more frequent Email Server maintenance events are required to reorganize and streamline the Email Server Database Store (which holds all of the email.)  Some maintenance events require the Email Server to be stopped temporarily which can frustrate users, even if scheduled for off-hours like nights and weekends – when email usage should be lowest.

This is nothing new and thousands of Email Administrators have been successfully managing their Email Servers for years without issue.  However, as Email has become the predominant form of business communication, the volume of email has increased significantly creating greater challenges to the status quo.

The inability of a user to send and receive email for any reason is deemed unacceptable.  If an Email Server malfunctions, company management and users may not be willing to tolerate an afternoon or an entire day without the ability to send and receive Email.

Solution:  Move Email to “The Cloud.”

Enterprise class “Cloud” based email providers have massively large, redundant infrastructures that virtually guarantee email will be operational without issue 24/7/365.  (Caveat:  None are perfect.  The largest of the large have had issues.  Google and Microsoft have periodic interruptions in service but they also have the most amounts of resources to throw at the problem for a quick resolution and recovery.  And when this occurs it makes headlines and you will be in good company with million of other affected customers so it is a legitimate excuse.)

Although moving Email to “The Cloud” seems more expensive, because each additional user incurs an increase in the monthly cost versus the relatively fixed cost of maintaining your own Email Server, the savings comes in the elimination of all of the related costs of maintaining your own Email Server.  No longer is there additional staff time for Email Server maintenance, increased costs for additional processing power or storage space for the ever-growing volume of email.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is “Business Communication Continuity”:  The ability to maintain productivity and critical communication during a localized disaster such as a Hurricane, Flood, or Fire that wipes out your home or office.  During Tropical Storm Sandy, many offices and homes were swept away, burned to the ground, or were under water for weeks.  Email Servers along with all other “on-premise” technology were destroyed.  Many had off-site backups and were able to restore their data but for those that hosted and maintained their own Email Servers, Email was unavailable for days or even weeks.

For those that used “The Cloud” to host and maintain their Email, as soon as they could access the Internet, they were able to send and receive Email.

Moving Email to “The Cloud” assures that critical business communication can continue during a disaster and eliminates a potential point of failure in your communication infrastructure.